Authors: Sherryl Clark
Sherryl's first children's book,
The Too-tight Tutu
, was published in 1997, and she now has more than 60 books in print including the Tracey Binns' books. Most recently, she published
Dying to Tell Me
(which was first published in the US) and
Her historical fiction includes
the Rose series and
Also by Sherryl Clark
Tracey Binns is Trouble
Tracey Binns is Lost
For Karen, who still inspires me
I woke at dawn, my room filled with a strange grey light, the threads of a horrible dream clinging to me like a spider's web. My heart thumped loudly and my legs ached, like I'd been dancing non-stop in my sleep all night. I lay there staring at the cracks in the ceiling, trying not to think, but my brain chimed the word over and over.
Failure. Failure. Failure.
I flexed my feet, stretched, but the ache still dragged on my leg muscles and I groaned. How could I possibly dance well this morning? Let alone prove how good I was? But it was what I had to do. Right from the first lesson, I had to dance at my absolute best. Because if I didn't, everything my family had sacrificed for me to have my chance would be for nothing. If I failed, I'd have to crawl away and hide â forever. It'd be better than having to face them all across the breakfast table every day and know they were thinking,
She wasn't worth it.
As soon as I heard someone stirring, I leapt out of bed and dressed in my gym gear, then started warm-up stretches in the lounge, where there was more room. Orrin, my older brother, shuffled past, grunted at me and shut the bathroom door behind him. By the time the family was up and eating breakfast, sweat coated my whole body, but at least I felt less like a stick of wood and more like a dancer. Apart from the hot rocks in my stomach.
I showered and tried to eat, but the cereal stuck in my throat and I scraped it into the bin when no one was looking.
âClean your teeth and we'll get on the road,' Mum said. I nodded and took a couple of deep breaths, but they didn't help. Best to keep moving and not think too much.
Mum drove me to the Ellergren Dance Studio in our old Holden, and even though it was about twenty minutes from our house, we seemed to arrive in ten seconds. My legs had turned back into sticks and I tried to breathe normally, but I sounded like a gasping elephant.
âAre you all right?' Mum asked.
Our car clanked down the street, past office buildings and a church, and Mum turned into a car park. As we thumped over the driveway entrance, a girl ran across in front of us. Mum slammed on the brakes so hard, we both lurched forward and snapped against our seatbelts. Mum yelled a four-letter word. My hands shook and I clutched my bag harder.
âNot a good start,' she muttered. âBut at least we're here in plenty of time.'
She parked and turned off the motor. I climbed out slowly, staring around; our old bomb was surrounded by shiny black and red cars and 4WDs, and the groups of mothers chatting were dressed in the kinds of clothes we wore to weddings.
At least Mum's trackies were fairly new, but she was wearing her old Tweety Bird T-shirt. It shouldn't have mattered â Mum looked like she always does â but suddenly I wished she was in tailored black pants and cool shirt like some of the other mothers.
Focus! This is about dancing!
The front entrance had large wooden double doors between two white columns. We'd been here just four weeks ago for an evaluation session. I remembered the foyer had a black-tiled floor and white walls covered in pictures of ballet dancers. As Mum tried to hustle me past, I'd looked closer and realised they were all of the one dancer â Astrid Ellergren. The woman who was maybe about to change my life.
Mum had rushed on through, dragging me with her, and we ended up in the studio.
âThere she is,' she'd whispered, and charged across the floor towards Ms Ellergren. I followed slowly, taking it all in. One wall covered in mirrors, barres along the other side, polished wooden floor, high windows, a piano and a sound system.
As I got closer, I could hear Mum. âHer previous teacher, Suzanne Calzotti, said she was extremely talented, you see, so we â'
âI know,' Ms Ellergren said. âThat's why I agreed to see her.'
Mum had been more nervous than I was. Ms Ellergren knew all about me. When Mrs Calzotti retired, it seemed impossible to find another teacher as good, and then Mrs Calzotti put us in contact with Ms Ellergren. The problem was that her school was in Melbourne.
âHello, Brynna.' Ms Ellergren smiled. âI'm going to do an evaluation, because I want to make sure you're up to my advanced class before I allow you into it.'
An invisible hand twisted my guts. âOkay.'
Mum's face dropped. âBut â'
âSuzanne gave Brynna a high recommendation, but there's a lot at stake here.'
âYes, the National Ballet School audition,' Mum began.
âBefore she gets to that,' said Ms Ellergren, âI need to see what bad habits we have to erase, and whether she's strong enough for this level. She may need to begin in a lower class.'
Mum and I had stared at each other. So I mightn't be good enough to audition for the NBS this year? The invisible hand twisted harder.
âYou do know Brynna has already applied to audition,' Mum said.
Ms Ellergren raised her eyebrows. âYou may want to reconsider if she's not ready.'
âBut â' Mum was saying nothing. I had to audition. I
If Ms Ellergren didn't think I was ready, though â¦
âHave you come with your leotard on?'
I nodded. My voice had left me.
âGet your shoes on quickly, then.' She closed the studio door and waited near the mirrors.
I stripped off my track pants and top, crossed and tied the ribbons on my ballet shoes and stood, praying that my knees would stop trembling.
âOver to the barre. Let's see you go through the positions and then some barre and centre exercises.' She pointed to a chair by the piano. âYou may sit there, Mrs Davies.'
And Mum sat. I didn't dare look at her, because I knew she'd have on her determined face, the one that said,
You can do it. You know you can.
The trouble was, I wasn't sure I could. What if Mrs Calzotti had taught me badly? What if I had a million bad habits to fix? No, that was silly.
My absolute best â every time.
I focused totally on Ms Ellergren's voice, shutting out Mum and my jumbled worries, and placed my feet in first position.
Twenty minutes later, it was over. Plies, degages, arabesques, tendus and then a check of my hips, legs and feet. Ms Ellergren put my left foot back on the floor and straightened up. âGood. Suzanne was right. You can join my advanced class.'
Tears filled my eyes and I blinked hard. âThank you.'
One rare smile. âYou mightn't thank me after the first class. You have a definite problem with your shoulders and arms that needs to be worked on. They're not in line properly. I believe your application to audition for the National Ballet School has already gone in?'
âThat's right,' said Mum.
âHmm. We'll see how you go, Brynna. If you apply yourself, I'm sure you can overcome it. I'll give you additional exercises and I'll see you in class.'
Her words had sent an icy spike through me. Shoulders and arms. A problem? What if I couldn't fix it? Some aspects of bad technique stayed with you forever. Mum had looked at my face and squeezed my arm. âYou'll conquer it, Brynnie, I know you will. Now we need to get you to that class.'
Up until then, I hadn't thought about how I'd attend Ms Ellergren's school â just that it probably meant lots of travelling. Then Mum and Dad announced that we were going for broke and moving the whole family to Melbourne. We'd been in chaos for the past two weeks, packing, moving, trying to get used to the grotty little house we were renting. Orrin seemed happy about moving, but Tam had turned snarly and bad-tempered. We'd only been in Melbourne two days and he got into an argument with some boys at the milk bar in the next street. He said they'd made fun of his army disposal boots. I knew he was missing his mates and being able to ride his bike down to the creek or through the bush, and I felt awful for him. But Mum said he'd soon get used to it, like we all would.
And now here I was, at the first class.
Mum winked at me. âPick you up later,' she said. âDo your best!'
I raced in to the changing rooms, off the foyer, and had to battle my way through a crowd of girls in leotards and tights, all heading for the studio. I kept my head down, and found a few centimetres of bench to sit on, then shoved my clothes into my bag. My ballet shoes were worn and a bit tight, but they'd got me through so far. I tied the ribbons, smoothed back the tendrils of hair that had escaped from my bun and rushed into the studio, just as Ms Ellergren was instructing everyone to line up along the barre. I scored the last spot. Suited me. I'd be anonymous there and could get used to the class without looking like an idiot. Although I'd passed the evaluation, the others would probably be far more polished than me.
Music came from a black piano. We drilled in plies, through each position, going over and over them, while Ms Ellergren walked up and down, correcting everyone a millimetre at a time.
âHands are not claws, Lisa. Your feet are not floating boats, Ellie. Control them. Tina, head up.'
As she came closer and closer, my face grew hot and sweat trickled down the side of my neck. Then she stopped beside me. I tried hard to flow, to be graceful, to visualise my arms and feet as perfect, keep my dreaded shoulders level and my arms at the right height. She walked in front of me and watched for endless seconds, then nodded and moved on.
Relief spilled through me and my arms dropped. In an instant, her stare flicked back and I lifted them again. This was why I was here â Astrid Ellergren was one of the best, and every second in her class counted, every second took me a tiny bit closer to my dream â the National Ballet School. I lifted my head and checked the mirror, adjusting my chin position slightly. Perfection â a good place to start.
Finally we were sent to the centre in rows, and more practice followed. The back of my leotard was drenched, but I couldn't afford to falter, or show how much I was struggling. Centre practice was about balance â no barre to help â and a couple of times I teetered, then pulled myself up again. Phew!
Just when I thought we were going to spend two whole hours on basic exercises, Ms Ellergren clapped her hands. âFive minutes' rest, girls.'
Immediately, half the girls fell on the floor; the rest sat. I was glad they were all as tired as me. I sat too and looked around. There were twenty of us, all ages from ten up to about fourteen â only two boys â and everyone seemed to know each other. Four of the girls sat close together in a little group with their backs to everyone, as if the rest of us didn't count.
âThey always do that,' said a girl lying on her back next to me. She flexed her legs, one at a time, and groaned. âThey call themselves the Silhouettes.'
âCause they think they're special.' She grinned at me. âBut they're not.'
A small, grey-haired woman in black pants and top chatted with Ms Ellergren by the piano.
âThat's Mimi,' the girl said. âMs Ellergren prefers piano to recorded music. It means she can stop and start us whenever she wants. Usually when one of us stuffs up. I'm Lucy, by the way.'
âI'm Brynna. I just started today.'
âI know. You're the first new person we've had in a year. Most people can't get into this class and, once they're in, they only leave when they get too old.' She peered up at me. âHow did you get a place?'
I shrugged. I didn't want to sound like I was showing off. âMy old teacher knows Ms Ellergren and put my name down, and here I am. I didn't know this class was so â'
âElite? Selective? Oh yeah. And totally competitive too.' She stretched and yawned, then sat up, brushing herself down. âWatch out. If you're too good, you'll have plenty of enemies.'
âI don't want enemies.' It was going to be tough enough keeping up in this class. The thought of girls giving me a hard time as well made my head ache. Where was my friend Josie when I needed her? Back in Bendigo, that was where. I'd promised to keep in touch by email or MSN, but we didn't have a computer at home. Maybe I could go to the library. What would Josie be doing now? Probably heading to the shops to buy an ice-cream, or maybe going to the footy with her dad.
âQuick â Ms Ellergren hates you being slow.' Lucy was standing with her hand out to help me up and we got into rows in the middle.
âGirls, we are going to continue now with the short movement from last week. Brynna, you can watch for a few minutes, then I expect you to follow on and pick up the steps as quickly as you can.'
I swallowed. âYes, Ms Ellergren.' She was dumping me right in it on Day One! The piano started and I watched pairs of girls dance across the floor in a series of steps and turns, with arm positions as well. After seeing it repeated nine times, I thought I was ready to give it a go. Lucy was the other half of my pair. âReady?' she said.
âReady as I'll ever be.' She set off and I followed, trying to keep her in sight and match her steps. My feet did what they were told, but my arms were all over the place and my face burned as I heard giggles from the other side of the room.
âA good first attempt,' Ms Ellergren called, and someone hissed. âCome back to this side and do it again. Mimi, please.'
This time, without Lucy to follow, I had to remember it all on my own, but strangely it was easier. Ms Ellergren kept saying, âArms up, now out, round them more,' as I danced across the floor. âAnd again.'
The third time, I got it right and that earnt me a nod from Ms Ellergren. Whoa! I couldn't believe I'd done it. Lucy whispered, âGood for you,' and that made me smile, but when I turned around, the Silhouettes were staring at me with stony faces.
For the rest of the class, I stayed at the back, last in each exercise or movement, careful to pay attention to Ms Ellergren and stay off the Silhouettes' radar. But at the same time, I studied each of them, trying to work them out. I'd had girls in Mrs Calzotti's class who'd been envious of me, especially when I'd won things at the eisteddfod, but they didn't hassle me about it. From the Silhouettes, I'd already picked up big-time hostility, and they didn't even know me!