“Will you be here Thursday?” I was hoping for one more lesson before she had to leave. She turned slowly to face me; that is, if ducking her head as if preparing to run away was facing me.
“No; I’m sorry, I’m leaving on Wednesday,” she said, pulling the sleeves on her shocking pink, form-fitting warm-up jacket down to cover her wrists and palms, down to her knuckles; protecting her hands from some insipid chill. I couldn’t help noticing in the 90° humidity of a studio with only a weak ceiling fan in play. Yet I had to admit she looked vulnerable.
Phoebe is a lovely, tiny blond sylph, with eyes the color of the ocean at great depth and a body that would ordinarily be the ideal form for the tight-fitting pink jacket she had on. But now she looked more like a waif than a nubile nymph. Even the bounce in her long gold hair, usually swinging from a ponytail tied high on her head, recoiled from her pink bandana in unruly tendrils. I pushed past the impression of a stray orphan to remind myself this was Phoebe; my admired, lovely, gifted dance teacher with a warm, elegant heart and performance presence to match. Arguably one of the greatest teachers in the history of Modern Dance, she was an icon of fluid perfection.
“Oh, no! I hoped we’d have more time to work on that choreography before you left,” I moaned. I made sure my voice was appreciative rather than accusatory. I wanted her to know she was already missed; but instead of giving her comfort she looked as if I’d pressed on a painful bruise.
“I’m really awfully sorry,” she repeated, looking down at her hands hiding inside the sleeves of her jacket.
“I totally understand,” I lied, as brightly as I could in the face of her unexpected retreat. “You’ve been here for months this summer, and enough is enough. You want to get home. I don’t know how you adjusted to our humidity after your desert air in the first place. I’ll bet you can’t wait to get out of here and breathe without all that salt water in your lungs. And you’ve been separated from your husband for so long too…” I prattled on. I couldn’t imagine how my tone had become so personal with my mentor. For some reason the false cheer had carried me away. She nodded as a foreigner does when they want you to think they understand, even though they don’t.
“So how would you like to start today?” she asked, trying to bring the moment back where it had started. “With a warm-up? Some stretches? A little of both, maybe?” She waved one small white hand in its pink sleeve cocoon, as if she could see each activity across the studio floor before it took place. Bodies were draped casually over the stretching bars, or lying on the dance floor in front of the mirror with legs split on other side of prone torsos while they chatted. Occasionally one or two of the dancers in mismatched workout clothes glanced up at us furtively with envy. Who wouldn’t want to have Phoebe’s full attention?
“You’re too nice to me,” I said, smiling. “But let’s just get right to it and work on that segment I’m no good at.”
“Are you feeling more secure?” she asked, with a hopelessness I’d never heard before. Was I really in that much trouble?