Since they were big enough to play outside, there was no need to play in the sunroom. Gracie missed her time with just Bessie when they could dance across the floor.
After what had happened their first day in the backyard, Gracie no longer danced except for a quick leap or a turn on one leg when no one was looking. She never wanted to risk being laughed at ever again.
Although all chickens dance from time to time, chickens do not dance the way Gracie danced. Gracie danced her own way. It felt right and good for her to dance as she did, and Bessie had enjoyed it too. They had danced however their hearts led them.
Fear had tied up Gracie’s heart, and she was unsure if she would ever dance freely again.
Life has a way of sending the blessings we most need when we least expect them. Life’s next blessing for Gracie came in the form of a friendship.
While I was working on their new permanent outdoor home, a robin hopped over to the play fence where Gracie had just sat down to rest in a shady spot under the camellias. Gracie’s eyes were tracing the lines made by the sunshine and shadows where the others were playing. She didn’t know the robin was there.
Gracie imagined dancing along those twisty lines the way she had danced along the straight lines made by the shadows of the window mullions across the sunroom floor. Those fun days seemed like they had been so long ago, and they had been. They happened practically half of her whole young life ago.
“I saw you just then, when no one else was looking,” said The Robin.
Her voice startled Gracie to her feet. She had been lost in her dreams.
“You were doing a ballet leap before you sat down, weren’t you? I am certain that is what you were doing because I know a ballet leap when I see one.”
Gracie felt embarrassed, but her curiosity about this new word and her love for dancing kept her from running away.
“Is that what it is called? Ballet?”
“Yes, I have seen the pictures on posters downtown, and I have heard the people reading the words aloud. It is called ballet, and you are a ballerina.”
Gracie was excited to share her dreams with someone who understood. She was even more excited to learn her special kind of dancing actually had a name.
“I love to dance. I told the one who tends this garden, ‘PeeP! CheeP!’ And then I asked, ‘PeeP? CheeP?’
“That was my Big Scary Thing. But I dared to ask anyway, and the answer was that I could do anything my heart dreams here.”
“Then why are you not dancing?” asked The Robin. “Is your heart no longer dreaming?”
A shadow troubled Gracie’s brow.
“Some of the others make fun of me,” she said. “If you teach me what you know, then maybe they would understand it is serious and not silly, and maybe, just maybe, they might not laugh at me.”
Gracie took a deep breath and asked the question building in her heart. “Will you show me how to dance like the people in the posters?”
“I was waiting for you to ask that question. Songbirds love questions. Those pictures do not move, not even a little. They are like how we birds play The Frozen Statues Game when we see a cat who does not see us.
“But I will show you how to make the frozen statues. You will have to figure out how to move from one frozen statue to another. I do not know that part, but I will share all I know with you.”
The sunlight danced in The Robin’s eyes as if there was a secret waiting to be told. Then she added, “It is what we songbirds do.”
“I can figure out the joining up parts myself,” said Gracie. “I have dancing in my heart.”
“Then that will be the easy part for you, but you must also make The Bigger Scary Thing be no more. That part may not be so easy.”
“What is The Bigger Scary Thing?” asked Gracie hesitantly. “I thought there was only The Big Scary Thing. Once I was able to say that I was a dancer and wanted to dance, then The Big Scary Thing became just The Gardener.”
“You must perform your ballet dancing for all the others. That is The Bigger Scary Thing. Then perhaps it will become something else as well.”
“I’m not certain I can.”
“Then maybe you are not really a ballerina,” said The Robin, and she turned as if to fly away.
“No, wait! I am. I know I am. I can do anything my heart dreams here. The Gardener told me so. I will simply have to take a leap of faith when the time comes.”
“Then let’s get started,” said The Robin.
And so they did.
To everyone else, it looked like a game called Follow The Leader that Gracie was playing with her new friend every day during outdoor play time. To Gracie, it was not a game at all.
Some of the others thought it was a little silly since they were doing many things birds don’t normally do. They would bend down on both of their knees. They would hold their wings up over their heads and jump. Not only that, but they would point their toes while flying through the air with one foot in the front and one foot in the back.
“Chickens don’t fly like that,” laughed Lefty. “No birds in the world fly like that.”
But he still studied everything they were doing when his own best friends were not looking. Once he even tried to play along with them, but when he couldn’t copy them, his young comb flushed with embarrassment.
“You two princesses are a joke, and so is your crazy jumping,” he said.
The Robin shooed him away. “This is serious,” she said. “And it has a name. It is called a grand jeté.”
“I will bet you don’t have a name,” he called back to her as he went off to play with the others.
“Do you have a name?” asked Gracie. “If not, it is fine with me, but I would like to know what to call you.”
“I do not have someone like The Gardener to give me a name,” she said, “Unless that is what people mean when they say, ‘Look at The Robin.’ Maybe that is my name. The Robin. But then again, they do say that to a lot of us, so it may not be my name at all.”
“I wish I knew what name to call you. I do not have a name either. But I will get one some day. I am sure of it.”
“We can simply call each other Friend because that is just about the most special name anyone can be called. Now let’s get back to your ballet lesson.”
One day, not long afterwards, The Robin said, “You have learned every pose from every ballet poster I have ever seen. You have even learned the up-in-the-air poses. The other songbirds know of no others. It is time for our fun games of Follow The Leader to end.
“I found a pigeon who likes to roost on the second floor window ledge of the ballet school downtown. She came and secretly watched us practicing. She told me your joining up movements from one frozen statue pose to another are almost exactly like what she has seen the people doing inside the school and are often better.”
Gracie beamed with gratitude.
“You know what all this means, don’t you, Friend?” said the Robin. “It means you will need to show everyone you are a dancer, a very special kind of dancer, a kind of dancer no chicken has ever been before—a ballerina.”
“I am not sure if I am ready.”
“If you are not ready now, then you will never be ready.”
The Robin paused as Gracie thought about what would happen if she never tried. Gracie knew she could not go backward. The only way was forward, just like with The Worm Olympics. But it felt as if there was much more to lose than just a tasty earthworm.
“You must take a leap of faith,” said The Robin.
“And I think you should know something about the one named Lefty.
“I have been watching him from up in the magnolia tree where he cannot see me. While everyone else is busy scratching and pecking, he has been hiding behind the straw bales and practicing what he has seen us doing.
“He has even been jumping and leaping around with one foot in front and one foot in back, just like you. He has gotten very good at it too because his mind and his body are strong. He may never admit it, but I believe he enjoys dancing almost as much as you.”
“He always likes to be the first and the best,” said Gracie, and they giggled.
“He is more than what he lets his friends see—just like you.”
The very next day, Gracie faced The Bigger Scary Thing right in the middle of their little playground. She was nervous at first. She had not even told Bessie what she was going to do.
The Robin was nowhere around, but a group of wrens and thrushes had gathered in the wild rose brambles and had begun to sing. When their different voices blended into a single melody, it was the signal for Gracie to take her daring leap of faith.
“I have something to show everyone,” she said, “This is what is in my heart.”
She looked at each of them in turn, and she knew her love of dancing was stronger than her fear of anyone making fun of her.
Slowly she began to dance to the music of the songbirds as if she was waking up from a mysterious enchantment. None of the other chickens said a word. They were all mesmerized by what they saw and how each movement Gracie made matched the music of the songbirds so perfectly.
Gracie was making visible what before had only been invisible. It was the purest of all art, the kind that connects one heart to another.
On and on she danced as a gentle breeze made the iris blossoms sway in time to her steps.
Bessie began to flap her wings in excited applause. As the others realized it was possible for them to do more than simply dance like chickens had always danced before, they began to applaud Gracie as well. Even Lefty flapped his wings at this new revelation.
When Gracie began her flying leaps, Lefty joined her. For perhaps the first time in his life, he did not try to be better than someone else. He matched Gracie’s steps, and she matched his. Together, they made a perfect pair.
Then one after another, the others joined the two of them. For most, it would take practice, but even though they were not as graceful as Gracie or as athletic as Lefty, they felt the same joy in their hearts. That was what really mattered.
And so, The Bigger Scary Thing was scary no more.