Stripped Read online
“No daughter of mine will engage in any such lewd and sinful behavior as dancing,” Daddy says to me, his blue eyes blazing. “It is gross and immodest and entirely sexual. I’ve seen the kind of dancing those…those harlots engage in at that so-called academy. You will not attend. ”
I screw my eyes shut and restrain the urge to scream and stomp my foot. I’m sixteen and a lady. Stomping my foot does not become a lady. At least, that’s what Mom tells me. “Daddy, please. Please. I won’t do anything like that. I’ll be modest, I promise. You can okay each dance, each outfit. Just…please. Please, please, let me dance. ” I clasp my hands in front of me and dip at the knees, giving him my best puppy-dog eyes.
He’s wavering. I can sense it in him. “Grey, I don’t approve of dancing. God does not approve of dancing. ”
Mom to the rescue: “Now, Erik, you know that’s not what the Scriptures say. You’re just being a cantankerous old dinosaur. David danced before the Lord. The Psalms mention dancing to honor the Lord in several passages. ” She glides to Daddy’s side and presses up against his arm, resting her hand on his shoulder. “Our daughter knows right from wrong, and you know it. She just wants to bring glory to God by using the talents He’s given her. ”
“Please, Daddy. I won’t allow any choreography that’s lewd or sexual. ” I can barely breathe from the burning weight of hope in my chest.
He glances from me to Mom and back. I can see him chewing it over in his head. “I’ll allow it…for now. But at the first sign of anything sinful or ungodly, I’ll pull you out of there so fast you won’t even have time for your head to spin. You hear me, child?”
I hug him, squeal with joy. “Thankyouthankyouthankyou!”
“Don’t disappoint me, Grey. You are a pastor’s daughter. You have to set a fitting example for the entire community. ”
“I will, Daddy. I’ll be the best example. I promise, I promise. ” I spin away from him and dance a few flowing steps away, then settle into an arabesque, which I hold for a moment. I turn back to him. “See? Nothing wrong with that, is there?”
He just narrows his eyes at me. “I have to finish preparing Sunday’s sermon. ”
Daddy is the founder and executive pastor of Macon Contemporary Baptist Church, one of the largest churches in the entire state of Georgia. Granddaddy Amundsen was the hellfire and brimstone pastor of a tiny Reformed Baptist church in the backwoods of Georgia, so Daddy grew up a pastor’s kid, was groomed for the pulpit his whole life. Granddaddy was even more strict than Daddy, impossible as it seemed. He didn’t even approve of me wearing pants or shorts, even as a little kid, but Daddy let me get away with that as long as the shorts weren’t too short or the pants too tight. To Granddaddy, women stayed in the kitchen, wore dresses, and were seen and not heard. He was a bit of a fossil, Granddaddy. He never approved of the fact that Daddy taught the more modern and contemporary Baptist theology.
I’ve been dancing in secret since I was fifteen, watching Internet videos, teaching myself, watching So You Think You Can Dance on my laptop and trying to imitate the choreography. Mom helped me out a bit this past year, taking me to dance classes on Saturday mornings, telling Daddy it was manicure-pedicure appointments. He approved of mani-pedis as little as he did everything else, but he had a hard time saying no to me and Mama, so he let us go. He didn’t need to know about the secret dance classes as long as Mom was driving me. Of course, Mom and I really do get mani-pedis after dance, but that’s beside the point.
I grin at Daddy as I dance out of his study.
Mom is waiting for me in the kitchen. “There you go, Grey. Now you can dance all you want and not worry about either of us getting in trouble. ”
I hug Mom and give her a kiss on the forehead. “Thank you, Mom. I know you didn’t like lying to Daddy—”
She glares at me, silencing me with a finger over my lips. “I never lied. Not once. He asked if we were going to get our nails done, and that’s what we did. If he didn’t ask where else we went, that’s not lying. If he had ever asked me directly if I was taking you to dance classes, I would have told him. You know that. ”
I don’t argue with her, but as I head up to my room to email Mrs. LeRoux that I can officially join the troupe, I wonder at my mother’s evasions. Wasn’t it lying by omission if we didn’t tell Daddy what we were doing? He wouldn’t have let us go at all if he’d known. If he finds out now, I’ll never be allowed to leave my room again. I don’t know what kind of trouble a wife can get in, but I know Daddy would be mad at Mom for her complicity.
I glance through the videos Mrs. LeRoux has uploaded to the website since last week. She’s taken to setting up a video camera during every lesson, and then, at the end of the day, uploading the content to her website. Or rather, she has her daughter Catherine do it. If we haven’t been there for that class, Catherine and Mrs. LeRoux go through the video of the day and cut out most of it, leaving in bits that are supposed to teach us something. No one knows this but Mrs. LeRoux started this practice mainly for my sake.
She saw some kind of potential in me that very first class I attended at the beginning of this year. She loved the way I danced and applauded the fact that I was self-taught. She gave me a scholarship so I could attend for free. Since I couldn’t attend as many classes as everyone else did, she started taping the lessons, rehearsals, and group practices so I could keep up. Other students started watching them and found them useful as well, so they stuck.
When the first midweek group lesson rolled around that Wednesday, I’d practiced the group choreo, as well as the solo piece I was working on. Daddy had watched me practice in the basement, sitting on the stairs with his fingers pressed together in a steeple, eyes following my every move. It was nerve-wracking, honestly. He was watching me just to see if I’d mess up, to see if this plié was lewd, or that leg extension was improper and unladylike.
Group on Wednesday after school is split into two parts, forty-five minutes each. The first section is group choreo, going over the eleven-girl piece Mrs. L designed, making sure each of us knows our individual parts and that the whole piece flows properly. The second part is instruction, where Mrs. L teaches us a new move or technique, demonstrating and having each of us try it in front of the class. She corrects as needed. I’m struggling a bit with the group work, since I’ve never danced in a group before today. I keep messing up the pas de chat in the middle, missing a step and knocking into Devin, the girl next to me.
Finally, Mrs. L stops the practice and brings me forward, having everyone else line up on the barre along one wall. “Grey, you’re doing great, my dear, but you need to get this part down. You can do the pas de chat perfectly on your own, but for whatever reason, when you try it with the other girls, you mess up. Why do you think this is?”
Mrs. LeRoux is a tiny woman, barely over five feet tall, with iron-gray hair and pale gray eyes set shallow in her beautiful face. She’s French, having moved to Georgia twenty years ago with her husband, who died suddenly, leaving her in debt. She opened a dance studio with the last of her cash and fought her way to prosperity, one lesson at a time. I’ve seen her dance before, and she isn’t one of those teachers who can’t do what they teach. Mrs. LeRoux can make you cry with a two-minute routine. As a teacher, she’s fiery and fierce, demanding yet fair, and compassionate in all things. She’s never mean in her criticism but she expects you to do your best and she refuses to let you get away with less. I love her dearly.
I stand in front of the class and consider Mrs. LeRoux’s question. “I’ve never danced in a group before. ”
“It’s the same as dancing alone, my dear. You must merely be more aware of your surro