At precisely 12:15 I walked into the dance studio, trembling with nerves. It was empty except for a lady in a black practice dress sitting in front of rather an old piano, squinting at some sheet music. She looked up as I entered and I dropped into a curtsey--the one ballet step I could still remember, even if I did wobble rather.
"You must be Elizabeth," she said kindly. "Do come in, and please don't look so scared. It really isn't anything to be afraid of." My face plainly showed that I didn't believe that, and she attempted to reassure me further. "Don't think of it as an audition; think of it as just a placement assessment, so we know where to put you." That was all very well, but I didn't want to end up with the babies.
"I haven't taken ballet classes since I was ten years old," I explained before I took my place in front of the barre. "And although I can remember a few exercises I have no idea if I am doing them right, so please go easy on me."
"That is absolutely fine," she said, surprising me. "I am not going to ask you to perform for me. Instead, I'm going to lead you as though you were just a part of a large class, and see what you can do and how quickly you can pick things up. But you have the leg muscles of somebody who dances regularly, yet you say that you do not take classes. Why is that?"
"I took lessons in a different type of dance," I explained.
"Ah." Madame Lejeune looked down for a moment. I found myself trying to place her accent, for it certainly wasn't French and it wasn't English either. But it just slipped through my grasp like a baby fish through a net. "Please, show me what you can do. If I can, I'll accompany you, so don't stop if I start playing the piano."
That was what I had dreaded, but I took my place at the back of the hall and turned out my feet, holding my arms by my sides. With little warning except to point my toe and elevate my feet, I launched into my favourite light shoe dance: the Reel. It was the most impressive, I thought, although hard shoe would have looked better. But of course I couldn't demonstrate hard shoe in ballet slippers--that would have been ridiculous.
To my great surprise, when I was halfway through the lead round, Madame Lejeune started to play, and it was a tune I recognised from my weekly sessions with my young fiddle-playing friend. With renewed vigour I continued dancing, because I'd finally placed her accent.
"You have studied our folk dance, I see," she told me. She was Irish. Of course, I should have known, and I suddenly felt extremely stupid. "Unusual for an English girl. But then, I think, you are not a normal girl. Am I right?"
"Yes," I told her honestly. "But I thought you would be French. Your name ... it fooled me."
"My husband is French," she explained. "I moved to England when I was ten and began to study ballet, and moved to France when I was twenty-one to continue with these studies. That it where we met, and where I joined a small French corps de ballet. But I didn't stay there long. When I realised that my real passion lay in teaching I returned to England and set up the studios. Unfortunately, my husband caught a terrible illness and died soon afterwards."
"That's terrible..." I said, wishing there was something more intelligent that I could say.
"It was, rather," she admitted. "But please, I have watched you dance and you have grace. Now we will learn ballet, yes? And I will decide which level to put you in. This talking is not helping."
So began our 'class'. And so was my future decided.