Series: Ballet Stars
By Jane Lawes
Tash closed her eyes, just for a moment, and let the book she was reading fall shut in her lap. The April sunshine was warm and comforting on her face. It was the first Saturday afternoon that had been sunny enough for the students at Aurora House Ballet School to take their homework outside onto the grass.
“Keep your head still,” ordered Dani, one of Tash’s two best friends.
Dani was sitting behind her, plaiting Tash’s long, dark brown hair.
“Sorry.” Tash smiled at Dani over her shoulder, then opened Goodnight Mister Tom again, the book she was reading for their English class.
They had exams in all their academic classes this term, and Tash knew that she needed to do well. She’d been given a full scholarship to the school because she’d shown exceptional potential as a ballet dancer at her audition, and she intended to work hard to keep it. After all, Mum couldn’t afford to pay for her to stay at Aurora House without it.
Dani finished one plait and moved to the other side of Tash’s head to do the rest. Anisha, their other best friend, was lying on her stomach in front of Tash with her maths textbook and exercise book spread open on the grass. She was holding a pen in her hand, but Tash hadn’t seen her write anything for at least ten minutes. Right now, she had her chin down on her folded arms and it was very possible that she was asleep.
“It feels so much nicer with my hair off my back,” Tash said, when Dani finished the second plait.
“Having long hair is so uncomfortable when it’s hot,” Dani agreed. Her own light-blonde hair was pulled up into a messy bun.
“The problems of being a ballerina in training!” laughed Tash.
Aurora House was strict on many things, including keeping your uniform neat and tidy, being on time for meals and lessons, no nail varnish on weekdays, and hair. No one was allowed to cut their hair too short to go up into the perfect ballet bun they had to wear from Monday to Friday. Tash didn’t mind it, but Dani got really annoyed with hers getting in the way when it was down, and Tash had no idea how Anisha, whose hair was longer than anyone else’s, could stand it in the summer.
“Shall we wake her up?” Dani asked, pointing at Anisha.
Tash looked at her watch. “We’d better, if we still want to go to the cinema.”
“Helen only offered to take us because she wants to see the new Pixar film but she thinks she’s too grown up for it now,” scoffed Dani. Her sister Helen was eighteen and in her final year at the school.
Tash laughed. “True, but I want to see it, and you know we can’t go without someone from the Sixth Form.” She reached out a flip-flopped foot and prodded Anisha.
“I can’t wait until we’re old enough to go into town without supervision,” said Dani.
“What?” mumbled Anisha, looking around. “Did I fall asleep?”
“Only for a few minutes,” said Tash. “Anyway,” she added, looking back at Dani, “I wouldn’t want to be in Helen’s year yet. They’re all auditioning for jobs at ballet companies – scary!”
“And they have to leave Aurora House in only two months’ time,” added Anisha. “They must feel so sad.”
She shivered a little at the thought, and Tash was secretly pleased to see that Anisha loved school so much, when only last term it had seemed as if she was going off the idea of being a ballet dancer. They’d had important ballet exams just before Easter, and Anisha had found it so difficult to focus all term that she’d only just scraped through. Tash would never stop being thankful that they were all still here, dancing together every day.
She stood up and brushed some grass off her light blue dress. The others got up too, and the three of them walked back towards the mansion house that was the main school building.
“I really hope we find out about the end-of-year show soon,” said Dani, padding across the grass in bare feet, carrying her pale-green Converse trainers in one hand and her French book in the other.
“We’ve been back at school for a week already and we don’t know anything yet – we must be finding out soon,” said Tash.
“You know, when we start rehearsals for the show we probably won’t be able to carry on with dance club,” said Anisha.
Tash realized Anisha was right. They’d started a Year Seven and Eight dance club last term so that everyone could have some fun and get their minds off their important ballet exams, and she felt a bit sad that they’d have to give it up to focus on the school show. But she couldn’t feel sad for long, because she knew the end-of-year performance was going to be even more fun.
“I still can’t believe we get to dance on the City Ballet stage!” she said.
City Ballet was the ballet company that the school was associated with, and it was Tash’s dream to be a dancer there one day.
“I know!” grinned Dani. “It’s going to be amazing.”
Tash clapped her hands excitedly and Anisha skipped a few steps ahead in delight. They’d all come to Aurora House because they loved to dance, and because they wanted to make their ballerina dreams come true. Dancing on the stage where City Ballet performed would be one more step along the way.
“I wonder what we’ll be dancing,” said Anisha, turning back to face Dani and Tash.
“I hope it’s something classical,” said Tash.
“Me too,” Dani agreed. “When I dance on that stage for the first time, I really want to be wearing a tutu!”
“Yeah, as long as it’s in a tutu, I’ll dance anything!” Tash said with a laugh.
She pictured the three of them standing in classical ballet positions like arabesques and attitudes, wearing the prettiest tutus she could imagine, lights shining down on them and the audience applauding. Just thinking about it made her do a little skipping step as they went in to get ready for the cinema.
Monday morning’s ballet class started at the barre as usual, with everyone standing neatly
in lines along the two mirrored sides of the big studio. They worked their way through pliés, battements tendus, rondes de jambes and developpés, bending and stretching and sweeping their arms through the main classical positions in time with their legs and feet. Then they moved on to faster exercises – quick frappés and finally grands battements, kicking their legs as high as they could.
The barre exercises took up the first hour and then the twelve girls in Tash’s ballet class rearranged themselves into three lines in the middle of the studio to do centre exercises. Tash was in the back row and as she danced, she looked in the mirror and took in the sight of twelve young dancers whose movements matched just as perfectly as their navy-blue leotards, pink tights and soft, pink ballet shoes. They looked almost like the corps de ballet of a proper ballet company – the dancers who were often in the background, all dressed alike and doing exactly the same steps. They might not be the stars of the show, but Tash knew, from watching ballets on DVD and learning about the history of ballet at Aurora House, that the corps de ballet had one of the most important jobs of all. Without them, Swan Lake wouldn’t be so breathtaking, there’d be no snowflakes or party guests in The Nutcracker, and Giselle wouldn’t be anywhere near so creepy.
Although Tash didn’t know what the end-of-year show would be, she didn’t expect that she and her friends, as Year Sevens, would have big parts. But that didn’t have to be so bad, she realized now, watching her ballet class move as if they shared one mind. To dance on that stage with her classmates, all of them breathing and moving in time with each other – well, it would really feel like being part of something. She’d loved ballet for years, but her friends at junior school hadn’t been into it at all. Aurora House had taught her what it was like to love something that everyone around you loved just as much, and dancing with her friends here was the most special thing ever.
After the ballet class, they had twenty minutes to change into their navy-blue-and-grey school uniforms and get to their form room. Two whole terms of making the quick change had helped them all to get much faster, and Tash, Dani and Anisha no longer had to run to get there on time. They didn’t arrive bright red in the face and with messy hair any more either.
Tash sat down next to Dani, and Anisha sat behind them with Donna, a pretty red-haired girl who was in their dormitory. They all started chatting about that morning’s ballet class while the rest of their form – including the twelve boys, who had their morning dance classes separately – wandered in and sat down.
“Hurry up, hurry up,” their form teacher Mr Kent said to the stragglers, but the chatter didn’t die down. “Quiet please, Year Seven! Rob, put that away. Toril, looking at me, please. Come on, Nick, we’re all waiting for you.”
Tash looked at the clock on the wall – they weren’t running late, so she didn’t know why he was making such a fuss. Mr Kent was usually relaxed and happy to let them chat while he did the register.
“We’ve got a special assembly this morning, so we’re going to the auditorium instead of having form time,” he explained. “Line up by the door, please. I’ll do the register while we’re there. Come on, Laura, leave your bag here, no one wants to be sitting next to a pair of smelly ballet shoes.”
Tash looked at Dani, who looked back at her with hopeful blue eyes. Could this be the announcement about the end-of-year show?
Half the school was already sitting down by the time Year Seven arrived at the small theatre.
A stage with proper theatrical lighting, wings and a curtain took up one end of the big room, and the rest was filled with tiered seating. Mr Kent led his form to the front two rows of seats and they sat down. Year Eight were already sitting in the two rows behind them. Tash’s year shared a common room with them, so she knew most of them pretty well, and she and Anisha quickly joined the conversation Lucy and Chris from Year Eight were having behind them.
“It’s got to be about the show,” said Chris. “Ms Hartley’s here, see.” He pointed to the back of the stage where old Ms Hartley, the school’s founder and a former principal dancer at City Ballet, was talking to Mr Watkins, the headteacher.
“Will we all be doing the same ballet?” Tash asked Chris and Lucy. “Or does each year do their own thing?”
“Last year each class did something different,” said Lucy.
“And lots of the Sixth Form did solos or pas de deux,” added Chris.
“I don’t know what happened the year before that,” said Lucy.
Tash turned round to ask Dani if she knew, but Dani was kneeling up on her seat, facing the back of the auditorium where the Sixth Form were sitting, and having a conversation with Helen through weird hand signs and mouthed words.
Ms Hartley walked forwards to the front of the stage and the noise died down. Tash tugged Dani back down into her seat.
“Good morning,” Ms Hartley began. “It’s lovely to see you all again. I know everyone is keen to know what this assembly is about, so I’ll jump right into it. As most of you know, at the end of every year, the whole school puts on a performance at the City Ballet theatre. This will mark the end of a year of hard work for each of you, and for our graduating students, it will be their final performance as Aurora House dancers. This year, Aurora House Ballet School is fifty years old, and to celebrate this, we’ve decided that our performance must be incredibly special. I’ve told you all before that I named the school after the ballet role that made my name as a star dancer – Aurora in The Sleeping Beauty. So, to celebrate the school, this year we will all be working towards one ballet. That ballet. The Sleeping Beauty.”
Tash gave Dani a huge smile. On the other side of her she felt Anisha grab her arm in excitement, and she turned to grin at Anisha too.
The Sleeping Beauty was one of Tash’s favourite ballets and she was thrilled that she’d get to dance in it!
“Of course, there are far more of you than there are parts,” said Ms Hartley. “For that reason, and to give each year group a chance to shine onstage, we’ll be splitting the ballet into sections.”
She looked at Mr Watkins, who stepped forward to explain.
“Years Seven and Eight will perform the first scene,” he said. “The baby Aurora is visited by fairies, and the wicked Carabosse curses her to prick her finger on a needle and die. The Lilac Fairy is able to save Aurora from death so that she will sleep for a hundred years instead.”
“Oh, wow,” breathed Tash.
She remembered watching City Ballet perform The Sleeping Beauty during the autumn half-term week. She’d been bowled over by the beautiful steps and lovely costumes, especially in the first scene and she was so glad that her class would be dancing it. She and Dani exchanged glances with sparkling eyes.
“Years Nine and Ten will then perform the garden scene, where the sixteen-year-old princess dances with princes and her friends before pricking her finger and falling into a deep sleep,” Mr Watkins went on. “The ‘vision scene’, where the Lilac Fairy finds the Prince and shows him a vision of Aurora, and then leads him to kiss her, will be danced by Years Eleven and Twelve. This is a short scene, but, as those students all have important academic exams this summer, I’m sure they’ll be glad not to have too much choreography to learn on top of school revision! Finally, the wedding scene is for Year Thirteen, our graduating students. If you’ve seen the ballet, as I know many of you have, you’ll remember that there are lots of solo roles in this scene, so it’s the perfect final showcase for them.”
“Maybe Helen will get a solo!” Dani whispered. “How cool would that be?”
“Amazing!” Tash whispered back.
Mr Kent leaned forward in his seat at the end of the row and gave them both a look, so Tash went quiet and focused on Mr Watkins, who was still explaining how the show would work.
“Organizing things this way means that students from each year will have a chance to be given a solo,” he said. “For example, someone from Year Seven or Eight will be the Lilac Fairy in the first scene, then someone in Year Nine or Ten will have that role in the second scene and so on. We’ll do the same for the King and Queen, people in the palace, and Aurora’s friends. There will be two exceptions to this. As Aurora was such an important role for Ms Hartley, we’ve decided to give one student here the chance to dance it throughout the whole ballet. The same will also apply to the role of the Prince. And those two roles will, of course, go to two of our final-year students.”
Tash twisted her head to look over her shoulder at the back row where the eldest dancers sat, and thought about how special it would feel to be the one chosen to dance Aurora.
“Thank you for listening so patiently to all this,” said Ms Hartley. “I can see that most of you are dying to talk about everything you’ve just heard, and my watch tells me it’s time you were all on your way to your classrooms, so that will be all. You’ll find out details of how the roles will be given out in your ballet classes, so don’t ask me!”
The whole school started clapping, partly because they were so excited, and partly because they were sitting in a theatre and it felt like what you were supposed to do.
“Aaaahhh!” Tash squealed – she couldn’t even form proper words. She grabbed Anisha’s arm, bouncing up and down on the balls of her feet as they filed out.
“Do you think there’s any chance someone in our year will get a solo?” asked Anisha.
“I don’t know,” replied Tash. “There are loads of good dancers in Year Eight.”
“But,” said Dani, bumping against Tash in her excitement, “there are also loads of solo roles in
the first scene. All the fairies, and the King and Queen and stuff. Maybe there’s a small chance. A tiny one.”
“Do you think we’ll get to dance in our pointe shoes?” asked Anisha.
Last term, the Year Seven girls had all got their first pair of pointe shoes – pink satin ballet shoes that were hard and flat at the ends so that they could dance on their toes. Or try to, anyway. They’d learned quite a lot in only a term because they practised every day, but they still had a long way to go before they could do any of the wonderful things they saw the older students doing. Tash wasn’t at all sure that she was ready to dance en pointe onstage, and she guessed that if they were going to be dancing in pointe shoes, the Year Eight girls, who’d had an extra year of practice, would sweep up all the solo parts.
“Let’s ask Miss Anderbel,” she suggested, knowing that her favourite ballet teacher would have the answer.
“Oh, why do we not have a lesson with her until tomorrow morning?” wailed Anisha. “I can’t wait that long!”
Tash was sure she couldn’t either. It was only the beginning of the school day – they still had hours and hours of school lessons followed by a contemporary dance class and then a long evening of homework and games to drag out their suspense.
But as the day went on, she began to be glad that they hadn’t been able to ask about roles. If Miss Anderbel said that the solos would all go to Year Eight, she knew she would still be happy to be in the corps de ballet, dancing on a famous stage alongside her friends. But until the parts were announced, she could dream of something even more special: dancing a solo.
And daydream she did – all the way through maths and French, geography and art, she danced the Lilac Fairy in her mind.
It's the summer term at Aurora House, the school where dancing dreams come true, and Tash is so excited about the end-of-year performance.
She can't wait to dance on a real stage for the first time, and she's desperate to win the solo role of her dreams: the Lilac Fairy. But her friend Dani is struggling with stage fright. Can Tash help her to sparkle in the spotlight?
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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