I waited in my long, flowing dress as the previous dancers performed their routine, and finally it was time for my class--or rather, the class that would be mine when I was good enough to integrate. Our signal came. The orchestra, which had agreed to play despite the fact there had been no time for rehearsal, began, and we ran on stage. I saw Grace in the audience but the lights were confusing me, so I couldn't be sure if Alexander was with her.
"Well done, you did really well." Madame Lejeune was in the wings, already dressed for our duet. "Elizabeth, you need to get changed. Run back to the dressing room quickly, why don't you?" Following her instructions I returned to the poky room backstage that served as our dressing room. The blouse and skirt was already hanging up, much to my relief. At least I wouldn't have to find it.
My ghillies slipped from my fingers as I tried to tie the knot. Why, oh why did soft shoes have to be so hard to do up, especially in a hurry? But at last I was ready and so I returned to the wings to wait with the other dancers, who smiled at me. Our accordion playing friend was nowhere to be seen. I assumed he was in the Pit with the orchestra.
"Are you ready?" asked Madame, looking at my white face and shaking hands. I stared at her like she was mad, but really it was because I was about to throw up.
"I don't think I could ever be ready for this," I said truthfully. She just laughed. At last the other class left the stage, and a piece of scenery came down. It was green, painted by me with Celtic knotwork and shamrocks, designed to be the backdrop for our dance. In addition to that, it was exactly the same shade of green as our skirts.
The accordion started, but this time my fear remained. "Go!" hissed Madame, and we skipped on stage. A few younger audience members cheered, although the general atmosphere was one of confusion, but we ignored it and started to dance, the entire reel going without a hitch. Thank goodness for that.
As we finished, there was complete and utter silence. No one clapped. No one cheered. Had we gone too far? Then, as one body, they were on their feet, cheering. Not everyone: Grace and Alexander weren't, I could see them sitting there with shocked faces, and neither were the important people: the dance committees and such. But the parents were loving it, and I beamed as I bowed again and again.
"Good luck," said my teacher as she skipped off into the wings, leaving me alone. The success had buoyed my confidence and I pulled off the waistcoat, throwing it into the audience instead of backwards as I had planned, which invoked another shocked silence and a few solitary whoops. Obviously, it wasn't just the higher classes here today.
I saw my accompanist sitting in the Pit; he grinned at me before starting to play, instilling a sense of peace and rightness. With a light smile I started to dance, enjoying every minute of it. Oh, if only my old teachers had been there to watch me as I danced my heart out, knowing that every step was a step closer to the salvation that was the end of the performance.
When I finished there was no pause. Just pure cheering, and a few disapproving faces. But I didn't care. I left to change my shoes, and knew that the hornpipe held the crux of the matter in its grasp. How would they react to a woman dancing in the hard shoe style?