Picture me. I was terrified. I mean, you would be, wouldn't you? I had no idea of what to expect from my first private ballet lesson, and although I knew Madame Lejeune was nobody to be afraid of, I had an inkling she could be quite strict, quite demanding.
We walked to the studio--Annie and I, that is--which surprised me since we seemed to take the carriage everywhere else. At the doors, once my shoes (bought early that morning, like the dress which had been hastily adjusted by a terrified, stressed dressmaker) had been tied and my hair twisted up into a knot, my young companion left me to tremble alone as I waited for Madame to welcome me in.
I did not have long to wait, but the five minutes which passed seemed to last forever. There were no other students around--this was, I reminded myself, a private class. At last my teacher opened the door and I was admitted.
"Elizabeth, there is no need to look so scared," she said, a soft laugh colouring her words. "I am not going to bite you, you know." Blushing, I followed her into the hall where my audition had taken place, stood calmly in the centre of the floor and waited to be told what to do.
"Normally, I would start with a barre, but you need to be clear in the positions first. So, first position ... arms a little more curved, that's it, good ..." As we went through each position, Madame corrected my posture and made sure it was perfect. So insistent was she that it be flawless it took us half an hour to get through it all, but we managed it eventually and I was allowed to move on to pliés. Then at the barre we practised grand battements, a la seconde, a la derriere... And finally she let me sit down on the floor and stretch my aching muscles to relax them slightly.
"Too tired for a little bit of our old folk, eh?" she said kindly. Immediately I was standing up, my feet turned out and my hands flat by my sides. I was still in the ballet slippers but it didn't matter, because I was going to dance ... she was going to let me carry on with my Irish dance. "I see not." With amusement twinkling in her eyes, Madame started up a lively jig on the old piano. And I danced.
Fifteen minutes later I had gone through all of my light-shoe dances, and--after collapsing exhausted in a chair near the front of the room--was quite ready to stop dancing, but Madame had not finished with me yet. We had another half hour of the lesson left, and she wasn't going to let me off that easily.
"Have mercy on me," I pleaded, laughing but with genuine hope behind my words. "My feet feel like they're on fire and every muscle in my body is aching."
"That's good," she replied. "That means you're a real dancer. Now, come on, I want you to do some demi-pointe exercises to strengthen your ankles from when I get you up onto pointe. I'm afraid it's a little unconventional to upgrade somebody so quickly, but you'll never get there if I don't. Not yet, of course, I'll leave it a couple of months."
"I doubt my feet are very strong," I warned her, but I did the exercises anyway. At last she let me ago, and there was Annie, faithfully waiting outside. "Is the carriage here?" I asked, peering over her shoulder. She nodded.
"Your mother came to pick you up, because it occurred to her that you would be very tired and perhaps would not want to walk all the way home. Besides, once you arrive back home you will need to change, eat lunch and then the governess will arrive." I groaned internally, but outside I was still beaming. A wild, uncontrollable joy was spilling out from inside me. I had danced. I would dance. I would be a dancer, and that was all the mattered.
"You look happy," noted Grace as I climbed into the carriage.
"I am," I replied, and I didn't stop smiling until we were well away from the studio. It had been a good morning.