In which Naj is introduced to a wide variety of dancing.
Coming down from the garden stairs, Nica spotted movement in the scaffolding just above the stage. Travis was realigning lighting and straightening cords along the heavy beams. She wondered if he had only just woken up to take care of it, but let the thought go. He was working on it and that was what mattered.
She hadn’t realized her steps had slowed to watch the pup. Naj had slowed as well and she took the opportunity to gesture to the man on the catwalk. “That’s Travis, he does a lot of the lighting for our shows. If you have any interest in learning to do that, he’s actually a good teacher for the technical aspects of stage work.”
Nica didn’t add that it was one of the few areas in which Travis showed any discipline or gravity. She liked that the pup was light-hearted, it helped boost the whole nest.
Travis. The wolf. He was one of the dancers Naj was finding it easier to remember. Probably because of his own time in the rafters. Perhaps he would have an affinity for the work up here as well as the wolf.
“I just might have an interest, at that. a’parn’ei.”
He eyed the metal walkways, trying to connect this perspective with the much lower vantage point he’d had as a serpent. It was disconcerting, to be both familiar and unfamiliar with the space, but as far as he could tell, it would offer neither help nor hindrance to him, so he let it go.
As they moved further downstairs, Nica took advantage of the tight space to lean in to Naj as she spoke. “The stage is open for general practice until three. Most people will work on the dances they intend to perform that night, but it’s also an excellent time to test a performance on the stage to see how it fits the space. When someone is working with the lights, it can also be a good time to see if you’ll need any special consideration with the lighting for your performance.”
She held the handrail as she stepped down to the second balcony, leaning against it as she stood a moment to consider the stage. No one was currently dancing, as an impromptu meeting seemed to be happening in the center. Nica fell silent as she watched the exchange, which mostly seemed to consist of Emily patiently saying something, to Marie bouncing in place as she animatedly talked with her hands in return. Lena and Nat were watching the conversation silently, following the points back and forth as if it were a tennis match.
The group broke apart when Carrie interceded. The short blonde’s charming smile never wavered and whatever she said left the group laughing as they moved off stage.
Knowing the fox, it was probably at her husband’s expense. Matthew’s good natured scowl as he joined Carrie on stage confirmed Nica’s theory. The wolf seemed to enjoy being overly serious and she suspected he did it more now to play up being Carrie’s straightman than from any actual dour mood on his own part. As the pair of them posed in various places on stage and began discussing where to start their dance, Nica turned her attention back to the serpent at her side.
“My favorite part of practice time is simply watching everyone. I often will sit at one of the tables and offer suggestions, since I can offer the audience’s viewpoint. It also gives me an idea of what sort of show we’ll be putting on at any given time.” She glanced at the clock over the bar, nodding when she confirmed it was only a little after noon. “I’d actually like to watch the rest of practice today to see where the nest stands currently… You’re welcome to join me if you like.”
He’d followed along after Nica in attentive silence, taking in both her talking points and the interactions on the stage below. He listened to both with his usual careful assessment, tucking away any and all information that might be useful later. He wasn’t able to overhear much from this distance, but even the way the dancers played off one another was worth noting.
But then Nica was talking again and he shook himself from his distant and neutral headspace, doing his best to actively soak in the warmth around him. Even without any dancing going on, the Three Pillars radiated ki’n the same way that Kain’s garden exuded sun-drenched days, and it was not long before Naj found himself grinning in excitement. Especially when Nica invited him to watch their nest dance.
“A’parn, eija. I would like that very much.”
She nodded with a smile. “I thought you might.”
Seized with good will, Naj reached out to brush Nica’s hand. He was thoroughly enjoying the casual familiarity of belonging to a nest again, and moreover, the physical touch was immensely helpful in keeping him grounded.
Nica was surprised by the touch, but welcomed it, opening her hand to entwine them together.
When they reached the main floor, Nica smiled to see Ro appear from behind a curtain, pulling out a step ladder to reach one of the top corners. Clearly someone had been careless, as the corner was flapping uselessly away from its usual point of attachment. He took a needle and quickly began to whipstitch it back in place. She was glad to see it was Ro, that meant it would look good when he was finished. Rowan was excellent when it came down to attention to detail, though she wasn’t sure how much of that was his own natural disposition and how much of it was habit picked up from the artist Emily.
Nica led Naj towards the stage, picking a table that was closer to the front than the back, but not directly front and center. Carrie paused when she spotted her, her blue eyes lighting up as she grinned and offered a small wave of her hand. Nica smiled back and nodded. Matthew simply nodded in return, but she could see the set of his shoulders ease back as he relaxed.
She pulled two chairs off the table, setting them so they would be facing the stage, view unobstructed. Before Nica could settle into one of them, Emily was there, a tight smile on her red lips and her blue eyes glittering in the shifting overhead lights. Nica wrapped her in a hug, one hand smoothing along her shoulder to ease her overwhelmed emotions. She could feel the push against her own aura, the tight threads of anxiety vibrating, then relaxing and vanishing. Emily melted into the hug, her chin tucked over Nica’s shoulder. While they were almost the same height, the leopard seemed so much smaller as she clung to Nica.
When she finally pulled away, she dabbed just under her eyes, careful not to smudge her make-up. Her smile widened to take in both Naj and Nica, “You going to watch practice today?”
Nica nodded and Emily nodded back, though a little too quickly. She wasn’t usually an overly emotional girl, which made Nica wonder what had been going on with her while she’d been gone. Simply the ambient stress of the nest or more? Nica made a mental note to bring it up with Kain as Em started speaking again.
“Good, I was hoping you would, Lena and I have a dance that we can’t get right, I was hoping you could point out where we’re going wrong.”
“Of course.” Nica gave her a reassuring smile as she squeezed her shoulder. “I’ll offer some advice today and if you still feel unsure of it, then tomorrow we can spend more time working through it together.”
The promise of a tomorrow did exactly what Nica had hoped. The lingering tenseness in Em’s aura shifted, the overall tone smoothing out as she relaxed. “Alright, thanks.” Emily glanced back to Naj and smiled, then she moved away to where Lena was waiting.
Something in Naj uncoiled as he watched Nica with her dancer. Because it was clear that Emily was Nica’s dancer, and had needed her eija’ramn’s guidance badly. Their conversation was casual enough, but the way the leopard’s aura clung to her eija’s, the thin and overstretched quality to it… There was more to reading emotion than the feelings they conveyed. Emily’s aura wasn’t accustomed to moving in this way, and it showed in how it stuck and snagged in places. It wasn’t unlike a feline shifter to be a bit distant, more likely to be loners, but…
Nica was clearly the keystone of this group, the thing that held it all together. Without her, they were still a family, but under the watchful eye of their eija’ramn, they were a dance troupe. Naj didn’t have to experience that reassurance first hand to know that it would be available to him, and he took comfort in the sense of home that surrounded him. This was a nest, and he belonged. He was now more eager than before to hear the beat of the music, feel the heat of the lights, and experience the show in a way he never could simply watching from above.
Seth was so relieved he almost spoke his fervent FINALLY! aloud.
Nica settled in her chair, looking over as Naj did the same. Whatever she’d been about to say was derailed by the overhead lights flashing off, then back on.
She leaned over to quietly explain, “The flashing lights mean we’re about to start a rehearsal piece, potentially several in a row – we don’t often do complete run-throughs of the night’s show, as we put on several a night, but sometimes we do a few in a set if we need to see how the songs pace together.”
Naj simply nodded and took his seat, facing the stage without a word. He would not interrupt this for the world. Intellectually, he knew this was merely a practice, nothing serious, but he still brought to it every ounce of gravity and respect he would for any performance. These were his nestmates, and how their footfalls sounded, his heart would follow.
Travis flashed another light to signal he was ready and the music started with a jaunty beat as Abba’s “Does Your Mother Know” filled the air around them. Matthew and Carrie started at opposite ends of the stage, each tapping one foot in time to the music, before Carrie started across the stage determinedly. The style was a mixture of swing and disco, with Matthew twirling Carrie from one end of the stage to the other as she pursued him. It was an excellent act to start a show with, as it held elements of playfulness and skill.
Nica approved of the choice, though she hadn’t see this particular dance and song set, but the style was typical of Matthew and Carrie. The couple worked well with one another and their chemistry shone on stage. At one point he flipped her high in the air, spinning a complete circle before catching her and dancing away. It was an impressive acrobatic start to the night’s show and its energy would carry the audience well into the next song.
His nestmates did not disappoint. The beat was driving, the energy of their movements were captivating, and though it wasn’t what he was used to, Naj enjoyed the performance immensely. It would take some adjusting, but he knew that from his morning with Marie. At least with Matthew and Carrie, the blatant sexuality was toned down a bit. That was quite a relief. With any luck, the fiery fox would be the exception rather than the rule.
The two vanished from the stage as Kain wheeled his engine for the next act out from behind the curtain. Nica gave a sharp burst of laughter before holding her hand over her mouth. This was one of her favorite burlesque risqué dances. Primarily because Kain put such mirth into the movements, it was hard not to love it. He already wore his costume for the act:a ragged t-shirt and holey jeans, though still barefoot – not many dancers wore shoes on the stage.
Just as the light pinpointed down to a single spotlight, Oingo Boingo’s “Wild Sex (in the Working Class)” came rolling through the speakers. He began miming work on the machine, rubbing down some parts and pulling on knobs or levers. As the lyrics started, he lip synched with it, something that could be jarring to someone who knew his much deeper voice. As the driving beat started he began to work the motion of his actions throughout his entire body, until the insinuations and euphemisms came through the lyrics – at which point he hoisted himself up onto the machine block, pantomiming sexual thrusts in various positions. All while maintaining the illusion of working the machine with his hands.
At one point as he slid down the block, his shirt caught and ripped off as he dismounted. “Thinking of you” left him pointing and winking into the audience, something that never failed to result in squeals of delight. Another dismount left his pants joining his shirt hanging from a hook on the machine. His black thong was nearly impossible to determine against the dark hue of his skin and when he ended the song draped on his back over the machine, one knee was bent to keep the illusion of nudity.
Nica shook her head as he flipped off the prop a final time. He bowed and flashed a sharp white grin before pushing the machine block offstage.
Naj could only stare as muscles rippled beneath dark skin. He’d been confused but intrigued by the engine block– dances done with props were some of the serpent style’s most impressive–and the feeling had only grown as the dance began. But as it had progressed…
Marie’s advances had been nothing like this. Her energy had pounded at him, fierce and relentless. Kain’s movements were no less expressive, but Naj felt less pursued and more… tantalized. As the clothing came off, the feeling of promises unfulfilled grew. Kain somehow stayed completely untouchable, even while laying himself bare. But the unspoken illusion that someone, somewhere, might lay their hands over every inch of that shining ebony flesh… Naj shivered with delight, eyes locked on the stage.
When Kain collapsed over his block, Naj felt himself just as spent, though he’d never himself moved. The dance had drawn him along with it, pulling him through the emotional experience of it, exactly as a dance should. It wasn’t until dancer and prop were tucked behind the curtain once more that Naj was able to regain his wits. And even then, it was slow going. He was grateful for the distraction of the next act beginning, even if the music did seem a touch… foreboding.