Authors: Bruno Bouchet
I have a plan. I, Sammy Lieberman, am going to study hard, get straight As in every year at school. Then after I've blitzed my Year Twelve exams I'll go to medical school, become a doctor and then a specialist, probably a cardiologist like my dad. Along the way I'll have just enough time to get serious with Mia, my beautiful girlfriend. I'll propose, she'll accept and we'll have a huge Jewish wedding. My dad will have tears in his eyes as he claps along to
and my mother will be so happy she bakes every cake in the secret Jewish mothers' recipe book.
It really is a great plan. There's just one problem â it isn't my plan. It's my dad's plan for me. It's what his heart is set on. My heart is set on something else.
If I'd never seen those brilliant tap dancers, heard the thunder of their boots and the smash of those metal sheets, got lost in their dazzling moves and felt my heart pound, then I might never have said those fateful words, âMum, I want to learn to dance.'
I wouldn't have gone to dance classes and learned I could actually dance. I wouldn't have practised day and night. Today I wouldn't be here at the National Academy of Dance.
The Academy is amazing. Apart from being the greatest place to learn dance in Australia, it's located on a wharf that juts right out into Sydney Harbour. Every day at the school cafÃ© we can look at the Harbour Bridge, gaze across the water and know that just around the corner is the one place we all dream of performing â the Sydney Opera House.
But it's not all a massive brilliant head rush. The Academy is a long way from easy street. It's harder than I ever imagined, in ways that I never dreamed of. I didn't expect so many humiliations, piled onto embarrassments and served with a heavy sauce of cringe.
The one thing I was really looking forward to was not being the only male dancer in my class. I thought finally I could actually have some friends who were boys. Is it too much for a dancer to hang out and do regular guy stuff? Apparently, yes.
First off, some joker in admin at the Academy puts me down as Samantha Lieberman so I have to share a room with Kat. She's great â fun, good-looking, blonde hair with an appetite that would even please my mother â but she is completely and utterly female.
That's bad enough, but the day before our first dance she comes in from the shower while I'm putting my contact lens in and takes advantage of my blurry eyesight to strip off and get changed. How's a man supposed to perform delicate eye surgery under those conditions? I jump, the contact dives down the sink and I'm stuck wearing my glasses to our first mixed classical dancing class with Miss Raine. There's a first impression I didn't want to make.
Miss Raine is the scariest teacher ever. I think she's physically incapable of smiling. From day one she's taking no prisoners. Her class ends and I've made it through without too many fumbles or mistakes. At least that's what I think.
âSamuel? Tara? Please see me before you go,' she asks.
Tara and I look at each other. I met her at the auditions. She's from the country, is gorgeous in that fresh, innocent way: soft skin, a hint of freckles and pale brown hair. We bonded over the bad feedback we both got. I matched her âbehind, technically' with âproblem shoulder blades' and âweak ankles'. Now our problems at the auditions are coming back to torment us.
âSamuel, you must go with the girls to be fitted for
shoes,' Miss Raine announces, as if it's perfectly normal.
I gape in horror. âWhat do you mean
? Boys don't do
âThey do when their ankles are weak and yours are from all those years of tap.'
âBut I'll be a laughing stock. More of a one.'
Miss Raine is unmoved. âA laughing stock with stronger ankles. There's always a silver lining.'
Thanks for that,
Turns out Tara has the opposite problem. She's not allowed to do
So the first-year female students plus me are sent to the school shoemaker. Even with my glasses on, it's a blur of ribbon straps, pink satin and squealing girls.
âDo they come in black?' I ask hopefully. The shoemaker gives me a look and moves on.
âSee?' Kat snaps her
shoes at me like a crocodile and makes me jump.
shoes are barbaric!'
I'm not sure if she's trying to cheer me up because I have to wear them or cheer Tara up because she can't.
The humiliation doesn't stop there. In the boys' changing room, the steam from the showers immediately fogs up my glasses. Everything's a blur as I make my way to the lockers and try to put my gear into one of them. Unfortunately, Sean is already using that locker. Sean is one of those boys who has no problem hanging out with mates. He slams the locker shut.
âThat's mine, Twinkletoes,' he says. âYou can put your
shoes over there.'
Everyone laughs and I know now is not the time to look like a bad sport.
âTwinkletoes. Good call, Sean.' I try to laugh.
Then Kat bursts in with one of the third-year girls. She points me out. Isabelle, the third year, looks me up and down and says, âI told you it's got to be a girl.'
âJust think of him as Samantha,' Kat replies.
âNo. Don't. Really,' I say. I've no idea what this is about but right now it's the last thing I need. Later I find out there's some first-year girls' initiation ceremony thing and Kat thought it would be great to do it with me.
Kat shrugs her shoulders as Isabelle walks away. âWell, we tried,' Kat says to me as if she's doing me a favour.
My plan to be one of the boys is in tatters. Isn't it meant to be the easiest thing in the world, to be friends with guys: hang out, share some jokes, have a laugh? Not for Sammy Lieberman, not even in a school full of boys that like dance. Fate has tattooed âmust hang with girls' in invisible ink on my forehead.
Two days later I'm standing at the sink in my room again. Mum's posted me a fresh supply of contacts and I'm keen to ditch the glasses. Kat comes in from the showers in a towel. I stay calm, determined not to have a replay of last time.
âDon't even think about dropping the towel.' My contact slides in and I turn around so Kat will know I'll see everything if she does. âI'm a guy. You cannot get undressed in front of me or talk about your feelings. And I am never going to buy you tampons.'
Kat just grins. âGood to know.'
âAs soon as this room thing is cleared up, we won't be spending time together and you'll need to get some other friends â proper GIRL friends â because I'm a boy and â¦'
âOkay. Getting the gender difference!'
She looks upset as she moves away from the door to her side of the room. I feel bad.
Right on cue Sean walks past the open door. âHey Twinkletoes, you going to do the girl part or the boy part today?' His mates start guffawing.
Kat's behind the door. She can't see but she can hear. She looks right at me and shakes her head. âYou want to be friends with these people?' she mouths.
Kat's right. Idiots are idiots whether they can do a good
or not. And that's when Kat shows me what real friends do.
She swings round the door in her towel. âHey Sean.'
At the sight of her, his jaw drops.
âThing is,' she says, âeven if Sammy here does do the girl part, he's more man than all of you put together.'
She smiles, gives a little wave and pushes the door closed in their faces.
Perfect, absolutely perfect.
A few weeks into the first semester and we've settled into a sort of routine. Every week, Tara humiliates herself over Ethan. He's Kat's brother, a third-year student and the love of Tara's life. The only problem is he seems oblivious to her. This is just as well as she is incapable of saying anything coherent if he is within three metres of her. Every week Kat finds some totally innovative way to get into trouble. And every week I manage to fall apart in mixed dance class right when Miss Raine is staring at me.
On the plus side I've finally got a male roommate â Christian. His weekly routine is uttering one word. Last week he surpassed himself with two: âDon't care'.
I wouldn't mind all this if the main routine I've settled into wasn't dreading Saturdays. It's
supposedly a day of rest for Jewish people across the world, only for me it's becoming the biggest day of unrest there is. It starts on Fridays. At around about midday this knot forms in my stomach and starts growing. In the evening I go home for a family dinner. It's supposed to be a nice occasion. My mum always prepares an amazing meal. My grandmother's there, smiling like life is always beautiful. I should enjoy all this, even with my little brother, Ari, doing joke
and saying he wants to be a âdahhhncer'. I can't enjoy it though because I know tomorrow is Saturday and somehow I have to attend synagogue and Saturday classes at the Academy at the same time.
The stress is affecting my school work. This Friday lunchtime I'm at the Academy cafÃ© with Kat and Tara. We're sitting outside, the sun's shining, there's a beautiful harbour just metres away but it means nothing. I am a dead man â I was given a B plus for my English assignment.
âIt's only English,' says Kat.
âYou got a B plus, not an F,' Tara adds, not helping.
They don't understand. I may as well be six feet underground without a pulse.
âI promised Dad straight As. That was the condition for letting me come here. That and going to synagogue every Saturday.'
âI'd love an excuse like that to get out of class,' says Kat.
âIt's not an excuse,' my voice goes up an octave as the knot in my stomach leaps up to grab my throat, âit's a web of lies. One week I'm telling Dad I'm too sick to go to temple so I can go to class. Next week â¦'
ââ¦ you're telling the school you're too sick to dance so you can go to synagogue,' Tara says.
I feel like I'm about to implode. Hopefully the implosion might split me into two then I can be in two places at the same time.
Kat states the obvious. âYou realise you can't keep this up?'
She's right. I must decide one way or the other.
âTomorrow I have to go to synagogue because I promised Dad I'd do a reading. But after that I'll be firm â¦ unless it's a special occasion or something.'
The knot loosens for a millisecond until I hear Patrick, the dance teacher who takes our class on Saturday morning. âYoung Lieberman â¦'
Next thing I know I've absolutely guaranteed to be in class tomorrow.
I bang my head on the table. It's the only logical thing to do.
That night after dinner at home, Dad produces my English paper. âYou're not a B plus. You're upper percentile. You could have any career you want.'
âAs long as it's a cardiologist.'
âThere are other specialties. Your grandfather was only a dermatologist.' It's his idea of a joke.
Then he repeats my lie back to me. âYou tell us you're one of the best dancers at the Academy â¦ '
Now I feel even worse.
âHe is, you've seen him dance,' says my mother, trying to be supportive.
âBut what will dancing give you in the long term?' Dad challenges me.
There is no long term. I can't see myself being alive after tomorrow.
As I leave, Mum produces some cakes for me to take back to the Academy. She's amazing. She works, looks after the family and still manages to bake.
âSammy, I support you in your dancing but you've made a promise. You have to attend synagogue tomorrow. It will break your father's heart if you keep missing it.'
She's pleading. It's not fair. I can't argue with that.
âDon't worry, Mum. I'll be there.'
When I get back to the Academy, I'm reduced to a pathetic Plan B â provoking Christian into landing a punch on me. He hates the mess I make in our room and is in a really bad mood, so I'm hoping that if I scatter poppyseed cake crumbs all over his bed, I'll get a serious fat lip and an excuse to miss class in the morning.
He lets me down with his non-violent response.