Study Guide

Dancing on the Edge Memory and the Past

By Han Nolan

Memory and the Past

I didn't want to hear the story about Mama and my miracle birth. Ever since Dane melted I'd become afraid of that story, as if my being born from a dead woman had something to do with his melting. They were the same kind of thing to me. Thinking of either one made my stomach squeeze up tight. They made me feel all wrong inside, and there was something more to it—my birth and his melting—something I couldn't quite put my finger on. All I knew was that it had to do with me. (2.60)

It's funny how no matter how hard Gigi tries to make Miracle's birth an inspiring, powerful story, Miracle can still read between the lines. Gigi may try to paint the past as something positive, but Miracle's too smart to be fooled into believing it.

No one ever talked about Dane. Not Gigi. Not Granddaddy Opal. When I tried to bring him up, to remember something about him, Gigi would go into a trance and Granddaddy Opal would just say, "Hooey!" But whenever Gigi and Granddaddy Opal got together, they fought, and they fought about Dane. (6.1)

So let's get this straight: Dane vanishes into thin air, which, as a way to lose a loved one, has even less closure than death. It's no wonder Miracle wants to keep talking about him and remembering him—but it's also not healthy that her family thwarts every attempt she makes to process what happened.

One time, [Gigi] pulled off to the side of the road and turned to me and said, "That's Dane's house he's living in. Dane bought it. Your granddaddy doesn't have any more right to it than we do. Why, we have more of a right to it, really. I'm the only who raised Dane. If it weren't for me, he never would have had enough money to move that old man out of his apartment and buy him a house." (8.10)

Dane might be both Opal and Gigi's child, but it's weird how they almost seem to be in a competition over who did the better job with him. The fact that their marriage basically ended over Gigi's bad parenting decisions doesn't help. Still, it's weird how their past as parents becomes a weapon in their ongoing conflict.

Granddaddy Opal lifted his head and spoke, his voice angry and his hair dancing wildly on his head. "Gigi, you can't do this. She has a right to follow her own…"

"No! No, it isn't her own and you know it. You did this to spite me. To get back at me." (10.52-53)

This line contains a subtle clue that foreshadows the revelation of Sissy's dance talent. To Gigi, seeing Miracle dance is like seeing Sissy come back from the dead, hence she claims Miracle's gift "isn't her own."

I don't remember much about my stay in the hospital, not those early days, at least. I don't remember how I got there. All I remember is sitting in a silver tub of water with my legs floating up at me like a couple of dead fish. (18.1)

The fact that Miracle's blocking out the memory of the moment she set herself on fire adds a layer of tension to the rest of the book. Because we saw her light the candle bottles, we have a good idea of what happened and some of the motivation behind it. Still, Nolan is clever in giving us the sense that there's something more to the memory of the incident than we're aware of.

"I thought today, Miracle, we'd play the game 'I Recall.' It's quite easy. What I want you to do is think back to a memory you have, any memory, tell us a little bit about it, and then your aunt will bring up a memory of her own, triggered by yours." (26.8)

Dr. DeAngelis is one smart dude. He knows that unacknowledged, distorted memories are what's causing Miracle's issues to begin with, and uses the game as a way to mine her brain for details that could lead to her discovering the truth.

Aunt Casey closed her eyes a second, then opened them and said, "I remember being in love with Toole Dawsey. We had this dream that I was going to be a beautician and get so popular and rich we'd move to Hollywood and I'd be the hairdresser to the stars. He wanted to be an actor, like Sylvester Stallone." She looked at Dr. DeAngelis. "We were real young then." (26.16)

Hearing Aunt Casey talk about her past with Toole gives us a glimpse of a time when her ex-husband wasn't a creep. The picture she paints might be brief, but it's extremely sad—we get the sense that Toole's somebody who once had grander ambitions, but lost sight of them along the way.

Sissy, my mother, was a dancer. An old memory flashed through my mind. I saw Gigi's stricken face the day of the tornado when I had danced for her. I realized she didn't want me to dance because she was afraid I would end up like Sissy, but she couldn't stop me; I did end up like her. (28.3)

Miracle's memory of what happened in Opal's basement takes on new significance when she learns the truth about her mother. While we can't say Gigi is rational in her decision to keep Miracle from dancing, knowing the past can at least help us understand the traumatic events that cause her to feel that way.

Then came that moment, the moment I had chosen to forget until then, riding in the van with Gigi as she held her world back out to me. It was the moment after the robe had caught fire and the flames seared my skin. I felt an instant of the cruelest pain, and in that instant, I saw the truth: Gigi was a phony, and Dane didn't melt. (28.53)

It's interesting that the memory from her burning incident that Miracle blocks out is the realization that Gigi really is a fake. This gives us an idea of how traumatic this fact is for her. Considering that she's basically been brainwashed her whole life to believe that Gigi has magical powers, though, it makes sense that knowing the opposite would kind of throw her world off-balance. Plus, Gigi's the closest thing she's ever had to a mom.

"This is how it was, wasn't it? He didn't want to go. He didn't want to just write all day. He wanted to be with Granddaddy Opal and ride bikes and build things, but you just took him." (29.27)

The book wraps up the whole Gigi/Granddaddy Opal feud by confirming what we've pretty much suspected about their past all along: The writing thing wasn't Dane's idea. In fact, neither he nor Granddaddy Opal were down with it. Maybe this whole thing could have been avoided if Gigi had just asked Dane what he wanted to do with his life—or better yet, just let him be a kid.