"Stop for a moment." Mr Conor was looking at her, but Maria didn't know why. She ignored him and carried on with the exercise - perhaps this was another test to see how much she would obey? If so it wasn't working. He wouldn't make her stop dancing that quickly. "I said stop for a moment. You need to rest."
"I think you do, not me," she replied. "I'm fine. I could go on for much longer if I tell you the truth. I don't want to stop now." The dance was surging through her blood, even with these simple drills that once upon a time would have bored her to death. She was loving it! Nothing would bring her down from this high.
"Maria, stop. We've been going for an hour and you haven't even paused. You're working too hard. Even professionals take a drink now and then, especially when it's their second class of the morning. You're scaring me with your drive. Please, slow down and have a little break. You can go back afterwards."
She stared at him. Was he serious? She thought he loved people who worked hard, not thought they were going too quickly. Well, she would have a break if he insisted, but it wouldn't make her slow down. She'd work just as hard, flexing her feet while she drank from her water bottle, and he could hardly stop her doing that. "I thought you liked hard work," she told him.
"Don't take it too fast on your first day, or you'll get an injury. Stop trying to - to over compensate for all these years. You've done about a month's training already, and I'm serious about that. We'll have you on pointe by tomorrow, I expect. Your feet are strong and your ankles are strong; I can see from here that two of your toes are exactly the same length and the third is bordering on it, so that's pretty good for ballet."
"Really?" Maria longed for pointe shoes, but she hadn't thought she'd be ready for a good while now. It was worth having a break if it meant she got to talk to her tutor. There had been a change of plan and Eleanor was having her meeting now, then an earlier lunch. Although sad that she'd be alone for more of the day, Maria didn't mind her friend's absence if it meant they could talk about her future.
"I wouldn't joke about that." Mr Conor bit his lip. "I spoke to the principal. You made quite an impression on her at your meeting, I hear..."
"Really? I didn't say all that much. I just told her how I felt." Maria shrugged. "Was it a good sort of impact or a bad sort of impact?"
"She was struck by your commitment. You gave up everything to come here." It was a statement rather than a question.
"I wanted to dance," replied Maria. That was a statement too. She was sure she'd already told this to Mr Conor - why was he still bothered about it? It wasn't as though it was really a big deal. "So I did."
"Well. You need to be careful not to let it take you over. There's no guarantee you'd be the right sort of person to be a dancer, remember. However well you dance you have to fit the image." His lip curled as he spoke and she realised that he felt just as unhappy about this as she did. It wasn't fair that girls who weren't five stone with flat chests couldn't be ballet dancers.
Maria got up and put down her water bottle. "I'm ready to start dancing again," she said. She didn't want to talk about the bad things that might happen. There would be time enough to worry about them if they did.
"We'll take it easier," he told her, looking a little angry. "I don't want you getting hurt." No, not angry - that was the wrong word. He was just being firm, because he was concerned for her. "Come, show me that step again..."