"Come with me." Mr Conor took Maria's hand and led her out of the studio, down to the dining hall. Some girls were already there, of about her age. She was surprised, because it was an hour earlier than breakfast normally. "They're all attending a half past seven rehearsal and so they're here for a quick bite before then. These are the girls with whom you will be performing."
They all nodded at her. "You must be Maria," said one, a skinny girl with ginger hair and a nice, if a little pointy, face. "My name is Rose. I'm dancing the first of the solos."
"The first?" said Maria, a little puzzled.
"The dance is all in unison for the first few bars. Then there are several solos. I am dancing one for eight bars. Katie," and here she gestured to a black-haired girl, "is dancing the next, for eight bars. Anna is dancing the third one, for twelve bars." Anna was petite blonde who smiled up at Maria, her friendly nature obvious. "Then your solo, which is twenty-four bars, and then we are all in unison again. You will need to practice moving with the others, because I suspect you've only done it alone."
"Actually, Maria's changed a couple of the steps and I think they work better in that way. When we're in the studio I'll show you what she's done and we can all do that, all right?" She looked up at Mr Conor with a smile. He liked her steps! He was more than just not angry - he was actually pleased. "I have to say, she was in the studio for so long last night that she fell asleep there, which is where I found her this morning."
The others laughed. "What were you doing, Maria?" asked Anna, looking intrigued. "I would have thought you'd had enough of dancing after this week. The schedule's been pretty mad for all of us, and from what I hear yours has been too."
"I was practising the dance en pointe because I only got my pointe shoes yesterday afternoon," she replied with a smile. "I think I've got it now, and Mr Conor agrees. I didn't want to be the odd one out, you know, with you all being on your toes and all."
"Wow. Yesterday?" That was Rose. She looked impressed.
"Yes. I didn't have a chance before then. So I went to the studio at eight and stayed there until half past eleven, which is when I fell asleep. I danced again for Mr Conor this morning." Some of the girls sniggered, and she looked confused. "What's so funny?"
"Oh, it's just that none of us call him Mr Conor," said Anna, who appeared to have taken it on herself to look after Maria. "It's always James, or Jim. We've known him long enough you know. It sounds funny - you're so formal."
"And quite right too," replied Mr Conor. "We only met on Monday and anyway, I am your senior. You're all getting too lax with discipline." But he was laughing with them as they helped themselves to a quick breakfast and sat down to eat.
As they ate, Anna questioned Maria about dancing and classes. "I can't believe you only started on Monday, you know. I started years ago and I've finally got into this group."
"I used to take classes when I was a kid," Maria said, trying to justify her progression. "And I've been taking jazz for a year and a half now."
"Yes, but this is ballet..." Anna shook her head. "Besides, that other girl - Eleanor - she's got almost the same experience as you, hasn't she? And she's three classes below us at the moment."
Maria felt suddenly guilty. She had completely forgotten about Eleanor, and tried to cover up for it by making some comment about how determination could get you anywhere. "I guess I'm just a dancer inside," she said, and distracted herself with breakfast.
But she couldn't help pondering what Anna had said. These girls had been dancing for years and she had suddenly appeared in their class. How would they feel when she got the prime solo in their dance?