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Short story: Dance bag

"At least it's wearing a pretty-colored skirt."

dance bag.jpg

Short story: Dance bag

"At least it's wearing a pretty-colored skirt."

Every day, I carry a dance bag. It’s a navy blue duffel bag, to be exact, and it has everything I need: flat ballet shoes, hairpins, a snack of vegetables and hummus, extra pairs of tights and soft boots that keep my feet warm. I place my dance bag in the same spot every class — top left on the highest shelf — and when I’m done, I run back to grab it as fast as I can to get a good seat next to my friends before rehearsal.

My dance bag changes one day. It carries pointe shoes — instead of flats — string and needles for sewing, loose cotton and toe pads for feet protection, a snack of an apple or two, and a wrap skirt painted with pretty colors because when you’re older, you can wear different-colored skirts. I stay after rehearsal for pointe class with the other older girls, and I carry pain medications and bath salts to soak my feet.

I land my first solo on pointe at just 14, and now my dance bag carries bandages and a lighter so I can burn the ribbons cleanly on my new pointe shoes. I take classes six days a week and still place my dance bag in the same spot every time. Top left on the highest shelf. Some things don’t change. But other things do. I get older, and I lose weight in my legs. I turn 15, and I am 110 pounds.

A performance is coming up soon. My dance bag carries more hairpins, my only tights with no holes, broken-in pointe shoes, a special leotard that cinches my waist more than the others and an extra pair of clothes for when I hang out with friends after. I rush out of the house and barely make it to rehearsal on time. I forgot a snack. I don’t need it. I dance on an empty stomach for eight hours, and my dance teacher comments on how much better the corset for my costume fits.

I carry the bruises the stage leaves on my legs. I get home and stare at my exposed ribs in the mirror. I reach out to touch them. I carry the feeling of bones on my fingertips for the whole day after.

That night, I get yelled at with the rest of the dancers. Our arms are sloppy, and our feet aren’t pointed, my director barks. There’s no room for error. I carry my director’s voice in my ears that night, ringing through my head as I try to sleep. Finally, I do. I dream of screaming and sweating and broken toenails and blood and cuts all over my skin. I dream of maggots crawling over my dance bag, eating something trapped inside. At least it’s wearing a pretty-colored skirt.

It’s performance day. My dance bag carries two pairs of pointe shoes, hairpins, some toe pads, a pretty smile for my proud family members, a black skirt and a granola bar. It’s chocolate.

This story is part of The Culture Issue, which was released on Feb. 28, 2024. See the entire publication here.

Reach the reporter at and follow @iamGibManrique on X. 

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