My small-town modern ballet class competed and won the honor of dancing for the elevation of mankind in a pasture stocked with live animals. All expenses paid and eternal fame and so forth. Plus a token of gratitude for each.
We showed up in the middle of nowhere, undressed and dressed behind the van, giggling and cursing the cold. Our costumes were blood-red catsuits, which flattened our underdeveloped breasts and cut into our balls. We were eleven or twelve, tall or plump, of various genders and talents. Pancake is what the lady called the stuff she smeared on our faces—to make some of us look less ghostly, we thought.
The cattle truck arrived, and with it came people in blue overalls. They staked the grounds and fenced our stage. Together with the film crew, they were our audience. We appreciated the shamelessness of their stares despite the discomfort it caused us.
Loudspeakers were installed. Our nerves grew.
Then they opened the truck and let the animals out.
Had we expected horses? We’d expected horses. Cats, dogs, rabbits. Deer perhaps.
But out came the pigs. Not cute pink piglets you’d want to cuddle with, but full-grown hairy hogs.
Zero objections emerged from our teacher so zero complaints erupted from us. Did I mention we were good kids? With our swift ballet feet, we sidestepped our fears, our disgust, our sure humiliation.
When the music began and the cameras rolled, we danced in the grassy field, performing the piece we had been practicing for weeks. The grace with which we lifted our legs! The power we packed into our air-pummeling punches!
We played with the cameras, smiling and batting our lashes, imagining our faces on TV. We even engaged with the pigs, not only dancing around them, but also including them in our rhythmic euphoria while never losing the beat. We were animated. We were sharp. For the first time in my life, I twirled a perfect pirouette, spinning and keeping balance in a triumph of body and mind.
When the music stopped, applause flowed our way. I kid you not: we believed we were on Broadway. Then we noticed the pig shit caked to our bare feet.
The commercial for the Animal Protection agency was broadcast months later on a rainy day in late spring. All of us dancers from modern ballet class got together at our teacher’s house to watch the advertisement air. The living room was party central and had a revengeful edge: sausages, bacon wraps, and ham sandwiches festooned the table. For added fun, we even wore our tokens of gratitude around our necks. They were shiny cowbells suspended from black ribbons.
We looked at the TV screen, eyes wide, squeezing one another’s hands. We all hoped to recognize ourselves, only that didn’t happen. We were dancing just fine, gloriously at times, our blood-red bodies bouncy among the dull pigs, but some post-prod technician had replaced our flushed faces by fleshless white skulls.