“Slow down, Sophie. Why and where do you want to go to ballet class, and who is Tasha?”
“Tasha is a girl I met on the bus. She’s a dancer and she’s very friendly. I want to go to ballet because, well, I’ve often wanted to dance, and she said I had the figure for dancing … and it’s not very far away at all, it’s at the Leaf College, which I can walk to in three minutes or so.”
“But you haven’t got any shoes, or a leotard, or anything!” Katherine, Sophie’s unfortunate mother, knew very little about dance classes, but she did know that the satin shoes were very expensive and a student had to wear a leotard.
“I’m sure I wouldn’t need one for the first class. I’ll just go in shorts, and see what the teacher says about that. Please, Mum!” Sophie had turned, in the space of ten short minutes, from a complete dance-virgin to somebody desperate to take up classes.
“You can try it out,” Katherine allowed. “But no pointe shoes, no daily classes, and certainly no month-long tours with some disreputable dance company, do you understand? You’ll have canvas flats and the basic clothes, and that’ll be enough for now.”
Within two years, Sophie would have broken all three of those limitations, and gone beyond her mother’s wildest dreams. She took to the dancing like a duck to water.
However, her first class did not go quite so well. Sophie arrived on time and was waiting outside, dressed in shorts and a t-shirt despite the October air, a water bottle in her bag, and was met by an ecstatic Tasha.
“I knew you’d come, I simply knew it. I saw it in your eyes.”
“I haven’t got any shoes, though,” she explained. “Or tights. I don’t really know what I’m doing, to be honest. I don’t belong here.” That seemed to be backed up by the number of girls in tracksuits that were arriving, their hair up in scarily tight buns and dance bags like Tasha’s over one shoulder.
“It’s fine, don’t panic,” said Tasha. “I’ll do your hair. Come with me into the changing rooms.” Suddenly they were out of the cold, into a room that smelt of hairspray, sweat and shoes. Sophie found her hair being wrenched out of its normal ponytail, brushed through vigorously to get out all tangles, and twisted until it seemed that it would leave her scalp. When she was satisfied and had poked enough sharp pins into Sophie’s skull, Tasha stepped back. “There, you’re all done.”
“Does it usually hurt so much?”
“Wait till you start pointe. Then you’ll know what pain means, Sophie.”
“Oh, no, I won’t be starting pointe. My mum says I can’t have pointe shoes, I can’t have daily classes and I can’t join any disreputable dance companies. I guess that probably screws my chances, doesn’t it?” At that moment, the teacher, Gracie Edwards, arrived.
“Hullo, Tasha,” she said. “Who is this?”
“Her name is Sophie. We met on the bus and I persuaded her to come to dancing. She’s got the right figure, don’t you think? I know she’s not danced before and so this is a little bit of a risky strategy, but I didn’t think you’d mind. Her figure is right, isn’t it?”
Ms Edwards looked Sophie up and down with an almost hungry expression on her face. “It certainly is,” she said. “And I couldn’t help overhearing what you just said, my dear, but there is to be no ‘I can’t’ in my dance school. We’ll have you on pointe in no time, don’t you worry about that. And as for disreputable dance companies … well, I happen to run one, and I’ll be blowed if any talented dancer worth hiring can’t join because her mother says so. Of course, you might be no good, but somehow I doubt it.”
There was a long silence, broken only by the door to the changing room bursting open and a couple of the other girls entering, chattering nosily. “Come on in, do,” said Ms Edwards, and that was it for conversation. Dubious to say the least, Sophie took her first step inside the dance studio.