(Author’s note: For some reason, my visual of masked agents of the Famous Franchise sweeping in to round up wayward students would not leave my head. Instead, it kept expanding into other ideas like why would you have a world where dance instructors would care where you danced. The thoughts wouldn’t leave me alone and I wasn’t getting any work done, so, on a break, I just started tossing them together. I realized I was starting to go on for too long because of the back story that was needed. It ends abruptly because my break was over and I figured I needed to get back to work)
(Oh, and yes, some of the events are loosely based on things that happened to me but they have been heavily fictionalized. I had to draw a contrast between the two places so I made one more evil than it truly is. Don’t read anything else into it. I was just letting my imagination run wild and here’s what it came up with)
I arrive for my lesson but I don’t leave the car right away. I have to collect my thoughts and try to act like I’ve done nothing wrong. But I have. I’ve violated one of the main covenants of the Dance Citadel and, if I’m found out, there will be consequences. It is not clear what those consequences are. We all hear rumors but nobody knows for sure. Of course, very few people are foolish enough to violate any of the covenants and that is why we don’t know what the punishment might be. As I get out of the car and steady myself, I keep asking how I got myself into this. I would blame Hilde but I know I’m the one who did it. I think I can keep my sin from the apprentices. But if the Maroon King or Queen senses something, then my world will change in so many ways.
The Dance Citadel controls high level dancing in my city as they do in most cities across our land. I’ve heard stories of vibrant underground dance groups in certain places but here the Dance Citadel is in firm control. Oh, sure, they can’t stop people from dancing. People have been dancing since someone first tapped out a beat. In fact, they love it when people dance. It makes for more potential customers. But, if you want advanced training in special moves and in the rhythm that makes a dance, you need a qualified instructor and the Dance Citadel has a virtual monopoly on those. Yes, from time to time, an instructor will open a secret dance club and offer training to those brave enough to join. As long as the clubs remain small, the Dance Citadel will generally turn a blind eye. But, since it is illegal, the Dance Citadel has the right to raid these places and enslave the students and punish the instructors. There is a couple at the studio now that came from such a raid and they must practice alone with the newest apprentice as an instructor. They must keep dancing until they’ve paid off their fine but they will never truly gain advanced skills.
There are Dance Citadels all over the city each lead by a King and Queen. Each place has their own color and students are expected to wear their colors as often as possible to mark them as property of the Citadel. Our colors are maroon so our leaders are the Maroon King and Maroon Queen. No names just the titles. And, yes, they must be addressed as King and Queen. The Maroon Queen was my partner for many years. We were gifted and used to glide around the floor as all the other students looked up in awe. That all ended when we went to a competition between Citadels. We should have won easily but the hours of practice had raised blisters on my feet which broke open during competition. I tried to push through but my timing was just enough off that we finished out of the top three. It was a tremendous failure and a huge embarrassment to the Maroon Queen. She took the kidding from the other queens in silence but, the next time I came to the studio, I found out that I was no longer her partner and, since then, I’ve only been allowed to work with the apprentices. I still get to participate in group classes and socialize with the other dancers since the Maroon King can be merciful at times.
So why not give it all up? If you have to ask that question, then you have never truly danced. You’ve never experienced the sharing of souls that happens as you get into frame and start moving around the dance floor. It is like a drug and highly addictive and the top instructors, like the Maroon Queen, have the ability to reach into you and, for just a fleeting moment, give you a glimpse into their soul. The melding of two people into one is the lure of advanced dancing. As a student, I’ve learned a bit myself and I’m able to do it at some level. With the apprentices, it is nowhere near as intense but it is still something I can’t totally give up. Two years on and the Maroon Queen still won’t talk to me and barely even acknowledges my presence when I’m in the studio.
I could say my path to ruin started with that event but the other key milestone was the day Hilde walked into the studio. She was bold, brash, and loud. All the things I wasn’t. She took an instant liking to me but given that I’m still the most advanced male dancer in the studio, that isn’t a shock. Her soul was fire and action and I knew she was trouble from the first moment I danced with her. I would have turned her down but the rules of the Dance Citadel are that nobody turns down a dance and nobody sits out a dance. They like it when people change partners but it isn’t a rule so there was nothing they could do when Hilde kept me for an entire party which happened often. None of the other ladies were brave enough to cut in and I’m too polite to back away and find another partner. Each dance just brought us closer and I could see that she hated the whole structure of the Dance Citadel. Every dance has a series of sanctioned moves and patterns and she wanted to be free to do what she felt which the Maroon King would not support. But she was never going to be tamed so I was not shocked when she told me she was leaving the Dance Citadel.
Yes, it is possible to leave the Dance Citadel. Many students leave the Dance Citadel because they run out of coin and it takes a lot of coin to become an advanced dancer. And, as the King and Queen always say, the Citadel is not a prison. You are free to come and go as you please. There is just one condition. If you leave, you can’t dance outside the studio. They make you turn in your colors and sign a vow to not dance unless you rejoin a Citadel. The punishment is not spelled out but most obey.
It sounds harsh but it is how the Dance Citadel protects their investment. There are dances throughout the land and the Dance Citadel encourages active students to go. After all, seeing an advanced dancer in our bright Citadel colors smoothly moving from one side of the floor to the next is the best enticement to bring those in who attempt to dance but clearly lack training. I’ve gone to plenty of these events myself and promoted the Dance Citadel to the ladies who marveled at my skills. Several of them have joined our Dance Citadel and become part of the crew. This is really the source of the Maroon King’s mercy. If I stop bringing in new recruits, I suspect he will listen to the Maroon Queen and exile from the Dance Citadel forever.
Now, this is just for sanctioned events. Dancing at an underground club is strictly forbidden. I knew that and when Hilde first asked me to attend a dance with her at one of these places, I quickly turned her down. But she’s not a woman who takes no for an answer and she eventually broke me down and I agreed to break the rule and dance with her at an unsanctioned dance club.
I almost didn’t go in the first time. Well, to be more honest, I almost didn’t find the place the first time. To stay away from patrols, these places are usually in abandoned buildings in bad parts of town and easy to drive by. I wasn’t sure they would accept me because of how long I had been dancing at the Citadel. I kept my colors off which was just another violation but I figured it would put people at ease even though it would be obvious that I was trained at a Dance Citadel. As expected, Hilde had to vouch for me at the door, but they let me in. The club was populated mostly by the lowborn which makes sense because the Dance Citadel is not cheap. They had clearly had some training which meant there was an instructor lurking around. That should have set off warning bells in my head but it didn’t. In fact, when Hilde would release me, I would be quickly grabbed by an available lady. An unattached highborn male with advanced dance skills would be an attractive catch. I could read their souls easily and many of them yearned to take training at a Citadel. They so wanted to dance but simply couldn’t afford to so they were willing to risk breaking the rules by attending parties and taking lessons at a secret club like this. For the lowborn, being caught would carry a cruel punishment. Without the coin to pay the fine, they would be sentenced to life in a Dance Citadel but restricted to dancing basic figures with the most inexperienced apprentice. Yes, they would be dancing but it would be much more like torture as they would never really know the joy of being an advanced dancer. Yet, they were willing to risk all of that. It struck me as highly unfair that those who love dance as much as I did were kept from it because of coin. The joy I felt from them is part of the reason I kept returning with Hilde.
In those days, it was easy to hide this from the Dance Citadel. I was only taking lessons four days a week and you weren’t required to attend group class if you weren’t taking a lesson that day. It was strongly encouraged and you’d have to explain where you were but I made up something about work and a report due on a certain day to cover my tracks. Yes, the apprentices could sense that I had been dancing with other ladies but I did enough sanctioned event on weekends that they just assumed it was that they were sensing.
My downfall started the day I saw the instructor for the first time. She had been there in the background but was unwilling to show herself because I might have been a spy or a patrol might have followed me. I guess enough time had passed that she trusted me enough to appear on the floor giving pointers to the various dancers. I asked Hilde about her and she told me she wasn’t from a Citadel. Before the Dance Citadel took over the dance world, there were many sanctioned studios. As the Dance Citadel slowly gained more and more control, a group of these instructors vanished unwilling to join the Dance Citadel but not wanting to give up dance. They had kept dancing outside the Dance Citadel alive for many years by training new instructors and passing on what they knew. Hilde told me that she had taken lessons and that she was finally learning to dance free and dance what she felt and not the rigid syllabus followed by the Dance Citadel. She pushed me to take a lesson but I knew that was a line I could not cross so I said no and kept saying no.
Finally, one day, I finished a dance with Hilde and the people on the floor parted and the Instructor glided over and asked me to dance. With all my training from the Dance Citadel, I said yes automatically and, before I could back out, we were in frame and the music kicked in. Unlike the Maroon Queen, she opened her soul completely to me and I did the same. While the Maroon Queen loves dancing, the Dance Citadel is a business and there is a hard edge to her thoughts and feelings. This lady danced for the joy of dancing. It was a whole new feeling and very intoxicating. We flew around the floor with the rest of the audience watching us intently. She whispered a few things to me about moving a certain way or holding her differently and each hint made the dance that much better. I could hear the song start to fade but I didn’t want the dance to be over. When it ended, the room erupted into applause and she whispered to me to meet her after the party as there was more she could teach me.
I should have left but I made the mistake of telling Hilde about her request and, for the rest of the evening all Hilde could talk about was how great we looked and how happy I looked and how stupid I’d be for turning this down. The rules were silly and the Dance Citadel didn’t have the power they claimed. I could leave the Dance Citadel and come here forever. I’m not a risk taker by nature but with Hilde’s encouragement, I stayed after the party for the lesson.
Now, as I enter the Dance Citadel, the weight of what I did threatens to crush me. All during group, my partners kept saying “we missed you last night”. This is standard and expected at the Dance Citadel. All students are to say that to students who don’t come on a night. I guess the peer pressure is enough to make you want to attend every day. Some of the students did actually miss me and others were simply repeating something they’ve been taught to say with no meaning or feeling behind it. For the first time, I thought I’d rather be in the underground club. The dancing is not as good but it is real.
I start my lesson with the most advanced of the apprentices. She might become a Maroon Princess soon which would be the end of my dancing days with her. As we get into frame, a strange look comes over her face. What’s wrong, I ask. She says I feel different and that I’m standing a little differently. Suddenly, she gets a wide eyed look and her mouth drops open in shock. “You took a lesson outside the Dance Citadel” she says to me in a sharp tone. I deny but she won’t be satisfied and calls for the Maroon Queen who strides out of her office and over to us and demands to know why she was summoned. The apprentice bows her head and looks down and apologizes for the intrusion but she believes I’ve been with another instructor but she can only get a vague sense of it. The Maroon Queen turns to face me and with an icy glance asks if it is true. I try to deny but she forces me into frame and I can feel her reaching into to me and trying to uncover my secret. As much as I resist, she pushes harder and we actually start dancing with her leading because it becomes easier to read me that way. Slightly into the first song, she stops and pushes me away while screaming at me “YOU TOOK A LESSON FROM AN UNAUTHORIZED INSTRUCTOR”. The rest of the students cower and move to the walls of the Citadel and look down because they know what is coming next.
As she drags me towards the Maroon King, I realize my life will never be the same.
(Closing note: I was sort of thinking that the Maroon King would pardon me as long as I tried to hunt down the source of this forbidden dance knowledge. So I’d have to wrestle with being a spy and the general unfairness of the current dance world. But I couldn’t wrap that up quickly.)