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Image by Daria Rom
Lady
By Sandor DeGrazia
 
Lady knew her dance would endure. It would live forever. So would she.

Lady sat alone in her usual spot, stirring over her Earl Gray, steeped in experiences long expired. Remnants of a lavish life lingered like low-lying fog. Visible, seemingly tangible, yet destined to vanish. Her memories mingled in the mist of the day. The hue of the clouded sky mimicked the color of her hair. Both, a melancholic shade of hazy heather. The shine of silver faded with age. Lady wondered who she was. The old woman sipping tea in the window of a Chelsea café or the glimmering goddess gracing the grandest stages in the world. It had been fifteen years since she’d dazzled that way. Not very long ago, really. But it felt like a lifetime.

 

She sat erect, perfectly poised with impeccable posture. Small in stature but of magnanimous expression. Her back, flat. Shoulders dropped. Chin forward. Her neck was long, slender and birdlike. Her  hair pulled taut against her tiny head and wrangled into a sharply disciplined bun balanced perfectly at the top like a giant pearl. Her frame was an impossible collection of bones. An artful articulation of 200 some separate parts achieving a rare and wonderful harmony in concert. A strange and most satisfying skeletal structure that curved the eye its way. Elongated, sinuous arms accentuated her movements. Every motion Lady made had meaning. Every extension told a story. And within her extraordinary frame dwelled the innate ability to keep time with the cosmos. Her inner metronome matched the rhythms of life, keeping her perfectly in tune. And it was partly this that made her the marvel she was. The Mistress of Movement. The First Lady of Ballet. Simply, the finest dancer of a generation.

 

She was born Elizabeth Sterling. A native of Yonkers New York. Her family name, an imprimatur of the precious commodity she would become. Her given name eventually dropped. ‘Lady’ said it all. She was an only child. The product of supportive parents, Lady was allowed to follow her bliss. And she had but a single love in her lifetime. Her art. And to this, she invested everything. With unwavering assuredness, she had funneled every ounce of physical, mental and emotional currency into a single source.

 

Clear of purpose and profuse with talent, she was motivated to animate the dancer within. Because through her body, she could manifest the meaning of the universe.

 

To Lady, dance was more than a job or career. It was her existential responsibility. A cosmic calling delivered by the deities of destiny. Her duty. Her dharma. From her earliest moments of awareness, Lady understood her summons. A subpoena so strong she was left with no option other than full dedication to the cause. Luckily for her, the plea was also her passion. Her mission was to use the gifts bestowed upon her to bring abandoned emotions of onlookers back to life. To free persecuted and repressed feelings festering under hardened layers of fear and doubt in danger of becoming caustic. To soften petrified hearts and set free stifled spirits.

 

Helping to enable the release of emotions was a worthy pursuit. And Lady knew she had come equipped with the ability to emancipate ethos. So, from her very first plié/relevé, she was on her way. Lady was born gifted. From the seed of talent grew the stem of desire and discipline, out of which blossomed the most fantastic flower. She trained hard and rose quickly through the ranks, becoming an apprentice at the New York City ballet at fifteen. By nineteen, she was a principal in the company, an unheard-of accomplishment. And when witnessed in motion, it was no wonder why. Watching Lady dance was to flirt with the fringes of reality. When Lady preformed, the world stood still and time dissolved. She moved on a frequency few could access, animated by an invisible force seemingly reserved exclusively for her. In audience to her brilliance, one was rendered helplessly spellbound, captivated by her aura, and held hostage by her otherworldly ability. There was no escaping her allure. She was possessed by powers beyond understanding. And under her command, you were transported. Her mastery of motion transfixed. Like Monet and Mozart, Miss Sterling’s capacity of expression equaled the greatest master artists of the world. Exquisite and ephemeral were her performances, after which one was overcome with a sole desire -- To return to the fantasia manufactured by her magic.

 

For fifteen years Lady graced the New York City Ballet. She danced every lead role with unparalleled aplomb, garnering fans and earning accolades. She was simply a sensation not seen since the likes of legends. And then, her trusted instincts advised her the time had come to make a change. Lady listened to the wisdom within. And there was only one place to go. A single spot on the globe capable of sharpening her skills and increasing her cachet. Arguably the most prestigious ballet company in the world. The Bolshoi. After heavy recruitment and an unprecedented financial offer, Lady decided to take the leap. She was not only a marvel of the dance world but extremely marketable as well. Beauty in motion, Lady was also a striking figure  standing still. Her large eyes, small nose and high cheek bones offered a face of fierce expression when animated. And at rest, there was a stoicism of countenance that commanded. Her long, lustrous, once golden hair always fastened at the top, never concealing her façade. She was a hot commodity by all accounts.

 

Under the rigid rules of the soviet-era regime, Lady was put to task. Between the extreme company politics and demanding physical and mental requirements of her new Russian house, the transition was difficult. But Lady was up to the challenge. And before long she was melting iron hearts and earning the respect of Bolshoi audiences and contemporaries. The change of system and scenery proved essential on her path to expansion, bringing her even closer to perfection. Seemingly beyond improvement, the Bolshoi made Lady better. She prevailed under the perils of pressure that had crushed so many before her. Her gifts of grace and grandeur melded beautifully with her heart and humility, providing the perfect pastiche for perseverance. Her prowess and personality rendered her nearly Teflon to attack. Lady was practically impossible to hate. So, determined and undaunted, she was free to spread her wings and soar skyward. And there was no more entrancing sight than Lady in flight.

 

After five years of commitment to the Bolshoi, Lady was ready to come home. New York City was calling her back. Ballet was her breath of life. And it was the oxygen of NYC she yearned for most. Lady was

 

by no means ready to hang up her toe shoes. Still on pointe, her career was towering, and the world was at her feet. At 35, Lady was as strong as ever and still pulsing with the passion to deliver on her destiny. Enhanced by her journey across the world, Lady had more to offer than ever. The metronome that kept her concert with cosmos hadn’t skipped a beat. Perfectly timed, she was in her prime when she stepped back onto the stage at Lincoln Center to a standing ovation.

 

Seven more years of grit and glory carried Lady into the last act of her illustrious life on stage. As the world got older and the natural order asserted itself, Lady graciously acquiesced to the inevitable. There would be a changing of the guard. Her career as the Premier Prima Ballerina would end. She took her final bow in the gilded house, her silvery, polished presence shining through the tears that welled in her wide eyes. While in her chest beat the heart of a warrior.

 

Decades of passion, sacrifice and stardom stirred in her soul, finally surging to the surface. It had been a lifetime of full engagement. Countless hours fighting against the enemies of pain, fatigue and self- doubt. Battling beasts, both inner and outer, to break the mold and bust through barriers. In a shower of applause and roses, Lady brought the house down on her final night dancing the role of Giselle. In a stellar and already storied career, Lady’s star shot into the stratosphere that night. Her performance, the penultimate moment of finality in her fated journey of the flesh. She absorbed every second, right down to her final bow, as if it were a sacred experience. But it was a night of disparate emotions, both thrilling and tragic. Outwardly she was being celebrated, but inwardly she was mourning a loss. For amidst all the accolades, an unsettling truth simmered below the surface. Lady knew the moment she left that stage; she would spend the rest of her life grieving. The truth of the moment was inescapable. Just beyond the elation of  the  evening awaited a new reality. She would become a ghost of her past.

 

Back home, Lady was no long a dancer, but she was still a queen. And she wore her crown every day without fail. The taut and tidy bundle of hair atop her head pronounced her position, past and present. It represented a vestige of royalty she refused to relinquish. A symbol of the supreme being she had strived hard to ascend to. Lady had achieved everything she had set out to accomplish and more. Her dreams had become reality. The fantasy spun onstage for decades unfolded into a magnificent tapestry of her own design that was her life.

 

And so, she sat gazing out the café window through prescient eyes, connecting the pieces of her extraordinary existence into something cohesive. Memories of her early sense of duty to elicit a world of emotions through dance, returned. As she watched spots of light break through the murky sky, she smiled. Mission accomplished. The thin streams of sunlight muscling their way into the cloudy day delivered rays of revelation. Lady had brought her own light into the world. And for this, her mind and soul were at rest. Lady had delivered on her destiny.

 

The world was awash in transition. The afternoon advanced to early evening. The gray gave way to deep colors of sky fire. And in the saturated streaks of orange light, Lady witnessed renewal. The clouds were parting. The sun, forcing its way into the dance of late day. And Lady decided to treat herself to a drink. She continued her quiet contemplation with a gorgeous glass of gin. A dry martini with olives, very slightly dirty. The perfect combination of botany and brine. Lady consumed slowly and deliberately, careful to savor every second. The large glass hung on her hand like a garish jewel. Attached to her long sinuous arm, the proportions appeared dramatic. Lady lifted her drink with the same poise and intention she’d employed while dancing a pas de deux. Each sip was a nuanced expression of elegance. Seated at her table for one, she manoeuvred with majesty, more swan than sapient. Reflected in her motion was the theater of dance so deeply embedded in her essential nature. Affection in her actions. Elocution in her every move. As evening began its descent over the city, Lady felt a familiar sensation wash over her. Something she hadn’t experienced in many years. Another cosmic call. The ephemeral nature of her existence was never more evident. She felt evolved in a new way. Alive like never before. Intoxicated with inspiration. Right down to her last drop of drupe infused gin.

 

Summoned to greatness once again, it was time for Lady to take her leave. She settled her bill and left an absurdly large tip. Jacques, her favourite server, had taken good care of her. Lady had always made a habit of generously rewarding the worthy. With a marquee smile and regal nod of her head, Jacques came to her assistance. He pulled the table out slightly and offered Lady his arm. She rose slowly under his support and offered him a deep, penetrating gaze. “Thank you, my dear,” she said. Her words landing softly on his heart. “Avec Plaisir, mademoiselle.” And then Jacques handed Lady her cane. Gingerly, he escorted her to the door. Carefully, she managed her way. Her limp telegraphed the tragedy of her reality. The perfection for form and function ended at Lady’s waist. Her right leg had been under assault. Even so, she carried herself with grace. Evidence of the Goddess within. But the fact was, things were only going to get worse.  Lady had been besieged by a formidable force for which there was no defense. Cancer. Her limb was riddled with it. After more than a year, every treatment had been attempted. Every therapy explored. But the disease had asserted its dominance. It proved beyond control or containment. The diagnosis was dire. There was only one option left. Lady was going to lose her leg.

 

Outside, under the shifting sky, Lady flowered. Her sense of renewal was reinforced by lilac scented air. She felt lighter, brighter and full of insight. The instincts that had always guided her shone clearly through    her chakras. It was time to blossom once again. The bloom of the exceptional evening ignited her soul. Gray had given way to glorious. Riding on the winds of inspiration, Lady pushed passed the pain. Imbedded deep into her circuitry was the ability to overcome. Suddenly, the wherewithal to endure inundated every bone in her body. Even the diseased ones. And bursting from the depths of soul spouted the irrepressible demand to deliver on her destiny once again. Lady was being called back to the dance.

    

At her dressing table, Lady reckoned with the woman in the mirror. The answer to the question she’d been     pondering rushed through her like a gust of ghost wind. Through the looking glass, Lady peered  into the past and saw the future. And she understood they were one and the same. In her reflection was the child of innocence, the diva in her prime and the seasoned sage. She was the glimmering goddess and the old, wounded woman in the window. Or at least she had been. But now, she was none of these things. Now,  she was simply elemental. She was air, water, earth and fire. Lady was eternal. And to celebrate her discovery, she would give the performance of her life.

 

Lady went straight to work. She painted, powdered and contoured. Her high cheek bones were enhanced, her large eyes lined and lips lacquered blood red. Lady’s already striking features were set ablaze and soon the creature in the mirror represented the fierce flames raging within. Fire. Next, she readied her body. She stretched her sinews and lengthened her limbs. She warmed her muscles and joints. It was a process she’d perfected over many years that had become a meditation of sorts. An exercise of grounding. Earth. Then, Lady went to her wardrobe. She selected the perfect costume for the occasion. A lovely white, satin slip dress with long slits on each side. Simple and sparse with thin straps over the shoulders. Perfectly fit for her form that had barely changed in 40 years, it was her favorite. It was a garment that allowed for the flow of movement. It washed over her skin like liquid. Water. Lady sat in front of her mirror once more. She took a deep dive into the sky-blue wells of her soul and received a moment of awakening. Rising above the pain in her leg, she released herself of limitations.

 

There was no room for incapacity on this extraordinary evening. And then, something unexpected. One by one, she removed the pins from her head and set her hair free. Long locks fell over her bare shoulders, able to catch the wind. Air. Primed of body, mind, spirit and soul, Lady was prepared. And as she metamorphosed, her power grew and her pain died.

 

Lady left her cane behind and exited her apartment. Draped in a Chinese silk robe trimmed with large white feathers, the swan of Lady’s soul fluttered to the surface as she stepped out of the elevator and onto the roof of her building. The early summer evening had become enchanted. Outside, the world was a wonderland of sensations. Saturated colors collided in the sky, rolling over one another, mixing pigments into pathos. The air was alive with floral scents and invigorating energies. The clouds, along with any thoughts of Lady’s disease, had disappeared. And with the backdrop of dramatic heavenly hell-fire hues, the stage was set. It was time to dance.

Abandoning her robe, Lady began to move. Instantly, she was free of all desire beyond the present moment. Entranced, she relinquished control and entered another realm. The mystical was made manifest in her form. She became inhabited by inspiration. Her body became able, agile and above agony. The space she occupied expanded, spreading past time, curving the continuum. Lady was exquisitely lost in an elemental eclipse. Dissolved into the atmosphere of everything. Irrepressible and iridescent. Choreography came from cosmic influence, streaming through her system in an unbroken display of artistic continuity. She planned nothing but her body remembered everything. Everything and more. The universe engaged Lady. She became enlightened. And her sick leg did not stand in her way. Pain and disease were present but powerless. All the darkness of her temporal test still tore tendon and bone, but Lady was elevated out of its influence.

 

Swept away in her swirl, Lady noticed nothing. Not even the small collection of fellow roof visitors that had amassed. Mesmerized by her movement, they were careful not to interrupt. They stayed safely on the sidelines, stunned by what they saw. This was not a performance intended for an audience. This  dance was for Lady. The others had come to watch the dramatic sunset. But the star of the evening was Lady. The crimson sky burned hot, and the wind blew fierce and wild. The theatrics of the evening were coming to  crescendo. On the roof raged the Black Swan in white satin. Spinning into eternity and out of orbit, Lady went supernova. She danced with unbridled fierceness. Her body was without restriction. Her hair, wild and free. She was too old to dance like this. Too sick to dance at all. All the moments of her life flowed through her head and out of her body. By her movements, Lady was a poet, a prophet and a visionary. A vessel of enchantment. An avatar of the angels.

 

The wind raged and the sky turned blood red. Great feathers broke the surface of Lady’s skin. Plumage of preposterous size pronounced her arrival at the edge of courage. The metronome stopped. The time had come. With one final glorious leap, Lady’s feet left solid surface, never to return. And as she soared, she  smiled. Because she knew her dance would endure. And she would live forever.

Image by Thomas Griggs

Born and raised in Lincoln Nebraska, the product of a college professor and music school teacher, Sandor DeGrazia received a loving, liberal and creative start. Art, music and dance were abundant but it was a career in gymnastics that payed his way through college. After graduating from the University of New Mexico with a bachelor’s degree he had no idea what he wanted to do next. So, he went into show business. Spanning a decade from Los Angeles to New York City, his theater credits began with Michael Jackson and ended with the Chippendales, performing in several shows in between, most notably Miss Saigon. For the last 25 years, from bartending to Broadway, he’s thrived on the thrill of New York. His current profession is massage therapy. His passion is creative writing. The islands of Manhattan and Fire Island serve to inspire fascination with the great questions of life. Pondering much, Sandor has come to believe it is within life’s mysteries where magic dwells.

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