The Dance of the Tangled Woman

Polished personal.

The impact significant events have on an individual’s ability to determine their own destiny. In response to Wilmer Mills’ ‘The Tent Delivery Woman’s Ride

When an individual feels inadequate in light of what they perceive to be a significant event, they may utilize unkindness to solidify their destiny.


My mother once told me I was a tangled woman–that I entered this world all tied up, born with my umbilical cord wrapped around my neck. I almost didn’t exist–I almost didn’t exist, and my death would not have been a particularly significant event to anyone but my mother. Perhaps that is why I have tried so hard throughout my life to be important enough for my death to be something of significance; because it almost wasn’t.

I do not think I am tangled anymore. And neither is ballet.

That is why I love it–because of the order. Because every position must be precise, because every leap has to be landed meticulously, because every pirouette needs to be executed diligently. To be a dancer, it is not enough to simply ‘feel the music.’ The music does not move you; yes, you bend with it, you breathe with it, but you are, ultimately in control of it–that is the difference between a good dancer and a Great Dancer; good dancers feel it, but Great Dancers command it. Ballet is all about technique, and it is a dwindling profession kept alive by those who master that technique. Those who are born with the music in their bones and a discipline in their hearts are destined to be dancers. Those who know where their abilities lie, and what they are capable of. So, not everyone is cut straight enough to be a dancer, though I am. There is an order, you see. An order that some are not neat enough to follow. That is why it is the furthest thing from tangled, and that is why I have given my life to it.

And I like it that way just fine.

The girls at the Company were not kind to me when I first arrived, though I knew that they were very likely intimidated by me; I was a loose cannon. They had not yet seen me dance, and so they did not know how good I really was in comparison to them. They scarcely looked me in the eye the first week I was there, but I could feel them piercing me icily with their disapproving gazes whenever my back was turned. They could not have been more unwelcoming. In the second week I was there, one of the girls actually talked to me, but only for a moment, as, I’m sure, she did not want the others to see. It was not a particularly pleasant interaction; she told me that this year, she was going to be the Swan Queen in the Company’s production of Swan Lake, and to not get my hopes up, because the role wouldn’t go to ‘the New Girl.’ I, of course, wanted that role, too–it was the one thing that actually held significance for me, but I wasn’t about to let her know that. She left me after she said that, not bothering to pause for my reaction. It’s just as well–I didn’t have one anyway. I didn’t know it then, but being treated unkindly by those girls would make me all the more unkind.

After a while, they grew to tolerate me, just as they tolerated each other. I didn’t mind. They never thawed their icy manner with me, but I kept my distance from them anyway. Not many of them were especially nice, and all of them had talent, but once in a while, one of them would put my hair in a bun for me, or take me home after rehearsals. I knew, however, that these were not attempts at friendship–they were attempts at ‘keeping the enemy close,’ and I took them for what they were without being phased. Companies are always like that–these girls are driven by competition, and the need to be the best. It’s a clean-cut kind of pursuit, with no ulterior motives, or knotted games–it’s all laid out in the open, right from the moment when they first scope each other out, both curious, and wary, all the while praying that each is not better than the other. Ability can determine your destiny in this industry. And so, of course, we did not make friends with each other–it is so much easier to tear someone down, to defeat them, when you do not love them.

We tolerated each other. And I liked it just fine.

Then, one day, there was a new New Girl with wind in her hair and a flush about her cheeks. She even looked a little tangled to me. I watched how she gave the other girls a ready smile when she was first introduced by the director. I watched as the other girls did not smile back. We all watched as the director held his arm around her shoulder a little too long after the introduction, and naturally, none of us said anything. I almost felt bad for this girl as I observed her during the next few days, desperately trying to win the other girls over with small niceties and kind words. They had shunned her after they saw her dance; we never like the people who do what we love, but better than us. I let her warm up with me some days, for I knew she did not have the ability I did, and was sure she was going to become unravelled and leave, which would ultimately end her career. Of course–I did not care much about her, nor was I intimidated by her for her arrival did not hold any significance in my eyes,  but if leaving meant destroying her fate and reputation in the dance world, I thought that I would have wanted somebody to do it for me.

So, I tolerated her, just as the other girls had tolerated me when I was the New Girl. I sized her up, the way they did me, and I gave her ‘tips’ on her technique as we prepared for the upcoming auditions for Swan Lake–‘tips’ which she thought would make her better–but which were actually designed to make her fail. I’d been here long enough to know what the director did and did not like, and so, when she danced for him, and he scolded her for the way she did not fully turn out her legs the way he liked when she plied (something I had told her to do), I sat in the back by the mirrors and tried not to smile. This event, I know, held significance for her, for she stopped warming up with me in the mornings, and did not try to speak to me again.

That is why ability can determine your destiny in this world; her ability as a dancer, as a result of my sabotage, had certainly determined her destiny in our Company for at least the next year. The director was not a man to forgive mistakes easily–once, when I sprained my ankle from practising too vigorously, I fell in the middle of my pirouette, and the director did not give me another solo until the next season. God forbid I had actually given her something that would make her better–you learn very quickly in this world, that it is fine if the other girls are good, as long as they aren’t better than you. I’d ensured that she wasn’t better than me–in this industry, you have to be ruthless to fulfill your destiny, to seal your fate. I was.

And I liked what I did just fine.

Living in this world is like living in a tent–temporary. It’s temporary, and completely dependant on what we can and cannot do. We all know it too. And perhaps that’s why we do some of the things we do; because we want to hold onto it for a little longer. It’s as though we are all watching each other’s tents being set up in this little world we call show business, the cords that string up the tents being our lifelines. Do not be mistaken, though–we are only watching the lines go up, with the hopes that they will soon come back down. Sometimes, it’s so tempting to cut one of them, even. The way it’s pulled so taught tells each of us that if we were to take a blade to the lifeline that’s pitching the tent and saw through it, back and forth, it’s fall would be utterly magnificent. It would be one less tent on our turf, for the girl would soon pack up and leave. It’s better that way–one less girl to compete with.

Finally, the director began auditioning roles for Swan Lake. Of course, all of the other girls wanted to play the Swan Queen, as well. Perhaps that is the only time when ballet is tangled–during auditions. I certainly was, on the inside, for my stomach was in knots. I didn’t like that. I hated knots. Playing the Swan Queen truly was the be-all-end-all of roles–any company would hire you after that. This was the most important audition of my life. It would secure my destinies as a dancer. Naturally, comraderie was scarcer than usual during this time, as each of us worked to fine-tune our ability–it seemed that the other girls tried to tear everyone else down, in the hopes that we would all falter and then that one, lucky dancer, would get the part. My stomach was in knots for weeks, and my heart seemed to be possessed by dying butterflies, the kind whose purple wings have been torn, but continue to flutter anyway.

The auditions lasted three weeks.

Quiet jealousy ensued when the New Girl got the part. Outrage ensued when the director told me that I almost had it. 

The burden of not being good enough weighed on me. I was second to the New Girl, who was not half the dancer I was, with her tangled hair and in-turned legs. I needed the role, and she did not. It was a loss that was sure to be the defining event of my career; I could see it now: my tent being cut down, bloated and bulging, as it fell from it’s former glory, taking me with it. I regretted ever being nice to her, even if it was half-hearted–I should have snubbed her like the rest of them did when it mattered most.

One day, a week before Opening Night, the New Girl left her pointe shoes unattended in her cubby as she got fitted for her Swan Queen costume. No one was there but me. I did not think of how hard the New Girl must have worked to get the role, as I bumped into one of the stray perfume bottles, causing it to shatter on the floor. I did not think about how she never failed to smile at all of the other girls when she passed them in the halls,  as I collected the shards in my hands carefully, and examined them closely. I did not think of any of these things. Instead, the only thing I thought of, as I emptied the broken glass into her pointe shoes, was the image of tents billowing down to the ground, after their lines had been cut. And, slowly, I began to feel like an unrolled ball of yarn–pulled out, unravelled; this was not an orderly thing to do and yet. . . I had done it.

I heard her screams from the studio when she went to put on her shoes–we all did. I did not feel the least bit bad–after all, friendship and sweetness have no place in this world, in my world, of pointe shoes, and music, and dancers. Her poor, beautiful feet would not heal in time for the recital–one of her tendons was even severed, the director said, and the doctors did not know if she would ever dance again. She paid a price, I suppose. She paid a price for being better than me. And now, her destiny no longer belonged in this world of mine–this world of tangled order and controlled chaos.

And so, when the director told me that I would be dancing the role of the Swan Queen in Swan Lake, I knew that my ability to be cruel had served my destiny well, even where my ability as a dancer had failed. My tent would not be going down for a long time. Perhaps I was a tangled woman after all.

And I liked it just fine.


Swan Lake

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2 thoughts on “The Dance of the Tangled Woman

  1. Dear Hope,

    This personal is truly beautiful – in my opinion, it’s the best personal you’ve ever written. Unquestioningly, I would give this 100%; it has relevance to prompt and poem and is also told magnificently. I always expect your writing to be excellent, but the brilliance of this story surpasses all expectations.
    I love that you just told the story of a human being, a person who is competitive and insecure and just needs to be the best. She isn’t a character to be glorified or hated – you make it so that she is simply understandable. You make her relatable – I mean, I could see myself slipping into the trap of valuing my ambition more than my morality. I think the brilliance of this piece lies in the truth that you’ve woven into it.
    I loved the repetition of, ‘I liked it just fine’ and the irony of how our protagonist is never satisfied with mediocrity. I also really appreciated the way that you were able to weave in the poem and the prompt – particularly the poem – in such an elegant way. I could taste traces of it throughout, traces that were exciting and perfectly integrated rather than forced or cliché. Your example of how to do this so well is something I can definitely learn from.
    As for things for you to improve upon, I don’t have much. If I’m being super picky, I might ask you include more than just the one visual in the blog post, just because the post is quite long for a personal and an image can help to make the length seem less overwhelming. That being said, I was so engaged the whole time that I didn’t mind the length. The only other thing I can think to suggest would be that you do a full circle effect and at the end go back to how your mother used to call you a tangled woman. Near the end, you have the line ‘Perhaps I was a tangled woman after all,’ – if this line could just be modified to relate to your mother, I think it would be a really cool addition to make the story feel more unified – maybe something like ‘perhaps my mother was right all along when she told me I was a tangled woman.’
    But other than that, this was just flawless. Thank you for an amazing read!


  2. Dear Hope,

    One thing amongst the many things that I adore in this piece is the aura of retrospect it seems to hold. It’s hard to explain- the way the narrator speaks makes it seem as though she is trying so hard to maintain her air of order and push everyone away because she realizes that she is so tangled; she realizes, and thus she is afraid and so irrevocably human, so unfortunately vulnerable. Here’s where the retrospect aspect comes in; your personal offers the reader the ability to look back at their own destinies and the way they may have utilized cruelty in order to stand above the rest, but it does so without seeming forced or accusatory. It is a place for quiet introspection, and its brilliance is best gleaned after having pondered on the message. The connection to the human condition was so innate and natural, which is something I am humbled to learn from. Not only that, your ability to bring it all back to the thesis and prompt was phenomenal! No part of the story was superfluous, and your prose was incredibly mindful. Repetition – both in your phrases and in your tent imagery- really helped nail the message home. Also- the kindness aspect of the prompt was a very unique twist on the prompt that I hadn’t really considered. Kindness in and of itself is such an integral aspect of the human condition, though it’s something we take for granted far too often. Seeing it woven into this beautiful story helped remind me of that, so thank you! There were a few small spelling errors here and there (“taught” instead of “taut”, “phased” instead of “fazed”), though they didn’t detract in any way from the eloquence of the piece. As Ziyana suggested, perhaps a full circle effect would have made for a neat ending; however, the ending as it is right now works to promote the tangled-ness of the narrator- a more unraveled ending as opposed to a bow. Hope, though I say this time and again, your writing never fails to leave me dumbstruck and in complete awe of you. Thank you so much for this beautiful story!


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