Charlie always cycled to her dance classes. Other girls at school that didn't know her so well often complained that she was too fit, and I'm sure several thought she starved herself, seeing as she managed to keep a perfect figure when they all put on weight, but the truth was that she just did an incredible amount of exercise. Once, I asked her how much she did a week. Taking into account training, performance and the cycling, as well as all her practice, it came to around fifteen to seventeen hours. I was impressed.
On this day, the third of her story, it rained. In fact, it poured, and she was dreading the journey. But like the determined young girl she was, she pulled on her spare shorts and raincoat, put her dancing clothes in a plastic bag inside her drawstring bag and set off, her helmet keeping off the worst of the rain. Though she slipped and slid around on the road, she persevered, and soon the water cleared and she could see again.
When she arrived, her teachers were shocked. Ben: "You cycled in this weather? Charlie, you've got to be crazy. Look, you're soaking wet." When she had changed, brushed her hair and put on her shoes, she looked a little more presentable, and he was forced to admit, "Still, I'm sure it will be good for you in the long run."
Training began. As it was not a normal class, there were only eight students there on that day. Five of them Charlie knew, because they attended her other classes, though they were all her age or older, and none of the younger champions were present. The other three were a couple of years old. "Former world champions," was the whisper, and there was a sense of awe when it was their turn to dance.
The newest member of the troupe was dreading the moment when they would all have to perform choreography she didn't know, but that moment never came. Emma took her aside and taught her the basics while the others were practising, and Ben seemed to have made sure that her fellow dancers would be nice to her. She didn't know what he said, but was inherently grateful.
"How long is this session?" she muttered after half an hour, because although she normally danced for two hours it was never to this level of intensive training. The normal format was that they would do drills, have a drink, do a dance, wait for the others to dance, do the dance again, have a drink ...
But the format at training was completely different. Drills and a treble reel routine that they had put together in ordinary class a few weeks ago, though it had to be modified to suit the smaller group, followed by 'a 56' -- a dance to a whole fifty six bars of music. Then, and only then, were they given a five minute break to have a drink and rest their aching muscles. And so it went on.
One hour in, Charlie was exhausted. Half an hour after that she seriously was tempted to curl up in a corner and die: her feet were aching, her blisters swelled to twice their normal size, her legs felt like jelly and she was drenched in sweat from head to toe (so much so that her sock glue, designed to dissolve in water, had dissolved and her socks were around her ankles, which rankled in her mildly OCD mind).
After two hours she still had to cycle home, having changed her shoes and dance clothes for her cycling gear. "Good luck," said Lizzie, looking at her with some pity. The three former world champions, who weren't so terrifying after all, and weren't even that much more advanced than this class of the elite, stared at her as though she was mad.
"You must be ... hardcore," they said after a pause, looking at her heavy mountain bike and the exhaustion which showed on her face. "I know it's Friday and you don't have to get up tomorrow, but it's almost ten o'clock and you look like the walking dead."
"I get up eight on Saturdays, actually," said Charlie with a grin. "I go to an orchestra in the morning which starts at half nine. The concept of a lie-in is, well, alien." She laughed. "Holidays seem like life on an alien planet."
"So I see!" said the other dancers. And there was a slight fear mixed with the awe, wonderment and downright disbelief in their eyes.