The clothes comprise of a shapeless smock or tunic type thing. When I hold it up, it almost reaches my knees. There’s a long sleeved shirt which I assume goes underneath, and a pair of leggings, although they’re not the elasticised cotton I’m used to, but home made like the rest. The only item of clothing I recognise is the pair of knickers on the top of the pile. I’m glad to see those. If their underwear had been primitive too, I would’ve kept my dirty stuff on.
Not for the first time, I’m almost glad that ballet’s left me flat-chested enough not to need a bra.
I walk over to the door in the corner. As I expected, it leads to a bathroom – bath, toilet, sink. The shower is just a hose pipe attached the taps, but I can cope with that. I turn it on – it doesn’t feel like we’ve got any hot water, which would be an issue.
It doesn’t look like this place is bugged, but cameras are easy to hide these days. As a precaution, I pull the white curtain around the bath tub and climb in before taking off my own clothes – jeans, t-shirt, knickers and socks. They fall to the bathroom floor with a thump.
The jet of water takes me by surprise and I gasp aloud. It’s cold. Colder than I’d been expecting, though I’d had my hand under it just a few seconds ago. So I wash myself all over as quickly as I can and then turn it off, leaping out onto the worn-out bath mat even as the realisation that I haven’t got a towel hits me.
But someone’s left me one. They’ve taken my clothes too, and in their place is this soft brown towel. They came in while the water was deafening me and I didn’t even realise. Who were they? Teresa? Or was it Mike or Owen or another man that I haven’t met yet? Who came into the room while I was naked and defenceless and left before I could see them?
I wrap the towel around me quickly, just in case anyone else should come in. It’s very soft. I almost don’t want to put it aside to dress in the clothes they’ve given me, which are sure to be scratchy and ill-fitting, but I do, and I find that I was mistaken. They’re as comfortable as anything else I’ve worn recently. I pull on the trousers and shirt, but leave the smock.
Returning to the main room, I pull on my flat ballet shoes and come across my leotard and tights in my bag, feeling like an idiot. I should have put these on to dance, of course, but it’s too late now. I’m not going back in that cold bathroom to put them on.
As I begin to warm up at the barre, it occurs to me that without a charger for my MP3 player, I won’t be able to practise with music. I wasn’t planning to dance properly though, just go through all my exercises to keep my body in shape. I don’t know how long I’m going to be here and it’ll give my brain something to do well.
When I started ballet, I hated the repetition of pliés and tendus. They weren’t just boring, they were pointless, and they made my legs ache. How were these exercises real ballet? I wanted to do pirouettes. I wanted to spin across a stage and leap into the arms of a partner who knew how to catch me.
Now I welcome them every time I arrive at the studio. They’re a gentle reminder to my body before I force it to do something more difficult, and it makes me feel so much better to clear my mind by repeating the steps I’ve done so many times.
I stop to stretch, wishing for a drink of water, and as I sink down into the splits I look at my watch. It tells me I’ve been working for forty minutes. I don’t feel the strain yet. Barre work is tiring, of course, but not as much as a long sequence of leaps. I’ll keep going until I can’t do any more.
I start at the beginning again. Always pliés. Grade seven pliés – a bend of the knees, and a stretch, and then changing position to do them again, but this time slightly differently – and then grade eight, and then Intermediate, and then Advanced. By the time I’ve done all four exercises my knees are beginning to suffer, so I move onto something else. I can work on autopilot, my body knows them so well, so I take the opportunity to examine my situation.