I’m what my friend likes to call a “turtle:” I’m not one to take risks. I’d rather hide in my shell while the excitement goes by than take part in what’s happening. The few times I’ve stuck my head out, it hasn’t gone well.
Freshmen year, I spent most of my free time reading in my dorm, which made hiding from any possible opportunities real easy. My roommate was similarly shy, but she set out to join the Vietnamese Student Association. She was super into it, and, by sophomore year, she was in charge of the Lotus dance in VSA’s annual culture show. One problem: She had no one to actually do the dance. Here she was, ready to direct a dance to be performed in front of hundreds of people, and she had no dancers.
That little voice in the back of my head piped up. Maybe it was time I came out of my shell: I could learn about another culture, make friends, be a part of something. There was nothing to lose…except my lunch. I hated being on stage, and I was afraid of trying new things. The last time I was on a stage was in middle school when I was cast as Rosie the maid in Peter Pan, who, no, does not exist. But my roommate’s casual mentions of her dance to outright entreaties to join were moving from background noise to heartbroken begging. She somehow convinced me that the Lotus dance was a good idea.
Rehearsals slowly moved from depressing to fun, as I remembered more of the moves and stopped banging into the girls opposite me. Getting my own lotus in shades of pink and orange made me feel prepared. I could remember my fellow lotuses’ names. By the first week of December, I was totally ready.
Backstage the day of the show was madness. Everyone was running around like their hair was on fire; maybe it actually was, with the number of hair straighteners and curlers everywhere. I sat in my freshly-ironed dress in the corner. All the girls applied makeup with a professional touch. I hadn’t even considered that. The stress was forcing people into hectic cliques and clumps, so it was obvious when you didn’t have a clump of your own. Nice going, Marianna, way to be a part of something, I thought, fiddling with the ribbon around my waist.
Finally, it was time to start. With the spotlights in my face, I could hardly see the crowd. I managed not to completely mess anything up. We smoothly completed what we called “the lotus of lotuses,” the most dicey part of the dance. After holding our final position, I could finally walk off stage, ready for the fawning crowd.
Instead, the other people backstage continued their business, still not sure why I was there anyway. When the curtain fell and the show ended, the other dancers headed off to an after-party to celebrate. I was invited, but it didn’t seem like anyone would care if I was there. Slightly empty inside, I watched the hoard of people, which I had somehow hoped to be a part of, head over to some unknown dorm I didn’t catch. It was incredibly anti-climactic.
Then my mother and a friend from high school appeared from the crowd and took me for ice cream: vanilla with hot fudge– the usual since I was five. They told me I did wonderfully and looked beautiful, even if by this point in the evening I had tangled hair and fudge on my face. I had to take their word for it. The closest I got to seeing myself was when my roommate got the pictures of our ending position with our jazz hands, but I couldn’t see my face due to the girl positioned in front of me. She could have done that on purpose.
The next morning, staring at my glorious Sunday breakfast of soggy cheerios, I considered if my life had changed at all. I didn’t have any new friends, I hadn’t discovered a talent for dancing or a passion for Vietnamese culture (Though it was beautiful), and I hadn’t built the basis for an ever-lasting relationship with my roommate. When she woke up, we gave one another the usual passive good morning. She didn’t fall down at my feet and thank me, declaring that now we would be friends forever.
She didn’t understand how hard it was for me to step onto that stage. But that was OK because I knew how hard it was, and I had done it anyway. That counted for something.. If I could come out of my shell for that, then maybe I could try a few more things. Just taking baby steps, the way my close relative, the tortoise, beat the hare.