A green dress -- knee length, satiny material, with a dark green belt that held it in shape and knot-work around the hem, belt and sleeves. Black tights, soft shoes and hair scraped back into a little ponytail with a garland of white flowers, bright green leaves matching the dress. So Charlie stood at the side of the stage, watching the others begin their hard shoe 'chorus'. It was almost time for her solo.
She was nervous. Who wouldn't have been? She had never performed in front of so many people. Competitions, feisanna, they were nothing -- people weren't looking at other children, only at their own sons and daughters, and anyway that was nothing like the vast auditorium which now confronted the soloist. There were no flashing lights or fancy hangings at the back of the stage.
"Good luck," said Ben as her cue came, pushing her onto the stage.
And suddenly, her fears vanished. Charlie lifted her back leg; sprang into a jump, landed lightly and turned; switched her legs in mid air and rocked from side to side on her ankles; jumped backwards with a light hop before returning to the back of the stage in the same routine. The audience cheered. She weaved in and out of the dancers stamping their repetitive treble, treble, treble and stamp step, skipping lightly on elevated feet.
All this time, there had been a bright smile on her face. This was what she loved to do. True, this performance was not something for which they were paid, but if they won the school would receive funding from a big dance organisation, which was of course the point of the show. If they didn't, they would at least gain exposure and it would give the girls a chance to show off.
At last the fifty-six bars of music came to an end, and Charlie skipped off the stage. Her shoes had to come off, and fast, because she needed her hard shoes for the next minute. Out on the stage, four of the other dancers had left the stage and the remainder of the troupe were doing a smaller routine.
"You did good!" said Emma, who was one of those who had come off. "Quick with the shoes. Here are your heavies!" She passed the black shoes to Charlie, who tied them on as quickly as possible.
"Go on, girls!" said Ben -- James was on the other side of the stage, dealing with those that left through the wings on that side. "It's your cue!" Emma and Marian stamped their way onto the stage, joining the line of black clad dancers. Once again it was Charlie's turn to dance alone, but this time she was not afraid.
She clicked her way onto the stage. So far, so good, and the audience were clapping in time to the music. Her hard shoes, amplified by the mike at the front of the stage, could be clearly heard over the noise as she executed the most difficult rhythm she had ever had to learn, flicking backwards at the same time as -- impossibly -- moving forwards, sideways, upwards...
The music came to an end and she bowed, the other girls behind bowing also. That was when Charlie realised that the judges had got to their feet and were cheering. That was when she realised that the audience, too, had joined in the standing ovation. None of the other groups had got a reception like this; she began to feel hopeful of their victory.
As they returned to the changing rooms, the performers were congratulated by their teachers, who were astounded by their dancing. But not as astounded as the audience, who would never forget how quickly their feet moved, or how happy they looked.
Half an hour and a couple of speeches later, the results were announced. "The deenie shee," said the judge, carefully pronouncing the word as they had written it out phonetically, anticipating the difficulty with the Gaelic "Daoine Sidhe". "First place!"