Authors: Sheryl Berk
To Gaga, aka my mom,
for always believing in me.
Love you muchly
Rochelle Hayes jolted up in bed the second her radio alarm clock began blasting.
She sprung out of her covers and danced around, singing into an imaginary microphone. It was 6:00 a.m. on a Saturday morningâhours before she usually had to get up for class at Dance Divas Studio.
Most weekends she dragged her heels and her mom practically had to wave a plate of chocolate chip waffles under her nose to coax her up.
But today was different. Miss Toni, her dance team coach, had specifically asked her to come
to the studio at 7:00 a.m. to discuss a new routine she had choreographed
“I have a surprise for you, Rochelle,” she said, pulling her aside in class one day.
“A surprise?” Rochelle knew in Toni terms that could be a good thing . . . or a bad thing. Or a totally crazy thing.
Antoinette Moore was one of the toughest dance teachers in New Jersey with a reputation that followed her all over the country, wherever she took her team to compete. Toni liked to spring things on Rochelle and her teammates.
Only a few months ago, she'd had the five of them perform a patriotic routine, where she painted their faces to look like the American flag. Rochelle got the worst of it: her face was sprinkled with blue stars. The rest of the girls had red stripes on their cheeks and forehead.
“I look like a Smurf with chicken pox!” Rochelle moaned to her BFF and Divas teammate, Scarlett Borden.
“And I look like the Cat in the Hat's hat!” Scarlett chuckled. “Just go with it!”
Rochelle could always count on Scarlett to calm her down and cheer her up. She was the team's unofficial captain and voice of reasonâno matter what Toni had them do.
“I have a dance that I think you'll like . . . for a change,” Toni had said to Rochelle.
“Is it hip-hop?” Rochelle asked excitedly. “Do I get to bust a move at Leaps and Bounds?” The competition was one of the coolest and fiercest in the country, and the girls were looking forward to the trip to Delaware in a week.
Toni shook her head. “No, it's not hip-hop. But it's colorful.”
Rochelle suddenly had visions of herself dressed like a rainbow . . . or a clown . . . or a confetti birthday cake.
“What do you mean by
?” she asked nervously.
“Trust me, it's a sizzling hot number,” Toni replied.
So that's it,
Rochelle thought to herself.
She's going to make me dress like a giant strip of bacon!
“I am not saying anything more until Saturday morning,” Toni insisted. “Be here at 7:00 a.m. sharp, ready to work.” She tossed her a long flowing orange skirt with tiers of ruffles. “And wear this with your leotard for rehearsal.”
Rochelle made a face.
“No arguing.” Toni cut her off with a wave of her hand before she had a chance to protest. “This is the most dynamic dance I have ever choreographed, and I think you're the girl to do it.”
Back in the dressing room with her fellow Dance Divas, Rochelle was proud but also puzzled. Toni's clues were impossible to decipher. She held up the skirt: “This is what I'm supposed to wear.”
“It's not bad,” said Scarlett. “It could be worse. Remember that âFootprints in the Sand' duet we had to do last year?”
Rochelle flinched at the memory. “That sandpaper skirt was so lame!” she said. “Not to mention itchy!”
“The orange color is nice,” Bria Chang chimed in. “It reminds me of a sunrise.”
Liberty Montgomery wrinkled her nose. “Ruffles? Seriously? That is
yesterday . . . not Leaps and Bounds.”
Rochelle hated to ever admit Liberty was right, but in this case she had to agree. The ruffles were pretty tacky. She pulled the skirt over her hips and twirled.
“How do I look?” she asked the girls.
Gracie, Scarlett's seven-year-old sister and the youngest Diva, clapped her hands. “You look pazy.”
Gracie had a knack for combining words into her own Gracie language. “Pazy” was pretty and crazy rolled up into one.
“You look like a pirate queen, Rock!” she added.
“Arrrr!” Rochelle growled at her. “Ahoy there, mateys! Maybe Toni will have me dance in a peg leg?” She limped around the dressing room. “Eat your heart out, Captain Jack Sparrow!”
Scarlett laughed. “What else did Toni say?”
Rochelle tried to remember her exact words. “Something about this being her most dynamic dance?”
“Maybe you're a superhero? Superheroes are dynamic,” Bria suggested. “That would be cool.”
Liberty smirked. “You look more like a tangerine than Wonder Woman.”
“Liberty . . .,” Scarlett said, trying to referee before a fight broke out. “What happened to Dance Divas stick togetherânot torture each other?”
“I know! I know! You're Super Citrus!” Liberty cracked up. “The Fantastic Fruit Salad!”
Rochelle inched closer to Liberty, till they were nose-to-nose. “Do you want to say that again?” she dared her.
“Aw, somebody's a little sour.” Liberty laughed. “
you liking my jokes?”
Scarlett held Rochelle back. “It's not worth it, Rock. If Miss Toni hears you guys arguing, she'll take your solo away.”
Rochelle took a deep breath and smiled. “That's
really funny, Liberty. You're a riot! I guess you'll have a lot of time to come up with more jokes since you don't have a solo to learn this week.”
Liberty stopped laughing. Rochelle had definitely hit a nerve. She knew Liberty was just jealous that Miss Toni hadn't chosen her for whatever special routine she was choreographing.
“Like I care,” Liberty tossed back. “I have to go shopping for a dress this weekend with my momâsomething really glam to wear to the Grammy Awards.”
“That's so nice of your mom!” Bria said innocently. “She's flying back from L.A. just to take you shopping?”
Liberty shot her a look. She'd forgotten that she told Bria her mother was choreographing a music video in Hollywood all week.
“Well, if she has time, she'll come home . . .,” Liberty said, trying to cover.
She grabbed her dance bag and left the dressing room in a huff.
“Wow, Liberty is really upset that you have
Miss Toni's attention this week,” Scarlett told Rochelle. “You know how she gets.”
Did she ever! But after several months, Rochelle had figured out that Liberty was all bark and no bite. Having a big-time Hollywood choreographer for a mother wasn't easy, and Liberty always wanted to please herâno matter what it took.
“I wish I knew why Miss Toni picked me,” Rochelle said.
“Why? Because you're awesome!” Scarlett insisted. “Liberty can do a gazillion
turns, but she doesn't have your passion. When you dance, you take people's breath away! You're on fire!”
“Thanks,” Rochelle said modestly. “Let's hope Toni thinks so on Saturday.”
“You need a ride, honey?” Rochelle's mom called into her bedroom. She was juggling Rochelle's baby brother, Dylan, on one hip. “I can get my keys and drive you to the studio. Just give me a sec to change Dilly's diaper . . .”
Usually, Rochelle would have welcomed the lift to the studio instead of biking the fifteen blocks. But today, she had so much energy, a bike ride sounded like a good warm-up for whatever Miss Toni had in store.
“I'm a big girl; I can bike it,” she said, tickling Dylan's toes.
“Really? No grumping? No, âWhy do I have to get up so early for dance class?' ” her mother remarked. “Did aliens come down and take my daughter and replace her with another kid?” She looked in Rochelle's ear. “Hello? Is Rochelle Hayes in there?”
Rochelle giggled. “I'm just excited for this new solo,” she explained. “Miss Toni picked me, Mom.
“Well, of course she did!” her mother said. “Rock, you're an amazing dancer. It's about time Miss Toni started treating you like the star you are.”
Rochelle's parents always told her what a talented dancer she was, but it wasn't very often that her teacher paid her a compliment. Usually, all she got was, “Why are you not doing the choreography I gave you?” or “Rochelle, you can't go out onstage and do whatever you want!”
Rochelle couldn't help it. Sometimes her feet had a mind of their own. When the music began to play, she didn't just hear it, she actually
And it took her places that didn't always fit in with Miss Toni's vision for the routine. To her teacher, that was disrespectful. But to Rochelle, it was simply what dancing was all about: the freedom to express yourself without a care in the world. Whatever emotion she was feeling, she could dance it out.
It had always been this way, for as long as she could remember. When she was five years old, her next-door neighbor and best friend, Kayla, moved all the way to Kentucky. Instead of sitting on her front porch crying, Rochelle ran to her bedroom, blasted a
CD, and twirled around the room until she was dizzy. She danced to
's “A Dream Is a Wish Your Heart Makes.” The lyrics spoke to her. It didn't bring Kayla back, but it made her feel just a little bit better to move her arms and legs in an expression of her broken heart.