My roommates and I spent the first night at our dorm chatting and decorating. We talked about boys, played with our hair, ate popcorn and put up posters. It was so typical. Except the boys we talked about were the ones that would lift us over their heads tomorrow in pas de deux class. We needed to practice getting hair-buns done just right so that not a wisp would fall out of place while pirouetting. The popcorn was calorie-free so we could stay skinny. And the posters idolized our favorite ballerinas, the dancers we drooled over. We lived at Boston University’s Shelton Hall, but college was a far-off dream. Dance ruled our world during the summer studying with Boston Ballet, one of the finest companies in America.
With our hair constantly in a bun, pointe shoes perpetually on our feet and the sounds of Tchaikovsky spinning in our ears, we became different people. We even created new names. No longer Emily, Brittany, Daina, Lauren and Lauren, we were Mimi, Tanny, Nishka, Ritz and DV. Together, we laughed, cried, sweat buckets, traded leotards and shared infinite joy.
Captions from photos of that summer read, “Queen Odette with her swans at Boston Commons!” “Dancing Apollo while waiting for the subway!” “Stretching out at Harvard Yard!” We seized everything that Boston had to offer us, but could never shrug off a ballerina mindset. Even Boston’s Cow Parade was relevant as we posed, mouths gaping in front of a bovine creature. Here, the caption proclaims, “Hungry enough to eat a cow!” We loved to joke around about how fat we were and discuss elaborate schemes for losing weight, just to amuse ourselves.
But what we delighted in most was watching the upper level classes rehearse in the big studio with floor to ceiling windows that looked out over Boston’s south side. The girls could balance like statues or leap like gazelles. The guys all wore charismatic smiles and spun wildly in the air. The teachers were commanding and inspirational. One of them we simply called, “God.”
Back in our dorm at night, the chat fest would resume as we’d comment on events of the day. Mimi always created new words. “They’re called ‘quadankles’,” she once explained. “Her leg is like an entire tree trunk.” Ritz would complain about casting for the show, saying “Not only is it not set in stone, it’s not even set in jello!” Tanny raged, “Why do they feed us so much fucking ice cream?” DV was our gossip reporter, relaying information like, “They fucked themselves over…literally.” We were serious dancers, but at the same time we knew how to laugh. We made fun of everyone, even ourselves.
The term “bunhead” refers to a ballerina, known for the lofty bun of hair she wears atop her head. But it can also suggest a girl who is so cloistered in the world of ballet that she knows nothing of the world around her. For example, a “bunhead” is engrossed even by the mind-numbingly dull 19th century ballet, “Les Sylphides.” My roommates and I were unabashed “bunheads,” but our combined passion and witty observations created an experience that transcended the plot of any boring ballet.
Originally written spring 2009 for “Narrative Journalism” at Occidental College.