The stairway going up to the dance studio smelled like someone had been smoking. That unmistakable stale trace of nicotine hanging in the air. Much to my relief the smell dissipated when we got to the top of the stair and walked into the large bright classroom.

We did our usual exercises. It’s a new session, so most of the exercises involved stretching at the bar. We moved on to some basic movements and combinations. By the time we progressed to the floor exercises, we were an hour into the hour and a half lesson. We did the first floor exercises, some simple jumping, Échappés.

That’s when Darren decided he’d had enough. He walked to the corner of the studio where his jacket hung on the back of a chair, put it on and then sat to change his shoes.

“Are you leaving us?” our instructor asked.

“Yeah,” he said. “I’ve got to go to work early, and if I keep this up I’m not going to have anything left in my legs.”

He was sweating and winded. His face had a pained, pallid look to it.

“Ok,” our instructor said. “Are you ok?”

“Yeah,” he said again. “I’ll be fine.”

He left the studio and thumped back down the stairs.

The rest of us finished the class. A few more floor exercises and then some waltz steps. Twenty minutes later we emerged from the community center. I felt well-stretched, endorphins still pumping enough that my fingers and toes tingled that “you’ve had a good workout” tingle.

Across the street Darren was still waiting for his ride for work. He was sitting at a picnic table in the park, smoking a cigarette.