Hairspray hung in the hot air long after each girl’s hair was caked with the harsh chemicals. Once in a while, the familiar sound of complaining could be heard. A costume was too tight or too loose; the make-up was done all wrong. What you would hear in reply was, “Shut up. You look gorgeous. You have nothing to worry about—at least you don’t look like me.”

A low hush rippled across the backstage as our dance teacher’s feet clicked up and across the stage. My shoulders straightened at the sound of her voice welcoming the audience. The frustration and waiting were over.

We had been practicing for the Kabul Dance Studio’s Spring Recital for such a long time, coming to school on weekends, that I hardly realized the big day had come until that moment.

I peeped through the curtains to sneak a look at the younger dance classes as they came on stage. The little girls bobbed on stage in their tiny tutus, some staring blankly at the audience, others keeping up with the music. As always, they were a major success with the audience, their cute smiles making up for the wrong dance steps.

“High school girls! Line up. You’re about to go on stage.”

At that, suddenly half of my group remembered that we needed to use the bathroom. There was no time. With flutters in our bellies and confidence wavering, we ran on stage and took our positions. The word smile was the best single word of advice our dance teacher gave us. And I didn’t find a fake smile plastered on my face, it was a natural smile—so big that at times I had to suppress it.

The recital was a hit. Class after class received loud appreciation from the audience.

However, there had been one class of dancers where I did not recognize any of the girls. Their flowing, white dresses contrasted against their beautiful dark skin. I reached for a program, and read through it.

I realized it was a class of Afghan orphans whom our dance teacher had taught. My mind raced with an endless train of questions. Who were these girls? How did they come to be on stage today to dance ballet, something most Afghans in Afghanistan have never even heard of? What are their stories?

I’ll probably never know the answer to my questions. But I do know that day meant something important to them. Whether it was scary or wonderful for them, our spring recital day had an impact on them, and it had an impact on me.

We performed our next dance to “Climb Every Mountain,” a hopeful song that speaks of freedom. This time as I danced, I did not smile and I did not attempt to look pretty. I was thinking about those little girls. I did not focus as much on sharp arms and pointing my toe as hard as I could. I focused on the moment. I focused on just dancing.

By Laila

Photo by the Kabul Dance Studio