"Stretch, girl, for goodness' sake stretch! You'll never be a ballet dancer at this rate, don't you realise that? Honestly. Sometimes I think you've no ambition at all. You don't concentrate. You're not even trying." Madame was strict in class that day and it was rather too much for young Elizabeth, who was only there because her grandmother watned her to dance. She didn't want to. She didn't even know why she had agreed to such a stupid thing. It was ridiculous - she'd much rather be climbing trees or running about the streets with her friends.
"Why should I stretch because you want me to?" she muttered under her breath, but Madame had already gone on to correct one of the other girls. The thing was, she couldn't quit now, not when her grandmother was close to death and could hardly speak. Every time she saw her ten-year-old granddaughter her only words would be 'Promise me you'll dance. Promise me you'll keep going.' Who could argue with that?
The class was only just beginning, and it was going to get a lot harder for young Lizzie. She didn't want to do this! It was a waste of time. By the time they'd reached the halfway point - half an hour into the biweekly torment - she was ready to walk out of the room, but Madame was having nothing on that. Their exams were only a month away and Lizzie had been chosen to enter this term, because she had already been in grade four for two terms and was more than ready to move on, though other girls were far behind her. She wasn't too enthusiastic and she wasn't practicing at home when she should have been.
"Lizzie, look at me!" Madame called her over to speak to her. She looked serious; Lizzie wondered what she had done this time. Was it the fact that her hair was in a loose ponytail instead of a bun, because she knew it would annoy her teacher? Was it the fact that she had not sewn new, clean ribbons onto her shoes, although she had been instructed to do so? "I'm speaking to you here."
"Sorry, Madame," she said, and stood up a little straighter. It was very difficult to look people in the eyes when they were angry at you - she had discovered that in the past during her arguments with her father. Her mother was far away, in Australia, because she had a job there. Lizzie missed her.
"I want you to take this exam, but it's not for the reasons you think."
"You think I'm making you take this because your grandmother, when she brought you here five years ago, said that you should be a great ballerina. Am I right? But that's not what it is. Oh, it has been! I've taken care of you over these years though you show nothing of the devotion that the others show, because she made me promise to do my very best with you. But I am telling you something, Lizzie, I would not have done that if I thought it was pointless."
There was a long silence. Elizabeth became aware that some of the other girls were staring at them. They were supposed to be stretching at the barre, but of course they weren't; some of the other students were serious and wanted to make this their profession, but many of the others used it as an excuse to meet up with friends and, of course, gossip. "Why did you do it, then?" she said with difficulty.
Madame sighed and shook her head. "How can I make you see what is so clear to everybody?" she said. "You could be a great dancer one day, Lizzie. But you would have to work. I want you to have the motivation to become the best ballet dancer the world has ever seen, and you must promise me that you will do that, do you understand?"
"I will promise you nothing. Promises brought me here. Promises kept me here." Lizzie stuck out her bottom lip.
"Then all is lost."