Her father always told her that she could have the world if she wanted it – all she had to do was reach out and take it. She didn’t want the world, after all. She just wanted to dance. She wanted to exist in a vacuum of time and space where all she could hear were the strings and the piano, building like a wave cresting high over her head. She wanted to count her steps and measure her pace with each move. Chassé on one, to the first arabesque, lift the leg, hold. Penché on five, six, come up seven, pas de bourée eight. Pas de basque on one, attitude two, chassé, fouetté. Tombé, pas de bourée to fourth and many, many turns. Then finish fourth, tendu, and find your fifth.
Simple pleasures were not something that her father's income could afford. Bread that hardened the moment it left the warmth of the wood-fire oven. Stew that grew cold far too quickly. But the simple pleasure of dance - Stella could do that anywhere. Who needed dolls when you had the entire district and the surrounding area as a giant dance floor? She would compose symphonies in her mind, her body both the instruments and the conductor's baton - every moving and changing with the rising pitch of the instruments.
She can hum the music in her quiet, quivering voice but she prefers it in her head, where it lives on in violins and reedy winds.
She remembers conversations with her father growing up (his hands as black as night) as he tucked her in. A permanent reminder of their poverty written across his body. Something that could never be scrubbed clean. No matter how many showers. His face aged from back-breaking work that would never be able to pay for a life that he said she deserved. Did she deserve more? He told her countless times that she was not made for this world. This world was too sharp, he would always say. Stella never understood him.
He drew worlds for her with his words – he really should have been a poet and not a coal miner. The vivid colors he conjured of princesses and always, always a queen who could dance all night and never tire. He couldn’t afford new ballet shoes for her, he told her one day with a sigh. A sigh escaping his throat as if the action cut his vocal chords with shards of glass. She was soft, delicate, and light and he was hard, sharp, and dark. But he came home one night with a brand new pair - the ribbons crisp and far too clean against his dark, dark hands. Stella's face lit up at the sight and she threw her arms around her father. Her gusto knocked the wind out of him momentarily, but his eyes - dark, as dark as his hands and his clothes - softened. They ate only bread and eggs for the week after she received her new shoes.
If she imagines it in rehearsal, she can remember every step of her three-minute solo as if she had danced it only yesterday, but she knows, too, that one time, onstage in the Hall of Justice, she had not danced it as she had learned it; this much she knows but cannot recreate, could not recreate it even a moment after she had finished dancing it.
Her body is thin (too thin, her father would comment with a shake of his head), her fingers long and lean. Her carriage, back, and legs are strong, but she is made for dance, nothing more. Her hair spins with each turn - the coils of curls bouncing to their own beats, independent of the music. Her eyes are green - her mother's as, as her father tells her, but she isn't sure whether that is just a tale he tells her to help her sleep at night or the truth. Her mother died when Stella was a small child - women in District Twelve suffer the same fate as the men and all Stella can remember is darkness. Black soot and darkness where a loving mother's face should be. She tries not to think about her.
While dancing she had felt blind to the stage and audience, deaf to the music. She had let her body do what it needed to do, free to expand and contract in space, to soar and spin. So, accordingly, when she tries to remember the way she danced it on stage, she cannot hear the music or feel her feet or get a sense of the audience.
The only wars she knows exist in plays whose creators died centuries ago. Wars fought for love or glory. Never for punishment of the foolhardiness of the oppressed. The ghosts of those long-dead composers whispering words in her ears. Notes about their vision for the dance. The ghost of her mother, when she allows herself to think of her, push her to jump higher. Keep her steady in her steps.
She is no warrior nor could she ever be. Shielded from the misery of the Capitol by her ever-loving father, she lives to dance and breathe life into steps calculated and measured. Her feet are calloused, far too calloused to be any use to her other than dancing. Like those young boys and girls who were bred for bloodshed, she was bred for dance. If Stella is a weapon, she is a razor's edge - poised and ever ready.
She is embryonic, momentarily cut off from the world around her. The three most important minutes of her life, the ones that determined her future, are the three to which she cannot gain access, ever.
She dreams to exist in a vacuum - the sound of her breathing resonating all around her. If she could create a world, it would have mirrors, an endless wooden floor, and a piano in the corner. She would dance until her limbs grew tired and her ankles too weak to carry her weight. She would rest. And start anew the next day. Her body stronger. Her steps surer. Her arms straighter. Each day, each dance sharpens the edge.