Study Guide

Dancing on the Edge Transformation

By Han Nolan

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Her ritual of applying makeup could take all morning. She used it to hide things, her age, her missing lashes, her unshapely brows and think lips, whereas Aunt Casey wore makeup to enhance what was already there. This, I decided, was the main difference between the two of them, and back then I preferred Gigi's more flashy and exotic look. (4.6)

The key words in that last sentence are "back then." Obviously, Miracle's learned that just because someone wears flashy, exotic makeup doesn't mean they have it all together. Still, the ways that Gigi and Casey use makeup to transform their physical appearances reveal a lot about their characters.

There were little things at first. Gigi started getting up earlier to spend some time with me before she went off to the shop. Granddaddy Opal grew his tomatoes and cucumbers and shared them with Gigi without grumbling about her macrobiotic foods, and the rest of them started talking in front of me as if they liked each other. I had visions of them someday getting remarried and all of us living happy lives together, just the way it was that summer, happy and slow and sweet. (7.6)

Granddaddy Opal and Gigi might basically hate each other, but gradually, they begin to become a family for Miracle. It's unclear exactly what transforms their household, but we think it probably has something to do with the positive relationship that unfolds between Granddaddy Opal and Miracle.

I still missed Dane and I still looked for him, but for the first time in my life I felt a gentleness, a softness in the unfolding of each day. The dark fears that had hovered over me had faded to gray; the shadow kept its distance. (7.7)

In Part 1, it really seems like Miracle's beginning to experience a normal life and sense of contentment. The sad thing is that the tornado and Opal's heart attack halt this transformation. While we eventually get to see Miracle come into her own, we feel her frustration about the obstacles that come her way and disrupt her progress.

I wanted them to see that I had changed […] I didn't dance wild anymore. I even bought a pretty pair of purple leg warmers and had started to grow my hair so I could wear ribbons like the other girls in the class. I felt proud and important, but the kids hadn't changed. They liked the seat belt, but not the seat belt painter's daughter. (7.24).

Not only do Granddaddy Opal and Gigi start making an effort to get along, but Miracle changes, too. Nurtured by Granddaddy Opal's love and life lessons, she begins to leave behind many of the peculiarities that separated her from other students. Still, she's frustrated by her classmates' inability to see the change in her personality.

Aunt Casey had decided to go for a degree in psychology instead of just taking random courses in it […] She had even begun to dress differently. Instead of spandex and tight sparkly shirts, she wore baggy jeans and extra large tee shirts and socks and flat wide sandals that had no back strap and kept flying off her feet. She had to learn a whole new way of walking. Her hair was combed down, too, less stiff, and she kept it dyed red and wore almost no makeup. (14.23)

We have to say that abandoning the spandex and high heels was a good move for Aunt Casey. It's interesting how, as her appearance changes, we actually get to like her more. She might seem like a brain-dead Barbie doll at the beginning of the book, but she undergoes a major transformation as she begins to learn more about psychology.

Everyone crowded around me in group, wanting to see, asking me if my legs hurt. Leah called me lumpy-legs, and I told her to hush her mouth. Everyone except the counselors clapped. (26.1)

You go, girl—the Miracle of old never would have been able to stand up to The Cedars's resident bully and tell her off, but our girl's come a long way.

"You know what I know about the dark? Miracle. There's always light after the dark. You have to go through that dark place to get to it, but it's there, waiting for you." (26.40)

Dr. DeAngelis's wise statement about the therapeutic process Miracle is going through paints a picture of the journey Miracle undergoes to free herself from the hold of Gigi and her past. It's definitely a frustrating and scary experience to go through the dark, but she comes out changed on the other side.

Aunt Casey grabbed my arms and pulled them down. "No, Miracle, it's not like that now. See? It's not like that. All that guilt—I see now. I know now. You're not my punishment, you're my opportunity. See? […] You're Sissy's child—her beautiful child. I have a chance to do it right." (26.26-28)

Where Aunt Casey once saw Miracle as a constant reminder of how hard she was on Sissy, she now sees her as a chance to make her harsh words right by raising her niece and loving her. Miracle's incident with the fire may be painful, but it provides the experience Aunt Casey needs to have her view of Miracle transformed.

I didn't know I had so many feelings. I didn't now there were so many words to describe them all. (28.5)

The fact that Miracle finds emotions to be new and exciting demonstrates just how much Gigi has held her back from developing into a healthy teenager. Gigi's kept her in one mode thanks to her lies about the past and twisted explanations of how the world works. Freed from that environment, Miracle's now able to discover the powerful feelings she has about her experiences.

I had never really noticed people before, and I wondered what it meant, to see them now, as if they were newly born upon this earth, and I, too, newly born, alive, truly alive. (30.1)

Being able to tell Gigi off is ultimately the final piece in the puzzle of rebuilding Miracle's life. The fact that she describes herself as "newly born" proves just how drastic her situation was—and how important telling Gigi off is. Of course Miracle couldn't notice other people before; she was barely able to notice herself.

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