Study Guide

Dancing on the Edge Identity

By Han Nolan

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"And there's no need hanging your head like there's something to be ashamed of, you hear? Being pulled live from your mama's twisted body like that was an omen, a portent of great things to come, isn't that right Dane?" (1.3)

It's interesting that Gigi looks to Dane for reassurance that this statement's true. What's worse, though, is that Dane refuses to back her up—in fact, right after this comment, he asks to leave the room. This can't do much for creating a positive self-image for Miracle.

It used to be, before Dane melted, that whenever I saw myself, it was a surprise, a shock […] But now when I looked in the mirror, there was a new surprise, a new expectation, and it scared me more than anything. Because now, I didn't expect to see my reflection at all. (2.94)

One big problem Miracle has is that she feels so insecure about herself that she finds her identity in her father rather than trying to discover her own unique personality. Once Dane's gone, though, her main source of security goes away, too, leaving her without any idea of who she is without him.

Maybe people existed only as long as you were seeing them, only as long as your mind could conjure them up. Maybe I existed only as long as someone was looking at me, or thinking about me. The rest of the time, where was I? Who was I? […] What happens to a person when no one's thinking about her anymore?

This statement tells us a couple things about Miracle: It shows that she doesn't feel she has much worth within her family—after all, she believes that nobody is thinking about her—and it also shows that she doesn't really feel acknowledged by the world around her. Kids at school tease her, Aunt Casey belittles her, and the disappearance of her father only makes things worse.

"Child, if your mama was dead when you were born, then you were never born. It's as plain as plain as that."

He said it, and I knew it was so. (3.81-82)

Before you get too hard on Granddaddy Opal for saying this, remember that he's been through a lot with Dane and Gigi and is probably experiencing some confusing emotions about having his granddaughter under his roof. Still, that doesn't excuse the statement. In saying that Miracle was never born, he unknowingly confirms her suspicions that she isn't real.

I slipped the cloves under my pillow and went to sleep. I dreamed a shadow was chasing me. trying to run me down. When I awoke, I found my shirt soaked in sweat. I remembered the shadow and I knew the shadow was mine. It was me, unborn, the truth about who I really was, an unborn child who had accidentally slipped out of place—a mistake. That's what I knew: I wasn't real, and this thought scared me so much I wanted to jump out of bed and run away somewhere. (4.13)

Gigi may mean to empower Miracle through the story of her birth, but this dream proves the harmful effects that it's had on her instead. She doesn't feel miraculous or special—she just feels like a mistake, something that never should have happened.

While I was walking home, I knew a giant eraser followed behind me, erasing the dance class, rubbing it into dust and brushing it away, leaving behind an empty sidewalk, an empty past. Later, I started to run home every afternoon, afraid the eraser would catch up to me and erase me, too. (4.79)

While we totally get that Miracle either takes secret dance lessons or no dance lessons at all, we also think that having to keep such an important part of her life a secret does a lot of damage to her already weak sense of self. She's clearly passionate about dance, and if her favorite activity doesn't exist, it only provides further evidence that she doesn't either.

And when the dance was over, I had the bruises to remind me that for a little while, I felt real—I was a real, whole person. (6.52)

The fact that Miracle feels she has to hurt herself to prove that she's real is one of the most painful aspects of her story. It's a clear indicator of the weak sense of identity she's developed throughout her life.

"Ain't it a mystery?"

"What?" I asked.

"How we are. People, I mean. We always got to be wearing slogans and advertisements all over ourselves. Why, we're nothing more than walking billboards." (7.26-28)

Granddaddy Opal's seatbelt painting business provides a unique commentary on human behavior that's probably more relevant today than when this book was published. Replace "slogans and advertisements" with "Facebook statuses and cover photos" and you've got today's use of technology as a means of self-expression.

I tossed the book down and cried out. I didn't know if it was in shock, or pain, or joy, or fear. I just cried out. For the first time in my life, I had recognized my reflection. (21.41)

It's interesting that in the hospital, Miracle turns away from self-destructive ways to assert her identity and instead finds it in healthy, more meaningful ways—like Juleen's book of Emily Dickinson's poems. The fact that she so strongly relates to the "I am nobody" poem is enough to show her that she not only exists, but also is capable of deep emotions.

All those years I needed Dane, I needed him desperately to make me feel safe and real, but what I realized, staring again at my scars, was that I was real right there, right then. I didn't need those scars anymore. (29.7)

Largely because of Gigi's lie-fest, Miracle's been taught to define herself by her pain and by other people. For the first time, she's able to recognize that she's real on her own, independent of her past and family.

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