Les Danseuses

By Joseph Hesch

The dancers I’ve known
hardly ever showed much joy,
except while they moved to the music.
It seemed to soften the diamond hardness
of their bodies and faces,
like they were appearing on Degas’ stage,
all shadows and smeared pastel smiles.
But, when the music stopped,
and you saw them on the street
away from their cosmetic camouflage,
their armor of knits and tulle,
and their funneled electric suns,
you understood who they really were—
heroically tiny, ambivalently starving,
radiantly tired, and gloriously pained girls,
in conflicted relationships
with their art.


I wrote this, one of my favorite poems, in response to a picture prompt from With Painted Words Magazine. The painting used as the prompt is the one above, by Maggie Barra, a fantasy artist and illustrator from Lake Oswego, Oregon. When I saw it in its tiny size, I didn’t see forest faeries. It reminded me more of the dancers from the Paris Opera Ballet and the Twyla Tharp troupe I met when I worked at Skidmore College. I let my memory and my imagination take it from there. I submitted the poem and it ran in the magazine’s December, 2009 issue.

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8 thoughts on “Les Danseuses

  1. Joe…love this even more now that I see the image that prompted this wonderful write. You've got Black swan beat by a mile! And again, your realistic yet poetic approach always makes me smile, even when the subject matter is serious. You do have such a way with words! (And also very glad you survived your Saturday!) 🙂

  2. i hear you…my wife was a dancer for 18 years…they torture their bodies in many ways thus a very tortured life…and pay for the sacrifices later in life for a few years of beauty…

  3. This is fantastic. Beautiful illustration of the image. I love these lines particularly "soften the diamond hardness / of their bodies and faces" and "heroically tiny, ambivalently starving, / radiantly tired, and gloriously pained girls, / in conflicted relationships / with their art." There's truth in these lines. That's the mark of beauty in any poem.

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