In The Practice Room

He danced to the rhythm of the music, his steps slow and gentle with every note of the piano. As the tempo quickened, his pace did as well, joining his hands to the wave of the sound coming from the lone player at the far corner of the practice studio. No one was around except him, yet he didn’t feel alone. He liked it most when he danced alone; it kept his mind away from things that mattered less to him and kept his thoughts only for the things that were important. At that moment, the most important thing was to dance.

“It’s so weird seeing you dance to slow music, Oppa,” said a voice that startled him. He looked around and saw her.

He couldn’t help but think, she really is pretty. Even wearing what seemed like an old pair of jogging pants and a plain white shirt that didn’t seem all that white anymore, she still looked beautiful.

“I do ballet, you know,” he said, going over to the speaker system attached to his mp3 player to turn the music off. She came over and started doing some warm-ups. She was the kind of girl that did not care much about personal space; as long as she needed to practice, she would do it anywhere. The usual boy-and-girl tension did not faze her as well—she was much too boyish for that kind of trivial matter.

“Still,” she replied as she was reaching for her toes, “you’d think that a girl like me would know ballet, whereas you would do…I don’t know, krumping, or something.”

“I can do krumping if I like to.”

“But that’s where the problem is—you won’t like to krump ever.”

“Says who?”

“Says I.”

He chuckled at their conversation. It was at times like these when he would seriously think about dating someone. Unfortunately, being in a foreign country did have its disadvantages. He couldn’t even begin to understand girls in China, how could he even think of understanding Korean ones?

“So are you practicing your routine for Super Junior’s next album?” She asked conversationally while bending and touching her feet. She remained at that position for a while and he couldn’t help but just stare. There was something about her that, whenever she was in the practice room with him, he would always stop and stare.

“Uh, yeah,” he replied, shaking his head to clear his mind. Don’t think about stupid thoughts, Geng. It’s not right. “Well, I was, a while ago…then I remembered this one routine I did back when I was younger. That was what you saw a moment ago.”

She nodded, a smile creeping up her face. “I have to admit, that was a great piece.”

“Thank you,” he quickly said. He returned to the speaker’s side and was about to turn on the music again, when—

“Now you should teach me that.”

His head moved in a quick motion, his eyes focusing on her, looking for any sign of playfulness in her eyes. All he could see was her stubborn resolve and determination.

“That dance you just did requires two people. I’m right, aren’t I?”

He shifted his weight on to his right leg, his arms crossed. “And…?”

“And you need a partner. I can be your partn—”

“No,” he muttered even before she could even finish her suggestion. Her face fell, the smile that was once on her lips quickly faded.  Her eyes asked him a simple question: why?

“It’s just practice,” he said in defense of his quick objection. “And besides, it’s not like I’m using this routine again. It’s just a form of exercise for me.” And besides, he added in his thoughts, I don’t want an excuse to be closer to you. I can’t do that.

“Come on,” she pleaded cutely. “Like you said, it’s not like you’re using this routine. Just take it that we’re exercising together. I really want to learn that dance. Please? Oppa?”

She was giving him that look, the one that made his chest constrict in a weird way. He felt guilty. He shouldn’t—he mustn’t—do this. It would be a serious breach of friendship contract.

“Alright, alright.”

He gave in.

He took her left hand with his right and they slowly moved to the other side of their makeshift stage. He, being experienced with the craft, moved fluidly and effortlessly; she tried to move just as gracefully but she failed at making the artistic turns needed for her part. Her arms were too rigid, and her movements too stiff, but he didn’t care. At that point, after two hours of practicing the first part of the entire dance, he was too distracted to even see the flaws in her dancing.

Too distracted by her.

She ended their dance with an incomplete and badly executed pirouette, her balance completely off as she stopped her turn. The entire studio seemed like a blur of moving things as she was about to topple to the ground, when her dance partner caught her.

“Gotcha,” he murmured, his hands on her arms as he helped her onto her feet. She smiled at the much needed help. She wasn’t the best dancer, but she was still embarrassed and frustrated to be seen dancing like she didn’t kill herself every single day in practice to get her steps right.

“Are you okay?” His question was sincere, and she nodded in response. But just when he was about to release his hold on her arms, she quickly fell towards him—she was still dizzy from all the turns and pirouettes.

“Ugh…I’m definitely not doing that again,” she laughed meekly, and he joined in with his forced one. He didn’t like hearing her say that—that would mean they would never get to dance together again.

“Sit down,” he said as he led her to a corner where their bags and other possessions were. He handed her a bottled water that she gratefully took. After drinking half of the bottle’s contents, the girl beside him sighed and closed her eyes.

“The dance was great. I can’t imagine why I never tried ballet in the first place. I know I sucked while we were dancing but…gosh, that was such a graceful routine!”

“So you’re taking back what you said earlier? About not doing it again?” He asked, careful not to place any hope in his voice.

She laughed. “I want to at least get that first part right…but I don’t want to make a fool out of myself. I’m not sure. I’m caught in between those two—I mean, I want to do it, but I’m scared of the outcome. Have you ever felt that way, Oppa? That you want something but you’re scared of what’ll happen when you actually act on your feelings?”

He looked at her for a while, silently deliberating things inside his head. A minute passed and he sighed, slowly looking away from her. “You’re asking me a question that I myself don’t know the answer to. I’m just as confused as you are.”

He could hear her soft chuckles. “I guess we’ll never know until we try, right?”

He curiously looked back at her. She was all smiles even when her face bore signs of exhaustion. “I’ll try doing the dance routine again. I’m going to set aside getting embarrassed and just focus on what I really want.”

She quickly stood up and went on to the center of the practice room. Turning around, she looked at him and sincerely said, “Oppa, you should do that, too.”

“Huh?” He uttered, completely caught unaware. “What do you mean?”

“You’re mulling over the same question as I have, aren’t you? Consider what I just advised you, Oppa. I’m sure whatever it is that you want is worth all your worries.”

He looked down on his hands and sighed. For her, the decision was quick—painless, even. It wouldn’t be that simple for him.

“Let’s dance again!” She shouted as she took his hands and pulled him to the center with her. He smiled as he decided to let himself be pulled in. She was right. What he wanted was worth it. She was worth it.

Before they could even begin to dance again, however, there was a knock on the door. They both turned and saw the visitor.

Oppa!” She cried happily as she quickly left his side to go to the unexpected visitor—his friend, his bandmate, one of the closest people to him in Korea.

“Hey, Hyung,” Siwon gave a nod of recognition to him. He looked as his friend and his dance partner of a few hours talked animatedly. She looked beyond happy as she was beside him.

Geng couldn’t help but feel a bit jealous. Just a moment ago it was he who was dancing with her. It was he who was smiling and laughing and chatting with her. It was he who caught her in his arms when she was about to fall.

But that was only in the practice room…for in the real world, she ultimately belonged to him.

“Hyung,” Siwon called out. “I’m sorry, but I’ll be taking her home now. It’s already past practice hours anyway, so…we’ll be going.”

“Oh…” He said unconsciously. “Be careful.”

“Oppa,” she called out to Geng, “thanks for practicing with me. Let’s do it again sometime!”

He slowly nodded, as he waved them off with a small smile. The two walked out of the practice room, taking with them the muffled sounds of their teasing and laughter.

All that remained was a long and uncomfortable silence as Geng stood at the center of the room. He could still remember how it felt to dance with her—the way her hands fit and molded exactly into his, the way she looked at him when their eyes met, how her warmth transferred to him in each of their movements—and it brought about a constriction in his chest. Standing there at the center of the practice room with no music to dance to, he had never felt more alone.


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