Once upon a time there was a girl named Hope who love to dance. She would just more often then not, find herself moving about. She dreamed of footwork in her sleep and created steps everywhere she went. From her home to the school, from the school to the market and from the market to the Mayor’s office, she would half-step, half-step, turn, step, pause. She moved her arms and legs with graceful movements that showed an intelligence greater than her youthful years.
She was the only child of the Mayor of Mill town, and her love of dance was what set her apart from the other children…for everyone else walked normally. Left foot in front of right, no pauses or lifts or twists with a turn. Everyone had a story of Hope, but their stories all ended the same. And although no one had ever told the Mayor their stories of Hope, the Mayor knew. The Mayor knew they all had created fun filled stories, all because Hope walked a different path from their own. No one else had ever seen a child—let alone an adult– walk on the tips of their toes, spin with such frequency, and curtsy when saying hello. It just wasn’t done.
The Mill town mayor was proud of the town that had risen from two homes to the very town that supplied all of the resources for all the towns and villages to the north, south , east and west. It was a prominent town as towns go. All of the smartest children came from Mill town. Mill town had the largest forest in the entire region. It provided the wood for building homes and furniture and works of all kinds.
At the center of the town was Mill Church where everyone could be found on a Sunday morning. There were the Gardeners and their seven children, the Tenders who where always well-dressed, The Cutters, the Shapers —and the Sanders always sat in the back row sneezing all the time.
Hope would sit in the front row with the Mayor. She would fidget and kick and tap and slap. Constantly moving about. Kicking the pew and tapping her fingers and wrists on her seat. Her eyes would dance from object to object, not being able to keep her focus. The Mayor would try to keep her calm and keep her quiet but every action created some other form of annoying movement or sound. Hope simply couldn’t sit still. Sitting in one place made no sense to her. Why sit in one place when Hope knew there was more. Why stop moving when there is something expected just around the corner, just around the pew, something just in the next moment that will be missed if she just sat still and in place.
Everyone knew where to find Hope, even if they closed their eyes. If she couldn’t be seen, she could be heard. If she couldn’t be heard, she would no sooner run into you as she tried a new step.
Sunday afternoons all the kids would play together. The younger kids would find Hope humorous, and laugh about with her. They would try what she was doing and the parents, especially the Cutters, would yell out to tell them to stop jumping about. The older kids would make fun of her and tell others stories. They even gave her a nickname, they called her Hopeless.
She didn’t care. She just kept moving. When kids made fun, she always had something to say as she danced away with a smile on her face.
In fact, the only time she didn’t have a smile on her face is when she was at school. All the children sat on their stools and learned their letters, and drafting and drawing and math, and Hope would fidget and tap and shift. Her lines were never straight, even when the teacher held the ruler for her. Her letters created new shapes all their own. More often then not she created a symphony of dancers with her fingers as they peroited and lifted and flipped and danced about her desk.
Hope had been sent to the headmasters office seven times for her outbursts of laughter and smiles. The most recent was when she designed a complex dance pattern where four dancers lifted three up on their shoulders and then spun down to the floor as they all lined up for kick-steps. The headmaster grabbed her by her fingers, disrupting her company’s rehearsal on her desk. The headmaster sent word for the Mayor—with a warning—that if Hope cannot contain herself, she will not be allowed to attend class anymore.
The Mayor rushed to the school. The Mayor was visibly embarrassed. Hope had cast a shadow on them again.
“Mayor, with respect, you do a great many things in service to our town, and Mill town has your trust, but your daughter is a disruption. We cannot have that. Hope looks out to the sky when we are trying to read. She laughs when we are learning arithmetic, She taps annoyingly when we are learning our numbers and letters. She constantly jumps off her stool, and walks strangely around the classroom when I am attempting to teach…I cannot be in charge of the children and their learning when Hope refuses to obey the rules. I don’t know that there is a place for Hope in this school.”
The Mayor responded, “Headmaster, I understand your struggle. Thank you for bringing this to my attention and I will see that Hope is spoken to.”
“Mayor, if you cannot control your Hope, I cannot have her here. We provide every child with a desk, a stool, and every tool to learn. She must learn to sit on the stool that is given to her.”
The Mayor has never spoken to others about Hope. The Mayor believed that one’s hopes and dreams are their own, and unless they can benefit others, they should not be shared. But she feared that her Hope would not be able to learn a skilled trade and be a productive member of the town. That she would be the only unskilled person to grow up in Mill town—a failure. The Mayor sent a letter filled with worries and concerns to the surrounding town mayors and even sent a letter to the pastor of Mill church.
The pastor was the first to respond.
“Mayor, we all have challenges. Some of faith, some of trade, but you have nothing to worry about with Hope. Hope is a gift. That is all. Embrace her, love her, and she will flourish, in whatever she grows up to be. As for the stories people tell….they are just stories. In fact, everyone needs their stories of Hope, because without them, they will not feel that they themselves are as gifted as she. They make fun because they don’t understand. That is other’s fears at play, not your own. Embrace your daughter, she is a gift to all of us.”
The major of the town to the East responded:
“Mayor, I understand that you have concerns for your daughter, and as the elected official of your town, you seek to avoid embarrassment. But you ask for help from a town that pays for your success in your prices and your wages–for you have gained in so many ways from what we buy from you. You personal matter I cannot help you with, Hope is not something we are concerned with here. Good Luck.”
The town to the West responded as well:
“Mayor, thank you for your letter. There is someone you should speak to. A man dressed in leather and hair adorned with feathers passed through some time ago. We didn’t sit for tea, but he lives further West than even us, and when he passed through had an object with him that made wonderful sounds, sounds that made some of our residents move in a similar fashion as what you have described. Perhaps your Hope should find that man. Regards.”
The Mayor did just that, and sent a messenger as far West as it would take to locate this man with feathers in his hair. Meanwhile, the Sanders wouldn’t let Hope play with their kids because they said she was a little rough around the edges. And the Shapers told Hope squarely that she had too much substance. The Gardeners had stopped talking to the Mayor entirely because Hope stomped on their seeds, and the headmaster had dropped off Hopes’ desk and stool to the Mayor’s house with a note. It read,
“Hope needs to be in school. All children need to learn logic, reason, and rhetoric. Here is her desk and her wooden stool—not that she will use it. I pray you can help her more than I. I am sorry.” Signed the Mill School Headmaster.
The Mayor’s worst fears were coming true. Hope was kicked out of school, and feared her daughter would grow up with a skill to provide to the town.
The messenger sent to find the man with the feather in his hair returned with the bad news. The man with the feather in his hair could not be found.
Mill town wasn’t the same for a long time. The Mayor was seldom seen except at church on Sundays. The stories of Hope grew. The Sanders had stopped going to church entirely because Hope was such a disruption, and the Mill even began to have problems with keeping up with demand for lumber for the surrounding towns…for reason’s unknown.
One night there was a knock on the door, and the Mayor went to see who it was. Standing there was a man dressed in a brown leather dress, a banjo on his side and feathers in his hair. He said, “I received word that Mill town seeks a musician.”
The Mayor, confused, responded, “I’m sorry. No, I sent word some time ago, seeking a specialist to help my daughter Hope. I was seeking to learn if she needs special help so that she can return to school and learn with the other children.”
“Mayor, I am no specialist, but I do play a Banjo, perhaps I am the specialist you are seeking?”
“I do not think so. But thank you for stopping by. I am sorry if you have been misinformed.”
“Very well ma’am. Good evening to you.”
The next morning the Mayor woke to strange sounds in the air playing from outside, and she quickly dressed and went to get Hope to see what was going on. But, Hope was not in her room. Hope was not at home at all. Just then, another knock wrapped loudly on the door.
“AAAAACHEW!!” It was Mrs. Sanders.
“Mayor, I am sorry to bother you, but Hope is running about doing God knows what….you know…what she does… in the town center with a stranger making that noise you hear. It is causing quite a commotion! Could you come at once to get your daughter?”
The Mayor was relieved and embarrassed all the same. The Mayor rushed to the town center to see Hope dancing about in her Pajamas while the man with banjo sat on a rock and played the most beautiful sounds she had ever heard.
The entire town had come out to see what the commotion was, and everyone looked to the Mayor to keep order.
“Hope! Stop that at once. You,” as she as she pointed to the man with the banjo, “…come with me at once!”
“Mill town, I am very sorry for this disturbance, this will be handled promptly.”
The Mayor, Hope and the man with the banjo returned to the Mayor’s house.
“That was great hope”, the man said, “we should try a tune with a slower beat.”
“Excuse me!” The mayor snapped, “You will not speak to my daughter like that!”
“Mayor, with respect, I was just playing some music and your daughter came to dance along.”
“She came to what?”
“Dance. She is a dancer, after all.”
“She is a child, she is a child that needs to go to school, but school will not have her because she cannot sit still…She cannot even sit for a moment on that stool and do her work.”
“That stool?” the man pointed with his banjo, “I can see why, that stool isn’t meant for her. That stool is meant for sitting.”
“How do you mean?”
“No, look.” The man went over to the stool, picked it up, and looked it over. “Look..it’s all wrong. This just won’t do. It’s too heavy, it’s not smooth and, it needs only three legs. Four is too much.”
“Ridiculous.” The Mayor said.
“Ma’am, you sent for a specialist to help your with your daughter’s studies. Did you not?”
“Allow me to help.” The man sat down and tuned his banjo, and looked up to the Major and said, “Hope is what she is, and I am what I am. She is a dancer.”
And he began to play.
Hope looked to her mother and smiled from ear to ear, “Mommy, you sent for this man to help me!?” She ran over and hugged her as hard as she could, and then she leapt away and began the dance the she created from her fingertips on her school desk. She leapt and swung, bent over and kicked, stepped and turned and toe-lifted to a split.
For the Mayor, her mother, was brought to tears. For her Hope was not full of worries and fears. For her body was graceful as she paused in a stance…her daughter, Hope, was a woman of dance.
The man kicked off a leg from the old wooden stool, “Just right,” he said, “now your ready for school!”
Hope danced with the stool, first over her head, then swung it full circle and pushed it forward as it led. The stool was not meant to sit on the ground. It was now a part of her dance, like music married to sound.
The man looked to the Mayor, “Your daughter is a dancer and there is a school in the West. You should send her there, Mayor…it would give Hope to the best.”
And Hope to the best is what Mill town did need. For the Mayor found a school where her Hope would succeed. In the end ’twas the headmaster made to look the fool…
…because even a dancer needs a stool.