It’s nothing compared to the ones I used to be in, with eight, ten or even as many as fifteen girls – there were rarely boys at that stage – all crammed at the barre together. We used to have to set up portable barres as an overflow, so that we weren’t kicking each other all the time, which of course meant that some people couldn’t see the mirrors or anything. There are five of us in this class, four girls and a boy, but we’re taller than we were back then and we kick higher. Someone is going to have to leave.
Alison wants to move me up. I could be the one to clear out.
But what would my Saturdays be like with only my one-hour class, instead of these two, after which I often stay to help the grade two kids? I know Kitty Bowler takes the senior girls on Wednesdays and Fridays, but I don’t know if she’s got another class on Saturdays. And I don’t want to leave Alison. I know Kitty’s good, but she’s much stricter, and she doesn’t know me the way Alison does. She’s only taken me for a few classes, when Alison couldn’t because of illness.
“Georgia.” Alison sounds a little snappy as she calls me back to attention – I’ve been daydreaming. I force the thoughts from my mind and focus on the class instead, until it’s over and I can sit down and take off the too-tight pointe shoes that I’ve been meaning to replace but haven’t yet had the money.
After the forty-five minute class for the younger ones, during which I start and stop the music and correct their posture a couple of times, Alison sits down next to me. “Have you thought any more about what I said?” she begins, and then sees my face and begins to laugh. “Right, yeah. Of course you have. That’s why you weren’t concentrating.”
“You’re not just moving me up because the class is too crowded?”
“Georgia, if that was my motivation, it would be Tim going up, not you. They need a boy more than we do.”
“Guys always get more opportunities than girls in ballet,” I say. Ever since I joined I’ve seen boys move up where a girl would have been held back for at least another term – but they’re so few we have to encourage them, in the hope that more will join, or at least that these won’t desert us.
She frowns, but doesn’t contradict me. “You’ve got the potential to go far. You could have been at a vocational school for the last five years, but your mum chose to keep you here, with me. You might not have had as much training as they have, but I know you’re good enough to get in if you audition for sixth form or at university standard, okay?”
I nod. Alison’s been in the business a long time and she wouldn’t say this if she didn’t think it was true.
“But,” she adds. There’s always a ‘but’, isn’t there? “But, you’ll find it hard work. I know you work ridiculously hard already and that’s great. I see it in you every class. You’ve got the kind of drive I wish all of my students had, and you’re willing to do whatever it takes.”
“Dance is my life,” I tell her. I’m not being melodramatic. I spend seven hours and around sixty to eighty pounds on classes each week, taking into account the discount I get for helping with the little ones. Then there’s the time I spend practising on my own, and the money I have to spend on clothes and shoes. It’s no wonder that so many ballet students are rich, mostly privately educated, and snobby about people who can’t afford the things they can. All of this means that I don’t have the option of doing something else in my spare time.
“I know.” She’s staring at me. I meet her eyes. “But please, Georgia. Don’t let it kill you.”
Perhaps she’s thinking about injuries, or the high number of ballet students who end up with anorexia nervosa, or the punishing show schedules that can leave many a ballerina bed-ridden with stress and illness. I don’t know. She looks very serious, though, so I just nod and promise that I won’t.
We’re leaving the studio at the same time and as I head towards the gates, Alison says, “Are you getting a lift?”
She knows I’m not. I always get the bus on Saturdays. But I tell her this anyway.
“I’ll drop you home. You look shattered, and it’s cold out.”