image: Hayrettin Karaerkek: Swan Lake (american public art)
As much as the neighbours gossiped, her parents stayed mute on the subject of how they came to have such an ugly duckling as a daughter. Helena was, to put it politely and delicately – off. Her looks, her behavior, her attitude all betrayed her from being a member of upper society. She was a charm school drop out – though she had tried very hard. But she couldn’t balance books on her head and walk. Her splayed-toed legs teetered, the books tottered and fell. She swallowed the marbles placed in her mouth for proper pronunciation. Luckily she didn’t choke but unfortunately made strange noises that the other girls – in meanness – would evoke behind her back.
For a bizarre reason, Helena could not understand, her parents next chose ballet school. Discipline. Pose. Grace. Rich husband. Her parents’ thoughts, not hers. Helena just cringed at being in a leotard, having to plié and barre and then dance
The prima donna princesses had alabaster complexions upon which a blemish dare not appear. They looked like ethereal dreams in white leotards and tutus. Their toe shoes floated above the boards of the stage. Accolades, purges, zero calories, love, adoration, anorexia followed them everywhere.
Helena knew her best was not inspired, her complexion not alabaster, she had no adoring crowd. She had no friends. Another torturous attempt to make her conform to a particular set of values defining beauty as worthiness, greatness, talent, importance. Everyone else, just the dreck of life.
The dance of the year was Swan Lake as it should be by the rules, and of course, Priscilla would dance the part of the swan, Odette. Lithe – little more than 80 pounds, alabaster, straight super-white teeth, she was the swan. But some cruel prankster elevated Helena from the back chorus where she could be hidden to second for Priscilla as the Swan. Priscilla, so sure of her abilities, went clubbing before the performance, and a swan coming down off ecstasy and who knows what else, couldn’t exactly dance her role.
So there was Helena, who knew some of the steps but could not make her feet co-operate. Who would be held aloft by the man who’s pheromones drove her insane at 1/2 a mile. Held aloft – it would cripple him for life. What am I going to do? “Be a swan,” a small voice inside her head suggested. “Just think swan. Think like Odette, think like Odile.”
So Helena, the ugly duckling of dancers, performed Swan Lake on her own terms. No lifts, no fancy foot work – she interpretative danced the story. When it was all over and done, the audience was quiet. “At least no boos and hisses, she thought.” Then thunderous applause. A standing ovation. Bravo. Swan Lake as they had never seen it danced.
The reviews said Helena danced Swan Lake as an allegory, as a counter to our culture of beauty. More performances were demanded, each one different as Helena grew to know the swan, Odette and Odile. And dance her as an ugly duckling. The charm, coo’d reviewers, every night was a different Swan Lake.
She sent her parents tickets; they were always busy. Still embarrassed, Helena thought, that I’m not an alabaster princess, ice queen, pills to loose weight neurotic.
Better yet than the accolades, “Mr. You Don’t Have to Lift Me but Those Pheromones”, became her lover and companion. The voice inside her head said – “see what happens when an ugly duckling substitutes for a swan – anarchy, love and lust.” She lightly touched Raymond in his sensitive spot, and all thought of sleep evaded him. Helena had never intended to slumber that night.
Written for Mindlovemisery’s Menagerie, Tale Weaver Fairy Tale #77: The Ugly Duckling. A modern day fable of a duckling taking over for a swan.