“Are you sure about this? I think my granny used to take lessons here.”
Sweetie Belle nodded. “My sister said we should try to get something more ‘refined’ for our cutie mark. She said this was the best jazz club in Ponyville.”
“I think it’s also the only jazz club in Ponyville.” Scootaloo looked over the squat building, complete with neon writing that read “The Lounge” in large letters. The windows were heavily tinted, so the three fillies couldn’t see inside.
“Yeah, Rarity said that too, and then something about begging and not choosing, but I wasn’t really listening.” The Crusaders stopped in front of the wooden door to the club. A scrap of paper on it read “Dance Lessons: Tuesdays, 5-7! Waltz, Tango, Salsa, Swing, and More! All Ages Welcome!” Below it was a picture of a stallion holding a rose in his teeth.
“What’s that fer?” Applebloom asked, pointing at the rose.
“I think dancers like eating roses,” Sweetie Belle said.
“That’s crazy,” said Scootaloo. “Roses are gross!” Music came from inside the club, snappy clarinets and booming trumpets. “Why don’t we try camping again? This seems kind of... lame.”
Applebloom and Sweetie Belle glared at their friend. “Maybe we could, if we still had a tent.”
Scootaloo turned red. “Oh. Yeah. Okay, dancing it is.”
“Don’t worry, Scootaloo. This’ll be fun!” Sweetie Belle giggled. Applebloom began to hop lightly on her hooves. Scootaloo groaned.
The door swung open. Standing behind it was a sharp stallion with a thin mustache and a loose-fitting silk Haywaiian shirt. He stared down at the three fillies. “I believe you are in the wrong place,” he said after a long moment. “The playground is down that way.”
“We’re here fer the dance lessons!” Applebloom piped up. She pointed at the sign.
“What?” The stallion examined the notice. “All ages? That didn’t mean- It was supposed to-” The three fillies looked up at him, trying their hardest to look sad (Two fillies were, at least. Scootaloo was distractedly watching the sky.). He sighed. “All right. Come in-” Sweetie Belle and Applebloom were already inside before he could finish the sentence, with Scootaloo following behind.
“All right!” said Applebloom. “When do we start dancing?” She galloped onto the dance floor and began turning in circles. The room wasn’t large, just a dance floor, several tall tables and stools, and a bar up on one side. A short stage bordered the dance floor, raised up a little. A few ponies were sitting on it, others milling about the floor, and they all turned to see Applebloom’s entrance.
“We’ll start dancing in a minute, just wait.” The stallion stepped up on the stage. The other ponies gathered in front of him. “Good afternoon, class. My name is Cielo de Flores, and I am here to instruct you in the magic, of dance!” He gave a small bow as he introduced himself.
“Ugh,” Scootaloo groaned. “This is so. Dumb. There’s no way I’m doing this.”
“Hush,” Sweetie Belle said. “I’m sure you’ll like it.”
“No, you’re doing it wrong.”
“Well, I’m sorry I didn’t have perfect form for Scootaloo, Queen of the Hooves!” Sweetie Belle dropped down to all fours.
Applebloom, who had only been balancing with Sweetie Belle’s help, teetered precariously on her hind legs until gravity caught up with her and she fell over. “How are we suppose to get our cutie marks by dancing? Ah feel like Ah have four left hooves.” She glared at the offending appendages. “We already knocked over two tables and run into Caramel.”
“It’s really not that hard,” Scootaloo said. She was sitting off on the side tapping her hoof idly to the music. Since there were three of them, Scootaloo had generously let her friends pair up for the first four songs. “You just have to know where your hooves are without looking at them. I do it all the time on my scooter.”
“What do you care?” Sweetie Belle asked as she trotted over to join Scootaloo at a table. “I thought you thought dancing was dumb.”
Scootaloo bristled at the accusation. “I don’t! I mean, I do! I mean, this is dumb. Whatever.”
The music ended and all the ponies stopped dancing. Twenty-one pairs of eyes landed on the instructor. His own eyes, dark green in color, scanned the room. He wore a deep red rose in his lapel. “All right, class,” he said. “We’re going to switch it up a little bit for the next song, and try to do a little salsa. We went over the steps last week, but for those newcomers who are having some… trouble,” he looked at the Crusaders pointedly, “and are unable to perform the basic moves, I will be over to instruct you momentarily. For the rest, remember, forward, together, back, together.” He switched the record with another from the collection underneath it. With a hoof, Mr. de Flores nudged the needle onto the groove and snappy music began to pump out of the speakers. Around the room, ponies joined each other and started to move back and forth, trying to muddle through the steps of the dance.
Scowling, Scootaloo pushed Applebloom towards the wooden dance floor. “Come on, we’re gonna give it a shot.”
“Ah don’t know, Scootaloo,” Applebloom said. She glanced nervously over at their teacher, who was giving very careful instructions to a pair of confused-looking stallions. “Mister Day-Four-Ays said we should wait for him to show us what to do.”
“Come on!” Scootaloo repeated. “We’re not going to get our cutie marks by sitting around.” She stood on her hind legs and motioned for Applebloom to do the same.
Applebloom was now looking decidedly unsure about the prospect of dancing with Scootaloo. “You said you weren’t gonna dance.”
“Yeah, I know, but I’m not gonna let somepony who teaches dance tell me I can’t do it.” There was a glint in Scootaloo’s eyes, a fierce look that Applebloom and Sweetie Belle both recognized. They had seen it before Scootaloo jumped out a tree and down a zipline, when she had tried to juggle those torches, when Applejack forbade them from climbing on top of the barn. Scootaloo was going to dance, or get hurt trying.
“You can do it!” cheered Sweetie Belle, watching gladly from the sideline.
Shaking unsteadily, Applebloom put her hoof to Scootaloo’s as her partner grasped her at the waist. “Well, if yer sure about this…”
Scootaloo nodded, and took a step forward. For a brief moment, she could hear the sound of the music building in her ears, feel it in her hips. She felt the dance in her body, and then Applebloom was stepping forward as well and the two collided, bumping noses quite painfully. Applebloom jerked back reflexively, forgetting that Scootaloo was still holding onto her. This, combined with the already confusing task of walking on two hooves, proved too much for the young pony, and she fell on her back, bringing her dance partner with her.
“I thought I told you three to wait.” Mr. de Flores looked down his nose at the two fillies lying in a heap. Applebloom grinned sheepishly.
“We’re sorry, Mister Four-Ays,” Applebloom said as she untangled herself from Scootaloo.
“Flores,” Mr. de Flores corrected. He shook his head at the pair as they lined up next to Sweetie Belle. “If you don’t listen to my instructions, or even wait for me to give them to you,” he glared, not a hair of his slicked back black mane moving out of place, “then how can you learn? Dance is something that takes years of practice. You need passion, devotion, delicacy, and grace.” He snorted. “I don’t think you’ll ever have those, but if you listened, maybe I could teach you how not to fall over.”
The music cut off abruptly. Mr. de Flores and the Crusaders saw the blushing form of the candymaker, Bon-Bon, and her date, a green unicorn who was standing by the record player, her eyes shifting guiltily. Mr. de Flores sighed. “I have to go deal with that,” he said. “Wait, and I’ll be right back. I swear, that Lyra is more into walking than dancing,” he mumbled under his breath as he hustled away.
Scootaloo took a deep breath and stepped onto the dance floor. She offered her hoof to Sweetie Belle, who stared at it, then back to Scootaloo, with a blank look. Scootaloo held it out more insistently and said, “Let’s go.”
“But Mr. de Flores said to…” Sweetie Belle began.
“I know what Mr. de Flores said,” Scootaloo cut in. Something angry was bubbling up inside of her, trying to get out. “He said we don’t have passion, or delicacy. I don’t know what ‘delicacy’ is, but I sure as hay have passion!” Applebloom gasped and Sweetie Belle let out a hushed “Language!”
“Sorry,” said Scootaloo, the word barely getting past the frown on her face. “Now, are you coming or not?”
“We-ell,” said Sweetie Belle, “I wanted to try dancing because I thought it’d be safe, especially after that fire last week.” She looked at Applebloom, who was gingerly prodding a bump on the back of her head from when she fell. “I’m going to wait for Mr. de Flores to come back.”
“Applebloom? We’re doing this right now.”
“Ah don’t know, Scootaloo…” She looked hesitantly to their beige dance instructor. He was fiddling with the record player. “Maybe Sweetie Belle’s right.”
“You chicken too?” Scootaloo asked, grinning. If she knew Applebloom at all, and she knew her better than most, there was no way Applebloom could pass up a challenge like that.
Sure enough, the young pony grit her teeth and said, “Yer on, then!”
Mr. de Flores must have fixed the machine, because a pulsing Zebrican drumming was coming from the speakers. A few of the more adventurous ponies had already started doing the cautious four-step. Scootaloo listened to the rhythm as her head bobbed in time with the beat. “You ready for this?” She leaned in close to Applebloom.
The filly gulped audibly. “Ready as Ah’ll ever be.”
“Just try to do the opposite of what I do,” Scootaloo said. “When I go forward, you go back. That way we won’t run into each other.” Applebloom nodded and put her forelegs over Scootaloo’s shoulders. The two stood up on their hind legs and Scootaloo placed her hooves on Applebloom’s waist. She tried to look Mr. de Flores in the eyes, but he was busy talking to a dark pink mare, having forgotten all about the children. Her wings buzzed a little with anticipation. “Cutie Mark Crusader Salsa Dancers!” she said.
“Cutie Mark Crusader Salsa Dancers,” Applebloom agreed, and they began.
It really was a lot like being on her scooter. She just focused on what was in front of her (Applebloom, in this case), and her body did the rest. As the sound sunk in, Scootaloo got more and more into it, accentuating the basic steps with an extra turn here, a wiggle of the hips there. Soon, she had a whole bunch of added bits. Remembering a sweet move from some movie, Scootaloo lifted Applebloom’s hoof and twirled her around. Applebloom spun and spun, giggling, until Scootaloo stopped her and pulled her back into the dance.
The song flew by, the drumbeat low and thumping and the brass high and sharp. The pair cut a path through the other dancers, weaving and moving. Before Scootaloo realized it, the music was over. She slowed to a halt, turning slightly on her hooves and dipping down low, draping Applebloom over her foreleg. Breathing heavily, Scootaloo let her hang there until Applebloom whispered, “Why is everypony looking at us?”
Scootaloo hauled Applebloom back up and the two of them saw that, for sure, everypony in the room was staring at them. No one said a word. Towards the front, the record continued to spin soundlessly. Behind them, someone started clapping her hooves. The other ponies picked it up, and then Scootaloo and Applebloom were at the center of a stomping, cheering crowd.
“That was amazing!” said a brown-coated stallion Scootaloo had never met. Before she could even say thank you, Bon-Bon pushed through the crowd and said, “I’ve never seen dancing like that before!”
To Scootaloo’s left, Applebloom was kindly explaining that she hadn’t done a thing, that it was all Scootaloo. Scootaloo wasn’t sure what she’d done, besides some things she remembered from the black-and-white movies her father liked to watch, things that seemed natural to her. It wasn’t anything, really.
“That was something!” A hoof took her by the shoulder and steered her out of the mass of ponies towards the wall. Scootaloo looked up and saw Mr. de Flores. He didn’t seem angry, so that was good. “What is your name?”
“Uh, Scootaloo?” she answered. “Am I in trouble?”
“Miss Scootaloo, where have you been taking lessons?” Mr. de Flores asked. Scootaloo was now completely confused. “Was it Madame Bonnefleur’s? I have much respect for her style and school.”
“You have clearly taken dancing lessons before,” Mr. de Flores said. “Which dance academy do you attend?”
“No, no. I don’t take any dance academies. I’m no good at this. I fell over the first time!”
It was Mr. de Flores’s turn to act surprised. His mouth hung open, like he wanted to say something, but couldn’t think of the words. “That was your first time dancing?” Scootaloo nodded. Mr. de Flores sucked in a breath of air. “My dear, you are a natural. I have students of a year, two years, hay, four years, who cannot dance half as well as you. And the flourishes you added! The twirl, and that dip at the end, both difficult even for advanced dancers.”
“No, I just saw those in a movie once.”
“And performed it flawlessly? With a partner who quite frankly has no experience? With some formal training and a proper partner, you would make quite the dancer.” He bowed low to the filly. “Forgive me. I was too quick to judge you before.” Mr. de Flores took the rose from his lapel and placed it gently behind Scootaloo’s ear. “I’m going to recommend you to Madame Bonnefleur. You need better instruction than a class that meets Tuesday nights in the local jazz club can give you. You really have a special talent for dancing.” He turned and addressed the class. “Now, since the rest of you are not as talented as the young Miss Scootaloo, we’re going to try that one again. Remember, forward, together, back, together, four steps! No extras this time, Miss Lyra.”
“A special talent,” Scootaloo repeated. But she wasn’t that good a dancer, was she? Everyone else seemed to think so. Mr. de Flores had said she was a natural, had given her a rose. She took it down from her ear and held it in her hoof. Dancing was fun, she admitted to herself, grudgingly. Maybe I should check out this Madam Boney-flower.
“Scootaloo.” Applebloom and Sweetie Belle had joined her again.
“Not now, guys, I’m thinking.” She’d have to ask her parents for permission, of course, but they would just be happy she was doing something that didn’t involve skydiving, or being shot out of a cannon.
“I said not now!” Scootaloo wondered what professional dancing was like. Do they have competitions, like... a race, but for dancing?
Applebloom pointed at Scootaloo’s flank. “Look!”
Scootaloo looked, a simple action that she had done hundreds, maybe thousands of times before. But she didn’t see the plain orange fur (or tree sap) that was always there. Instead, there was a small image, about the size of her hoof: a rose, standing upright, lit by two spotlights.
A cutie mark.