Her first impression was that it was light. The windows were normal sized, but the pale colour in which the walls were painted and the huge mirrors which lined one side somehow reflected the daylight to an extent that the room seemed to be impossibly bright. The floor was of shining wood, though Ms Edwards was in the process of rolling out some long strips of grey flooring, and the barre likewise.
When she had taken stock of the general appearance of the room, Sophie was able to reflect on the appearance of the other dancers. They were all around her age, though some looked about fifteen or sixteen, and they all had their hair up in a bun. Instead of the loose t-shirt and shorts that she wore, they had graceful pinkish-white tights, black leotards and satin shoes in various stages of wearing out. Most of them were incredibly thin.
“Girls, this is Sophie. She hasn’t danced before, but we’re sure she’ll pick it up quickly, and we hope that you will all be very friendly and help her as much as you can.” The announcement was entirely without warning; Sophie felt her cheeks grow hot and wished that she could disappear. “Now, take your places.”
It was difficult not to feel like an idiot. Sophie felt like despairing, like giving up and going home, when she saw how easily the other girls pulled in their stomachs and their bottoms, turned their feet out and ran through the exercises. They didn’t even seem to think about it, just went through the motions as though on autopilot. Tasha stood next to her and did her best to help, but it was too difficult.
“Sophie, come over here with me,” said Grace Edwards, pointing to the barre beside her. Meekly, the new girl went to her place and tried to copy what the teacher told her to do. It was difficult if she kept her feet in a straight line as the other girls did – but here, if she turned them in just a little bit it was far easier. “That’s good, that’s really good. Don’t try to turn your feet out too far on your first day, because you’ll only end up falling over.”
“You looked pretty good just then,” said Tasha, when at last the barre exercises came to an end and they moved into the centre. Here, too, there appeared to be allocated places, for the dancers stood in lines without once pausing to decide where to stand.
“I did? I felt like – like a giraffe. All limbs, no grace: that’s what I was.” Sophie laughed nervously. “Did I really look all right? Oh, well, that’s a relief. I was convinced I was making a fool of myself.”
“No, you looked pretty good. I mean, you’ve got a disadvantage over everyone else in that you’re starting in a class where everyone is pretty good already. In a way, that’ll help you – more people to teach you, and there are only about twelve of us on a good day, so you’ll get more attention.”
“But on the other hand, I have to put up with feeling like a giraffe most of the time. Yes. I see your point.” She sighed. “How much longer have we got left? My legs are aching already.”
“Well, we’ve only had twenty minutes, and it’s a two hour class...” Sophie groaned. “But it’s fine. You’ll enjoy it.”
“Is it all like this?”
“No, it changes. We don’t even do ballet for the whole time, so don’t go worrying about that.” It was true: they didn’t. After about an hour and a quarter (by which time Sophie was certain she was going to collapse, burst into tears or die), Ms Edmunds told them to change their shoes.