After the past few weeks, I've decided my favorite place to people watch in Rio is the international arrivals gate at the airport, and the absolute worst is at the city's professional ballet school.
I've been volunteering at a ballet NGO since I moved here, and I've been training a group of kids since last March to audition for the state ballet school, one of the best in the country that feeds right into the city's ballet company. This week they're holding auditions, and one of my students asked me to go with her, since her mom couldn't go. So it began.
I arrived at the school, the entrance hallway filled with parents. My student was getting ready and was one of the last to go up to the studio. I wished her luck and sent her off. I sat down on one of the incredibly uncomfortable benches lining the hallway, where I waited for two hours, with no AC or fans. It was the first time I'd gone to an audition to wait and not actually dance, and the tension was in the air. But since it's Rio, it was at the least entertaining.
The mothers began to gossip. Some already knew each other since their daughters had danced at the school before. Then, one of the groups came out after their audition. Twenty or so girls filed down the stairs, almost all of them in tears, their eyeliner running down their pretty faces, their hopes dashed. I felt horrible, and began to worry about my student. Meanwhile, the mothers fussed over their daughters. One woman, chatting to no one in particular but directing herself at me as if we were old friends, railed on. "My daughter has the technique, but not the body. Why didn't they tell us that when we signed up? We paid R$50! They could have just looked at her and told us then. Ridiculous," she huffed.
Soon after, the enormous woman sitting next to me started chatting to no one in particular and decided to start up a conversation, or rather, a speech interspersed with a few questions directed at me. She told me the life story of her granddaughter, who was auditioning, who had just turned fifteen and was a spectacular dancer of whom she is terribly proud. She told me that her only downfall was her butt, which was a little big for ballet standards which the granddaughter had inherited from her (she showed me, pointing). "I was born with it, what am I going to do?" She asked me a few questions about myself, laughing when I told her I was 24 (you look 16! she said). On and on, round and round she went about the granddaughter's ballet career and festa de quince anos and yadda yadda yadda, and I smiled and nodded the whole way through. Occasionally, I tried to add something to the conversation, not in response to a direct question, and she'd ignore me.
Eventually the conversation tapered off and I went back to being anxious, picking at my nails and peering down the hall every few minutes. Then, suddenly, the enormous woman started to burp very loudly. "I think I have gas," she exclaimed in between burps. She asked me what would be good to drink or eat to cure her gas. I shrugged. Another woman went to get her water, but on she burped, like something out of a Farrelly Brothers movie. She giggled, and then sipped her water, and kept burping. I bit my tongue trying not to laugh.
Luckily, the girls then appeared, about thirty of them shuffling into the hall, twenty-eight of them weeping, one of which was my student. I hugged her and told her I was so proud of her for auditioning, and told her only five out of fifty or sixty girls had gotten in that afternoon. She sighed through her tears. A lone excited shriek sounded from down the hall. It made me feel even worse. I walked her to the bus stop and tried to make her feel better, telling her that compared to this, nothing would seem too hard or intimidating now, and tried to make her laugh by telling her about the burping woman. She told me that two of the other students from my class who auditioned the day before hadn't gotten in, either. The school was only accepting two or three out of each audition group, and some of them had already danced at the school (apparently, the kids have to re-audition each year). Four more of my kids have yet to try out.
I just hope that in the end, eventually, the whole experience will have made them stronger. And there's always next year.