“I don’t think it’s right for you,” she says.
That’s teacher-speak for ‘You’re not good enough’ – I’ve heard it enough at school parents’ evenings, when they’re discussing whether or not to put me in for an extra exam, or the same exam but six months or a year early. I’m never good enough. Never have been. I do try, but it’s hard to sit at a table struggling with maths when I could be practising, and I’ll never need it anyway. And when do I have time to read Pride & Prejudice between ballet lessons? My teachers don’t understand that there is more to my life than school.
“I’m sorry. I’ll work harder, I will.”
But Alison shakes her head. “You’re good enough, Georgia.”
“So why can’t I do the exam?”
I don’t like them – no one does – but exams are important to me. This is my penultimate one, and once I’ve done it I can start on ‘Advanced 2’. It seems significant, a turning point. And it’s easier, when somebody asks you what sort of standard you are, to be able to refer to the certificates.
“I think you’ll get bored if we continue with the syllabus work until July,” she says. “You’ve been learning it since April last year. You know all of the steps, and it’s just a matter of execution.” She sees my look and adds, “Yes, and that tricky spot in your variation, but we’ll have that nailed in a couple of weeks.”
“So you don’t want me to do it?”
“I’d suggest entering you for the Spring session, but the closing date was a couple of weeks ago and I hadn’t made up my mind yet. I think we should just skip it, and move on after this term to the harder work.”
On the one hand, this is almost what I’m looking for. I know I’m good enough to begin learning the Advanced 2 steps, even if it’ll take me a year or two to have them perfectly enough to take an exam, and it’s flattering that Alison feels the same way. It feels like my hard work hasn’t gone to waste. But on the other hand, I want to be certain that I’ve earned something. I want to join the senior class knowing that I’ve got the same qualifications as them, so that no one can doubt I belong there.
“I don’t know,” I say, still a little doubtful, and she smiles.
“Think on it, and let me know what you decide. If you really want to take it, you can. I don’t want to force you into anything. But I want you to do what’s best for you.”
We continue with the class as though it was never interrupted, but in my head I’m running over what she’s been saying. If I do move on, I’ll be among the very best in the school. I’m already near the top and I know that. I was the Sugar Plum Fairy in our production of the Nutcracker in December; I was Odile in Swan Lake two years ago, even though I was only fourteen at the time and everyone thought I’d be too young to pull it off. I’ve got the makings of a professional dancer and they all know it – Alison, my parents, my peers… though the latter are jealous. It shows in their voices and their behaviour when they arrive to join us.
This happens at ten o’clock, when the Advanced class begins. I’m still bewildered as to why they can’t name them more interestingly than Advanced and Advanced 2, but it’s not something anyone can answer. I have been coming for private lessons beforehand since I was thirteen. It’s probably lucky that I’m an only child whose parents both work, or they would never have been able to afford these classes.
We’re back to the barre, now following the Advanced syllabus. I move through the grands battements mechanically, not really thinking, until a squeak of pain and the jolt of my foot coming into contact with something alert me that I’ve kicked the girl behind me – Siobhan – in the face.
“Sorry!” I say, but can’t apologise fully until the exercise is over. When it is, I turn around and check that she’s okay. She is, but it makes me realise: this class is overcrowded.