The studio was empty. All mine. The last of my participants had left and the rec centre was closed to the public. Every hallway empty, save for the janitors clearing up the remnants of the days program. The front desk staff quietly chatting to each other, their voices hushed as the great foyer echoed now in its emptiness. Day end cashing out and papers to be filed were their order of business now that the front doors were locked, the last stragglers having been shooed out to go home. Across the hall from my studio, the pool was quiet and still. The gym next to it was dimly lit with only the overnight lights on now. The gym attendants were always the first ones to clock out for the day after a quick wipe down of the equipment. The lifeguards, always their own clique, were taking their time with the day end routine of closing down the pool. Mysteries of what exactly they did after closing was lost to most of us who worked in other areas. They were always the last to leave, the overnight building janitor waving them off. The lifeguards had been confused when I started staying late but now, the thumping of my music as they closed up was just another part of the day’s end.
Normally, I would have been gone shortly after the gym attendants but the last few months I had been staying later, having discovered an oasis of peace within the walls of my studio in the dark.
A respite from a life that was unravelling and tearing me apart as it came undone.
I taught the last class of the day. Ending at 9:15pm, with the rec centre closing at 9:30pm it was the least sought-after time slot, but it suited my life at the time. When I had agreed to it, I had no idea that it would hold the secret to my sanity in the empty dark solitude that followed the class each night.
I walked across the now empty studio and flicked off the harsh fluorescent lights that filled the room. All that was left were the sunken pot lights that cast glaring spotlights on the floor. My fingers trailed down the dimmer switch that controlled them, leaving them to barely cast a whisper of light in the vast room. The highly polished hardwood floor danced with shadows. The wall of mirrors across the front of the room sunk from view.
With my workout clothes stuck to me with sweat from the just ended class, I shivered in the heavily air-conditioned room that just half an hour ago was sweltering to me. My long hair was matted to my neck, my hair so long that my ponytail still reached halfway down my back even worn high up on my head. Loose strands that had escaped tickled my cheeks and I pushed them away thoughtlessly as I sat on the floor taking my shoes off.
With my shoes and sweat soaked socks off, I wiggled my toes and closed my eyes as I placed them flat on the cold floor. Standing up slowly, rolling up through the length of my spine, I kept my eyes closed and breathed in deeply.
This had become a ritual. The process. I stood in front of the stereo and found the music that would be my ocean to get lost in tonight. I pressed play and stepped back and closed my eyes.
The music was as loud as it could play. The speakers, hung in the upper corners of the room, shook with the bass. A volume that I could never get away with in a class emanated from them and filled my mind to the point that nothing else existed.
My body moved to the music. I owned the space that was around me. It was mine and it was me. My relationship with that room was of an intimacy that I could feel it with my eyes closed. I moved throughout it with ease. Unencumbered by any self consciousness or limitations. I literally danced like no one was looking, and if anyone was, I could not have cared less. I danced, spun, leapt, crawled, exploded into movement that was, at once, nothing to do with me, and everything that I was in every part of myself. I was free. Freer in the moment than I had ever been in my life. I drowned in the escape as the music consumed me and my body channelled it into movement. A perfect harmony of being utterly disconnected from myself and anything while being so integrally enmeshed within myself and everything at the same time. I danced like I didn’t have a body, yet also experienced every pulse of the music and movement of my body more deeply than I ever imagined I could.
I danced until I collapsed to the floor. Panting, sweat running off me, I pressed my hands into the floor and squeezed my eyes shut tight. I felt the beat of the music deep inside of me. Most nights there were tears mixed with the sweat streaming down my face, but I was so exhausted I never noticed.
I slowly stood and made my way to the stereo. The music now sounded so loud and out of place. I turned it off and the silence was deafening. My ears were ringing, and I could hear my breathing as it started to return to normal. A shiver ran through me, and I reached for my towel. Wrapping it around my shoulders, I felt the roughness of it against my skin where just moments ago the wind flew around me.
I began the process of what always felt like building the cage back. Shoes, sweater, packing up my bag, turning off the stereo. With each step, the memory of the feeling of freedom slipped a little further away.
The studio door opened slowly to frame the lifeguards, bathing suits now hidden under sweatpants and hoodies, asking if I wanted to walk out to the parking lot together.
A breath in, followed by a long exhale out as I picked up my bag, feeling the weight of it all as I made sure I smiled as I walked out towards them.