"You said I could go on pointe," said Maria, towards the end of their class. She had learned the steps easily enough, but only on her demi pointes. Mr Conor had definitely said she would get pointe shoes, hadn't she? Just those words made her more hopeful: if they thought she was good enough for that, surely they would train her?
"I did indeed. But don't go thinking you'll be able to do this dance on pointe tomorrow. It's not safe. Often in their first year - or at least the first couple of months - students don't even leave the barre en pointe. You are talented and you are strong, but it is my duty to protect you from injuring yourself and that is what I will do." He must have sense Maria's disappointment because he walked over to a cupboard and pulled out three different pairs of shoes. "These are your size, but I didn't know what style would suit you best. I expect it will be these though."
Maria took the shoes he offered her with a feeling of joy that had nothing to do with the pointes themselves. He thought she was talented - that was what had made her so happy. "Should I try them now?" she asked.
"Why not? Come to the barre and we'll go through the exercises to see how well they fit." Maria slipped her feet into the toe pouches he gave her and pulled on the shoes. Now, more than ever, she felt like a real dancer. Now she was the ballerina that she wanted her mother to see tomorrow.
Two hours passed painfully but quickly. It was very difficult to get used to the shoes and even harder to feel graceful when wobbling all over the place, but Maria felt she'd made a start. Despite Mr Conor's advice, she tried out her new steps en pointe and discovered it to be easier than she had expected, but he didn't change his mind about the performance.
"Pointe has to look good," he said. A few minutes later he gave her the details. "Tomorrow you will come here for three hours in the morning and we will work on the routine together. later, when you know it perfectly, we will go to the other class and put it all together. Yours is only a small solo but they have heard about you and would like to see it. I hope you won't let me down: I'm putting a lot of trust in you."
Maria nodded gravely. "May I come here later to practice? Alone, I mean. I just need to go through it at my own pace, you know..." It felt like a lie: what she really wanted was to learn it en pointe to impress him the next day.
"I don't see why not. But I won't be here to remind you to leave. I have a meeting, and then the staff are going out as we always do on the penultimate night of the summer camp, so make sure you're in bed by ten." Mr Conor sighed. "Though I very much doubt anyone will follow that rule tonight."
They did a few more exercises en pointe before he dismissed Maria. Instead of going straight to the showers as she normally did, she paused by the laundry room to pick up her jeans and shirt and went to her bedroom, her new pointe shoes still on her feet, and went to the barre. Plié, grand plié ... and on to her toes, and stretch, and heels down...
"Maria?" Eleanor was at the door. She went and opened it, staring at her friend. "It's dinner. You didn't call for me ..." Sure enough, the clock read seven o'clock.
"I've been here for an hour?" said Maria, shocked. She hadn't noticed the time passing. "Wow. Okay. Let me put on some trousers..." They made their way down to the dining room which was already crowded. "I'm going up to the studio during free time," she said while they ate. "To work on my dance for tomorrow."
"Can I come? I'd like to see it."
"No!" Maria realised she'd sounded angry. "Sorry. It's just - I want it to be a surprise for the show. I don't want anyone to see it until it's entirely finished."
"Well, all right then." She'd just have to wait. "I look forward to it."