Series: Ballet Stars
By Jane Lawes
Nearly there, nearly there, nearly there… The car turned another corner and Aurora House Ballet School was suddenly visible between the trees. The windows of the beautiful old mansion house glinted in the bright January sunshine and Tash felt excited butterflies pirouetting in her stomach. The Christmas holidays that she’d thought would stretch out for ever had flown by, and here she was, almost back at school for a new term.
Mum slowed down as they joined the queue of other cars passing through the big iron gates into the school grounds. As the tyres crunched at snail-speed over the gravel, Tash twisted round and looked out of the back window to see who was in the car behind them. She couldn’t wait to see her best friends Dani and Anisha again. They’d had three weeks away from school for Christmas, and even though she’d been to Anisha’s house to stay with her for one weekend, she hadn’t seen Dani at all. Dani had wanted to come to Anisha’s, but she lived too far away and almost all of her holiday seemed to be taken up with visiting relatives.
“I think ballet school must be the only type of school where everyone’s happy to go back after Christmas!” Tash said with a grin at Mum, who laughed.
“Anyone would think you’d had a rubbish time over the holidays,” joked Mum. “You’ve been packed and ready to come back for about three days.”
“I had the best time,” Tash replied earnestly. After being away at school for a whole term, surrounded by people all the time and sharing a room with five other girls, it had been wonderful to be at home with just Mum and do all the things they loved to do together: watching films with mugs of hot chocolate, pretending to be TV chefs while they made dinner, walking along the river and making up funny life stories for all the ducks. She’d done lots of fun things with Maddy, her best friend from junior school, too, and she’d even visited her old ballet class at the church hall. But she’d missed her new school friends, and doing barre exercises in her bedroom just couldn’t come close to the pure joy of really, truly dancing, the way she did in her classes at Aurora House.
Mum parked the car and Tash got out and stood for a moment looking up at the window of Coppélia dorm, where she’d be sleeping once again that night, and for all the nights to come until the Easter holidays. She smiled. It was good to be back.
* * *
“Tash!” cried five voices all at once when she appeared in the doorway of Coppélia with her suitcase. Mum was close behind with her other bag. Tash let go of her suitcase and heard it smack against the floor as it fell over, but she didn’t care – she was already in the middle of a group hug with Dani and Anisha, hugging them back as hard as she could. Dani’s parents were there too and they chatted to Mum while Tash looked around at her friends with a smile.
“I can’t believe it’s only three o’clock and I’m still the last one here,” she said.
“I only beat you by about ten minutes,” said Dani.
“Tash, come and look at these! I got them for Christmas,” said Anisha. Tash went over to Anisha’s bed and looked at her new iPod speakers. “Now we can listen to music in here.”
“Cool!” said Tash. She hugged Laura, Toril and Donna, the other three girls she shared the dormitory with, and soon everyone was talking about what they’d got for Christmas and the fun things they’d done in the holidays. They chatted and laughed until eventually their parents started to talk about heading home.
“I should get going, too, Tashie,” Mum said, calling her by the name she’d used when Tash was a little girl. Tash sighed quietly. In her excitement about being back at school, she’d almost forgotten that it meant saying goodbye to Mum again.
Outside in the car park, Mum pulled Tash close for a long, tight hug and Tash gripped Mum’s coat, wishing she could make the hug go on for ever. She felt Mum kiss the top of her head and heard her say “I love you”. Tash hugged her even harder and mumbled “I love you, too” into her coat.
“Have a good term, darling,” said Mum, pulling back to look at her. “I’ll see you at Easter.”
Tash had said she wanted to stay at school over half-term because it had been so much fun last term, spending time with her friends and going on a special trip to see the City Ballet Company perform The Sleeping Beauty. She’d enjoyed it so much and had been so eager to go back to Aurora House after Christmas that she’d told Mum she didn’t mind staying at school this time. But now that she was standing in the car park saying goodbye again, she wasn’t so sure.
Dani and her older sister Helen were saying goodbye to their parents at the same time as Tash, and she caught up with them at the back door into the school building.
“At least we have ballet tomorrow morning,” said Dani.
“True,” said Tash, thinking of the big, bright studio they used for their two-hour ballet class each morning. She felt her sadness being pushed away by excitement – she couldn’t wait to get back into the studio and start dancing!
“Trust me,” said Helen, who was in her final year at Aurora House, “in a few days you’ll both have forgotten all about home and parents. You’ll have way more important things to think about.”
“What do you mean?” asked Dani.
“Exams, remember,” replied Helen. “All years have ballet exams at the end of the spring term.
I think we have them this term because we have academic exams at the end of the summer term.”
“I’d forgotten,” said Tash. “All I’ve been thinking about is getting back to ballet classes and seeing you guys again.”
She smiled at Dani, who grinned back and did a little skip of excitement.
“Are the exams usually difficult?” Tash asked Helen, feeling a tiny twinge of nerves at the thought.
“If you work hard this term you’ll be fine,” said Helen with a shrug.
“Easy for you to say,” Dani muttered, rolling her eyes at Tash. “You can’t put a foot wrong here. Literally.”
Helen and Tash both laughed. Helen was one of the best dancers at the school, but Dani always exaggerated the difference between herself and her sister. Although it sometimes took Dani a while to remember sequences of steps, the truth was that she was a great dancer too. Tash hoped that, even though she often put herself down in a jokey way, Dani knew that she was as talented as the rest of their year. After all, only twelve girls and twelve boys had been given places in Year Seven at Aurora House, and every one of them had the potential to be a professional dancer. The next seven years at school would find out who was going to make it.
“I bet you’ll have something more exciting to think about next week, too,” continued Helen with a twinkling smile.
“What?” demanded Tash and Dani. They had stopped at the bottom of the stairs that led up to Coppélia.
“Pointe shoes,” said Helen. She smiled widely at them and walked off before they could ask any more questions.
Dani and Tash looked at each other and identical grins spread across their faces. They’d all received a letter from the school during the holidays telling them that they’d be starting pointe work this term and that their parents would need to pay for the shoes, but Tash had had no idea it would be so soon. Pointe shoes! They were finally going to dance on the tips of their toes the way ballerinas did! Helen was right, this was enough to put all thoughts of home immediately out of their minds. They raced up the stairs as fast as they could and burst into Coppélia to tell the others the news.
“Finally, finally!” sang Anisha, while they were sitting in the dining room that evening eating chicken with potatoes and vegetables. “I’ve been waiting to dance en pointe my whole life!”
“Me too,” said Tash. “It’s what you see when you think of ballerinas.”
“Imagine us dancing en pointe,” said Dani, and Tash pictured it – herself and her friends wearing beautiful, shiny pointe shoes with flat, square ends that would allow them to stand and dance right on the very tips of their toes.
“What are you talking about?” asked Lily-May, who was in the other Year Seven dorm.
“Pointe work,” replied Tash.
“Helen thinks we’ll be starting it next week!” said Dani.
Lily-May’s face lit up with excitement, and she turned to the girl next to her to pass the rumour on. Before long, the whole of Year Seven was buzzing with the news.
“I wonder how much it will hurt,” said Dani later that evening, stretching her legs out on her bed and pointing her bare toes.
Tash did a few slow rises onto the balls of her feet while brushing her teeth next to Anisha. She’d been so swept away by visions of herself dancing en pointe that she hadn’t really thought about what it would actually feel like. Dani was right; it probably would hurt, especially at first. But something else began to worry Tash, too. Everyone knew that you had to have really strong feet and ankles to dance safely on your toes – that was why dancers didn’t get to do it until they were eleven or twelve, sometimes even older. What if her injury just before Christmas meant that she wasn’t able to do it?
“What if the foot I hurt last term isn’t strong enough?” Tash said hesitantly.
She shuddered a bit, remembering the pain when she’d sprained her ankle, and how scared she’d been that she might never be able to dance again. Anisha looked at her with sympathy filling her dark-brown eyes. They all knew how devastated Tash had been when she’d had to miss out on performing at the Christmas fair.
“Maybe you should ask Miss Anderbel about it,” Anisha suggested. “You must feel like it’s been ages since you’ve been allowed to dance properly!”
“Three whole weeks,” Tash groaned. “It’s been torture! I did start practising barre exercises again in the last week of the holidays though, and Dr Stevens gave me some gentle foot exercises to do.” Dr Stevens was the school doctor who’d treated Tash after her accident.
“That’s good,” Anisha replied with an encouraging smile.
“I had to do something,” said Tash. “Not dancing for so long was driving me crazy!”
“Well, now we’re back and we’ll be dancing again first thing tomorrow morning. I can’t wait! And I’m sure your foot will be fine,” said Anisha.
“I hope so,” said Tash. “I don’t want to miss out on anything this term – especially something as exciting as pointe work!”
“Helen’s feet sometimes bleed,” Dani put in. “And she gets blisters. She showed me. It was gross.”
The girls all pulled faces at each other and laughed. Tash smiled at Anisha in the mirror and Anisha grinned back. They were roughly the same height, both with long hair and brown eyes, although Anisha’s hair was black while Tash’s was brown. Sometimes Tash thought it was strange that they got on so well because they were so different – she was much quieter than Anisha, because she’d never had to shout over younger brothers to get heard, the way Anisha had to at home.
Dani was louder than Tash, too – and even though she had a habit of looking down at the floor while she danced, she was cheerful and confident. She never seemed to let anything upset her, and she was always the first to see the bright side of a problem. Tash was so happy that they were her best friends.
“I think the pain of pointe work will be worth it though,” Dani continued cheerily, leaning against the bathroom doorway while she waited for Tash and Anisha to be finished. Tash nodded as she slipped out past Dani and got into bed. She sat under the duvet, hugging her knees to her chest with excitement. Anisha got into her own bed next to Tash’s and an avalanche of her favourite pop music magazines slid to the floor. Tash couldn’t help a giggle: they’d only been back for one evening and Anisha’s little area of the room was already a total mess.
“Of course it will be worth it,” Tash said. “Even if it hurts, just imagine standing en pointe for the first time. I bet it will feel like we’re real ballet dancers.”
“I bet it will feel like we’re about to fall over,” said Dani as she clambered into her bed on the other side of Tash’s.
“Probably,” laughed Tash. “But we’ll practise and practise and then one day we’ll be able to do pirouettes and balance in arabesques and it will feel like the most beautiful thing ever.”
“I think you missed out a couple of hundred ‘practise’s,” said Anisha.
“Let me dream,” said Tash. “I know what I’m aiming for and, yeah, maybe it’ll hurt at first and it’ll be really difficult, but when – if – I’m a dancer at City Ballet I’ll be glad that I practised so much.”
“Don’t practise too much!” Dani warned, with a look of alarm. “Remember what happened last time.”
“I won’t practise outside of classes any more,” promised Tash. That was what had led to her accident before Christmas. “But I’m going to work as hard as I possibly can when I’m in class!”
Anisha smiled at her and snuggled down under her duvet. “You’ll get there, Tash. I’m completely sure of that,” she yawned.
“So will you,” said Tash.
“Maybe,” Anisha mumbled drowsily.
As exhaustion finally overcame her, Tash lay down and closed her eyes. And all she could see were pairs of pink satin pointe shoes lined up, ready for her to step into them and dance her way to becoming a ballerina at City Ballet.
It's the spring term at Aurora House, the school where dancing dreams come true. Tash is delighted to be back, especially when she realizes she'll be learning to dance en pointe!
But when her friend Anisha starts acting strangely in class, Tash is worried. Their first ballet exam is coming up, and Anisha isn't even trying to master the tricky arabesque. Can Tash get her back on track before it's too late?
Jane Lawes studied American Literature and Creative Writing at the University of East Anglia and started a PCGE in primary education, before deciding that her real passion lay in books. She currently works in publishing by day, and as an author by night and at the weekends. Gym Stars: Summertime & Somersaults is Jane’s first novel.
Visit www.janelawes.co.uk to find out more.
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