Don't let them see that you're tired. Don't let them see that you want to cry. Don't let them see that it's hurting you.
Maria muttered this under her breath as she worked and worked during the classes, but she wasn't sure it was working. Surely they could see the resignation in her eyes? Surely they could see the way her muscles trembled with fatigue? And she was only two hours in. After this class she still had two more. Longer. She wasn't going to survive this.
For the past two hours, she and Eleanor had been working at the barre on exercises that, like the pliés and grands battements, they thought they knew. Then into the centre, for the pas de chat, and working again at the same steps until they were perfect. Turn out. Posture. Expression. Everything had to be right before they could move on, and if they were tired then it was just too bad. They had to keep on going, didn't they see?
But she wasn't sure how much longer she could hold out. Eleanor seemed to be doing fine ... she was hardly sweaty at all. At least, that's what Maria thought until she looked more closely and saw how the other girl was about to drop, and how her clothes were drenched.
After two hours and twenty minutes, when their teachers showed no signs of relenting or slowing down to a cool-down, Eleanor finally gave up the struggle. In the middle of an exercise when she was being nagged to get something right, she started to cry.
"What's wrong?" asked Mr Conor, looking up from his examination of her feet and their positioning. "Why are you crying?"
"It's just too hard!" she wailed. "I'll never get this right..."
He looked across at Maria, on whose face there was a very fixed expression. She was working away at the exercise, but when he spoke her name she dropped her arm and turned to look at him. "Do you feel this way too? That it is too hard and you would like to cry?"
"I will not cry," she responded. "The harder it is, the prouder I will feel when I get it right at last. And besides ... there is nothing to cry about, is there? I am learning to dance at last. I will be a ballet dancer, that's what I said to my friends. The next time you see me, I will be a ballet dancer."
He nodded, looking away. "Well, that's certainly the spirit we're looking for. But stop with that exercise now, and come and do these stretches as a cool down. You've got a break next, and I need to make sure you don't get injured. Do either of you have legwarmers?" Eleanor didn't, but Maria wore them for jazz and had brought them with her just in case. "You might want to wear them, as this is pretty intensive on your poor muscles."
The girls nodded, attempting to copy the stretches he was doing. He seemed to be amazingly flexible and it was slightly off-putting. Maria knew she didn't really have the shape for ballet when it came to the splits and hitting yourself on the side of your head with a leg, but she had worked and worked at it and she was getting there.
"Good," he said. "Good. You've done these before, right?"
"Many times," replied Maria. Every night when I get home from school I'll be in my bedroom, stretching. At dance, when the others are resting and chatting. When I'm waiting for the computer to load...
"Well, that's good. You've one up in that aspect, I suppose." He seemed a little lost, as though he didn't know what to do; Eleanor had stopped crying, but she was still snivelling and had to wipe her nose every minute or so, and when Maria looked at her to see if she was all right she just turned her head away and wouldn't look back - she was too ashamed. "We'll finish there. Go on, get yourself to the dining hall and grab a snack. You've certainly earned it. I'll see you at twelve, Maria, after your meeting. It'll be in the office next door."
"Right. I'll be there."