Mr Conor had seen many young girls in his time. At auditions several had cried, as though it would help, and several had begged, but none in the way that this girl had. Her tears were not weakness, they were frustration. And the look in her eyes ... well, it spoke volumes. He could see there the fire that would carry her through as it had carried others through, like Darcy Bussell... "Tell me, have you ever taken dance classes? Aside from jazz, of course." For a moment, Maria wondered how he had known, before remembering that she had remarked on his name.
"When I was younger, I did. But the dance school closed down ... I left when I was nine. Money issues, you see. They started up again a few months later but I never went back, for I didn't like my teacher." Maria looked up at him. "Tell me, is there no hope at all?"
"There is more than there was, certainly. And after all, it's not about how much ballet you know. That's what we're here to teach you. It's about how you move with the music..." He seemed to be quoting something, but she couldn't remember what. "Come, standing in the middle here. Let us see what you can do." He picked up a high-backed wooden chair and put it in the middle of the room, gesturing that Maria should use it as a barre. "A plié. Can you do a plié?"
Maria demonstrated. First, third, second, fourth ... fifth, though she'd never got that far at classes.
"Good, good..." Mr Conor walked around her. "Pull in your stomach a little more - that's good. Like that." Her t-shirt and tracksuit bottoms were tight, but not in the way that a leotard was tight; Maria wondered that he could see what she was doing. Holding onto another chair, he demonstrated an exercise, and she did her best to copy him. He smiled when she finished. "Do you have any dance clothes or shoes with you?"
"Yes," Maria told him, pulling out her leotard and the tights and dance shoes she had bought a few days ago. "Would you like me to get changed?"
"Down the end of this corridor is a toilet on the right. You can use that. It doesn't lock properly, but nobody uses it but me and I won't come in." He pointed.
"Thank you." Maria followed his finger and found herself in the tiny bathroom. It was chilly, so she changed into her leotard and tights as quickly as she could and pulled on her ballet shoes. They had no ribbons, just criss-cross elastics, so it didn't take long, but she hesitated for a moment before twisting her hair up into a bun. Well, if she looked the part maybe it would be easier to play it, too.
Coming back into the room, she found Mr Conor standing waiting for her. "We'll go down to the studio now, to see how you get on."
"What?" Maria gasped.
"Don't look so frightened! It's a class of eleven-year-olds who are joining us in September. They're not experienced, mostly, and they're not too short either so you won't be too different. You shouldn't be overly out of place, but I shan't tell them why you're there. I'll say you're there because you're having a trial class. There's no need for them to know everything, right?"
That reminded her of something. She blushed a deep, furious red. "Before we go, there's something I probably should tell you."
"My surname isn't Torrini. I lied about that. It's Dominic. But my parents don't know where I am ... I didn't want them to find me too quickly."
"I didn't think it was. You're not Italian enough." Mr Conor smiled at her. "Don't worry, I'll keep your secret. You're not the first to run away from home to come here, by any means."