Study Guide

Dancing on the Edge Art and Culture

By Han Nolan

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Art and Culture

"Gigi says dancing is a waste of time."

"Maybe she don't know how good you are, huh?"

I hadn't thought of that, but I did that day, standing beneath the sun in my grandfather's yard.

I thought how dancing could be my special talent, the one Gigi always said she would discover, my prodigy talent. (4.46-49)

Gigi's whole thing with discovering people's special talents is pretty twisted, as the ordeal with Dane's writing career shows. Still, Miracle doesn't know that yet. To her, dancing is not only a passion, but a way to make Gigi proud of her and gain her attention.

Just looking at all the girls lined up in their colorful tights and their pretty pink slippers—pink for femininity—made me want to jump from my seat and join them, even if I didn't know any of the steps yet. Susan clapped her hands and all the girls got quiet. She demonstrated a plié and a grande plié […] When she did the grand plié—a deep knee bend—her arm circled in front of her like a hair ribbon caught on a breeze. (4.69)

Wow. Who wouldn't want to be a part of this dance class? The enthusiasm of Susan and her students is contagious—it's no wonder Miracle wants to get up and join them.

Everything Susan did, I wanted to do […] The rest of the class sounded like a herd of elephants stampeding after her, but I knew I would be like her. I would be soft and light, and leap and spin just like her. (4.70)

Miracle's attraction to dance is what separates her passion from Dane's gift as a writer—she's in love with the idea of dancing, while her father saw writing as something he was forced into. They might have equal potential, but not when it comes to happiness in their pursuits.

I threw myself around in class, crashing to the floor, banging into the walls when the music was wild. I love those classes, that wild feeling. I could spin and fly all over the room and nothing mattered, nothing existed but the sheer swirling ecstasy of the dance and the music. (6.52)

This description sounds more like the way someone might dance at a club or a wild party than an improv class, but it shows just how few outlets Miracle has for self-expression. Dance class is a place where she can be herself without worrying about judgmental comments from Gigi or being told to get off the furniture; it's her own secret, safe place.

If being a prodigy came from God, how was I supposed to become one? I didn't have much time left. I would be thirteen soon, the age Dane had been when his first book came out. What would happen to me if I never became a great dancer, or I never developed any supernatural powers like Gigi? Then Dane would never come back, even if the house did belong to him. (8.13)

It's kind of weird how Gigi's thing about prodigies gets all tied up with her supernatural stuff. Miracle seems to believe there will be some kind of punishment for her if she doesn't have a special ability like her dad. Specifically, she thinks there's a connection between her developing an artistic skill and Dane returning. No pressure or anything, though… not.

When my thoughts got too disturbing—most disturbing—I would jump up from the floor and put on one of Dane's Bob Dylan tapes, and dance wild. I danced, shook, and rattled the thoughts clear out of me. I danced until I felt the ecstasy, until I felt the bruises. (9.3)

Miracle's improvisational dancing isn't just about expressing herself, it's also a way of proving that she's a real person. The fact that she needs to experience pain to assure herself that she exists proves just how empty she is.

I created special dances for Dane and Mama, beautiful dance stories about our new life, the way it was going to be. Every chance I got I was dancing, living the dream in my mind, living it so much it seemed more real to me than the world around me, more wonderful. (10.1)

Miracle's self-expression with dance takes on a new purpose when she develops her theory that Dane went back in time to save Sissy. Part of her has to know on some level that this is a fantasy, but dancing helps to make it real.

I felt so moved, I rose up off the bed, drifted past the candle bottles and the bookshelves to the open space, and I danced. And for the first time I understood what Susan had always told me. She said I needed to feel the music, feel the pulse inside me, speak it with my body. That night I did it. That night I remembered the lessons, each class, each combination, they were all there, all the classes that I had erased came back to me […] And I knew, when I stopped, when Miss Emmaline Wilson stopped, that we had done something special together. (10.47)

Dancing with Emmaline's music gives Miracle the chance to take her secret passion for dance and transform it into something real and unique. Gigi might be there watching, but Miracle doesn't care—she gets lost in the music and lacing her dance steps together.

I danced anyway. No one was home. I taught myself. Every day I danced, slow quiet dances, movement without music. I couldn't play any music because I had to listen in case Dane had forgiven me and wanted to speak to me again. (14.25)

Dance means so much to Miracle that she'll do it with or without classes, and with or without music. It's true love when it comes to Miracle and dance.

I was dancing to beautiful music. I remembered Miss Emmaline singing. Her beautiful voice singing such words, words I wanted for myself, and so I danced. That was real. I could feel it—inside, and I decided that night, reading poetry beneath a caged lightbulb, that real was when you could feel your whole body light up from within. (25.32)

Ultimately, Miracle uses art to define what it means to be real. Where she once needed to hurt herself to prove she existed, she now knows she's real because of her reactions to music, dance, and poetry.

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