Happy Wiggins was too fat to be a ballerina—at least that’s what all the other girls in her class told her. She didn’t want to believe them, but she left crying the first day and her mom wouldn’t let her go back there. But years later, the part she remembered most about that was the teacher telling her “It doesn’t matter how big you are, as long as you can make the moves.” She was what Happy’s mom liked to call a Skinny White Bitch, but she knew what she was talking about.
Happy’s favorite movie was Fantasia and her favorite part of Fantasia was the part with the dancing Hippos, set to the “Dance of the Hours” from La Gioconda, as she would later come to understand. She watched that scene over and over and over again, meticulously, until she had every move memorized.
“Hippos can’t dance,” her parents would tell her—anyone would tell her, if she talked about it. “Can’t nobody dance like that, girl, it’s a cartoon!”
But she could, and when she was fifteen, she got to prove it to the world. Some Skinny White Bitches from her school followed her home one day thinking they’d play a trick on her. They took a video through the window of her practising in front of the TV. They thought it was funny, right? Fat black Happy pretending she can dance?
Well, the Internet thought differently because it turns out some folks actually know what good dancing looks like. Practically overnight, Happy turned into an Internet sensation. She became iconic, a beacon of hope for girls who looked like her in any way, shape or color. She had managed “in spite” (as the media put it) of her size, to capture all the grace in poise and motion of the greatest ballet dancers of the age.
Vivian Murgatroyd, who had already spent several years distancing herself from her ex-husband in the business, soon snatched up the opportunity to be Happy’s agent-cum-manager.
“We should talk about your name, thought,” she said. “Happy Wiggins sounds like a cartoon character, a Saturday morning sideshow sidekick. We need something bolder.”
Happy wanted to be known as the Hippo.
“First of all,” said Vivian, “you’re not a superhero, but more importantly, Hippos are ridiculous and we want people to take you seriously.”
“Hippos are not ridiculous,” Happy countered. “They’re the most dangerous animals on Earth, and they’re not even predators. I think they’re an awesome symbol.”
But Vivian would not be moved.
“Fine,” said Happy, “then how about Gioconda?”
This gave Vivian pause. “I like it,” she said. “It’s classical, so it’ll play with the fans, but it also sounds black. And if we’re lucky, it’ll even bring in the Latin crowd—done!”
Little did Vivian know or care that Happy was still naming herself after a Hippo.
Happy Wiggins’s rise to fame as Gioconda was as meteoric as it was bends-inducing. Within three years, she had not only gained success and acclaim at the ballet, she had started to bring ballet back into the mainstream. She had fans all over the world, and yet she still felt like her weight was a liability.
She tried everything. She went on diets, hired personal trainers and nutritionists. Doctors all told her there was nothing physically wrong with her, she was just fat. Fat, but also fit. The real problem, though, came when people asked about her weight, specifically.
“I don’t like scales,” she revealed. “I break them.” And while this wasn’t technically accurate, it was her experience. When she’d tried to weigh herself in the past, something always went wrong. She’d take a deep breath, think about her target weight, step on the scale and she would be exactly as heavy as she wanted to be. That would make her smile the first couple of times, being right on track, but after thinking she’d lost a hundred pounds, she’d look in the mirror and say That can’t be right… Because she would always look exactly the same.
This finally came out in an interview with Antoine Lamarr Curtis of Zealot Magazine. “So you would always be exactly the weight you wanted to be?”
“That’s what the scale said.”
“So if you wanted to be 5000 lbs?”
“I have actually physically broken scales before.”
“What if you wanted to be ridiculously light? Say, eighty pounds?”
Gioconda gesticulated to emphasize the ridiculousness.
“But have you ever tried it?”
She hadn’t (yet) but she had “tried” other things. Part of being a ballerina is working with other talent and her most popular co-star, who she usually got along with, was Kurt Antonio. Kurt wasn’t just the skinny ballet dancer you would expect, he was tiny, a good four inches shorter than Happy’s 5’8”. But they did scenes together, and one of their favorite tricks was that impossible over-head lift, the attitude press. You might recognize it from the movie Dirty Dancing. This “press” is impressive enough when you see it with a six-foot guy and a girl who weighs 95 lbs soaking wet like Agnieshka Kosinski, but to see a Hippo like Gioconda held aloft by this ostrich of a man?
They confessed it made both of them nervous when they first tried it out, but world-famous instructor and director Sinovia Bakunin insisted that it was only a matter of leverage and weight distribution.
“And he was right,” said Kurt, “When I do that lift with her, it’s like I’ve got this way of just channeling all of the weight almost like it’s with chi or something, you know? And it’s like I barely even feel her when she’s up there. She actually feels lighter than Agnieshka.”
“And you think that’s because Kurt is doing something with his body?” Curtis prodded at the interview.
“Well, yeah. I mean, not that there’s not technique in it for me, but for me it’s just balance. I do fine with my own weight, but what he does?”
“But you’re the one with a history of confusing scales.”
This was not a connection that Happy had ever made before. To be perfectly honest, it was not one she had ever wanted to make. There was too much that went into it and the consequences were…
“She must have superpowers!” fans insisted when the interview came out. “She must have the ability to change her own weight, to alter the effects of gravity on her physical presence.”
“But it comes with a price,” someone else added, taking a supernatural turn, “because even though she can alter her weight, no matter what she does, she can never do anything about her size.”
“This is bullshit,” she said out loud to the Internet comments. But then she started to think about it and after thinking, she started to experiment. She got on the scale and without getting off, tried to move the numbers. She brought them up as high as they would go, and then brought them back down again, down, down, down. When she’d reached fifty pounds on the scale, she started feeling something odd. It wasn’t a dizziness, it wasn’t something inside herself, it was the way the air around her moved.
“Oh, shit,” she exclaimed when she figured out what it might mean, before she thought about what her momma might have to say about that language.
She tried the experiment in her hotel room, and that turned out to be a mistake. Going down was fine. She brought herself down to a total weight of what she thought felt like less than five pounds, at which point she became lighter than the air around her. She lifted up off the ground and maneuvered around the room by touching the ceiling. She eventually realized that she could kindasorta swim in the air, although it wasn’t anywhere near as efficient as swimming in water, but if she propelled herself off the walls, she could bounce.
Eventually, she would discover that the most efficient way of getting around was to make herself lighter as she propelled herself forward and then heavier coming down, so that she could bounce and ultimately leap great distances, but she wasn’t quite there yet.
It was a lot of fun there in that hotel room, but when she brought her weight back up, she overestimated by a huge margin and ended up breaking the floor of the room.
It hurt, too, but not near as much as she’d’ve thought it would.
It made her think of every fat joke she’d ever heard, which gave her an idea.
The next day, she bought a train ticket. There was a fan who talked to her before she got on, but it didn’t matter. She got on at the caboose and found the place she figured would be most structurally stable and she Increased. When it came time for the train to leave, it groaned mercilessly for several seconds.
“Folks, we seem to be experiencing some technical difficulties here.”
Once she got off the train, her footsteps echoing through the station, those “difficulties” stopped.
It made her wonder what else she could get from listening to fat jokes.
She figured this could be another way, like what she’d done before, to make a difference for girls who looked like her.
But once she started opening up about this ability, things started to get messy.
“I believed in you,” one girl wrote on her fan site. “And believing in you, believing that a girl who looked like you could still be a ballerina, made me believe that I could do it, too. But you’re not like me. You’re a superhero, and how am I supposed to be like that? I don’t have special powers!
“You’re a freak!”
Overnight (once again) she plummeted from being a star on the rise to being a fraud. “You tricked me!” was the general outcry, and all the support from the black community having a new iconic symbol couldn’t drown it out.
“A superhero?” Vivian Murgatroyd exclaimed when Happy finally approached her about it. “I mean, sure, they’re hugely popular, but you’re talking about a major rebranding here and I’m afraid your image is already pretty tarnished. Now, if you’d come to me before going public, maybe I could’ve helped you spin this, but now…
“Besides,” she added, “it isn’t who you are. Look at yourself! You’re a ballerina! What do you know about superheroing?”
That’s when Gioconda, the Hippo, drew herself up. “What do I know? I know that when I was four years old, some skinny white bitches looked just like you told me I couldn’t be a ballerina. That’s what I know.”
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