“NAHALIEL MIRIA USIU! COME HERE!!” I yell across the room. Somewhere from the depths of the closet comes a muffled reply and I smile at her childish enthusiasm.
“Noooo. RAQUEL CAMILA TELANTES, YOU COME HERE.” I sigh and roll over, turning to face the closet door, but getting a mouthful of the blanket instead. Brushing the blanket away I see a flash of Nahaliel’s hair flashing into view.
“Nahaliel…” I shake my head and pick up my phone, scrolling through notifications before she finally replies.
“Yes, Elle? You called?” She peeks around the door frame, her hair swinging around after her and a mischievous grin plastered across her face. I ignore her; if Nahaliel can take her own sweet time to reply to me, I can do the same. “RA-QUEL! ELLE! Uhh… Raquie?” I shake my head and put my phone down turning to her.
“Which of those was I supposed to reply to?” She shrugs.
“Any, I guess. What did you want?”
“Ugh, you made me forget.” She turns away, ducking nimbly back into the walk-in-closet. “Wait, Nali, come back.” She returns, dumping a pile of clothes on the floor, and takes a running leap onto the bed, landing right beside me and giving me yet another faceful of the blanket.
“Did you find anything interesting in the closet?’
“Ahahahaha, no.” Nali flicks her hair away from her face and turns onto her side. “You looking forward to dance nationals this year? It should be exciting with the new members of the competition team.”
“Yeah! I wonder what the surprise challenge will be.”
“Well there’s the male and female soloists, then the small group dance, the surprise round and the duets followed by the ten-person dance.”
“Hmmm. Last year the challenge was timed pirouettes, before that it was an improv small group and the year before was a tumbling challenge… soooo I guess that means this year the challenge will be some sort of freestyle?” Nali nods.
“Sounds about right. You looking forward to nationals?” I nod and she grins.
“Ready for the big year ahead Nali? You never know you might get the solo this year.” I wink at her and she smiles knowingly because the competition’s always been between her and I for the female soloist, but for the past couple of years, I have been the one to perform the solo.
“I was born ready, Raquel.” She grins mischievously and jumps off the bed to go rummage in the closet again.
“I know Nali, I know. I was too.” I murmur under my breath.
What is Nali looking for in the closet anyway? I groan as I get up from the bed and peek into the closet. Nali is standing in front of the mirror posing, holding a pale pink chiffon dress in front of her.
“Oooh fancy!” I say, coming up behind her to rest my chin on her shoulder. “Mind if I join you?”
“Of course! Come over here there are so many dresses and they’re all so pretty and I feel like a princess and…” She trails off into childish giggles and I follow behind her laughing.
“Remember we’re gonna have to clean up and reorganise my sister’s closet again after this okay? She might be rich, but it doesn’t mean we can be disrespectful-” Nali whips her head around to me with a clown wig and oversized plastic glasses on and I burst out laughing.
“Oui, oui. Bien sûr, Monsieur- uh Mademoiselle.” She says in a French accent, flourishing her hands before her. We both burst out laughing again, our stomachs aching from laughter. Nahaliel Usiu is certainly a character.
We talk, we laugh and we cry as we try on all of my sister’s glorious clothing and make fools of ourselves with her chest of costumes for the rest of the afternoon and into the evening until Nali has to go home.
“Hey darling, come in here,” My mum calls from the kitchen. Curiously, I put down my phone and stand up from the couch, walking into the spotless kitchen. Mum is leaning against one of the benches, laptop open in front of her and her fingers idly scrolling on the mousepad.
“Is dance important to you?”
“What kind of question is that? I basically live at the studio! Dance is my life and my passion. Of course, it's important to me.”
“Hm, okay.” Mum turns to the computer again, bracing one hand on the bench as she uses the other to scroll, click and type infuriatingly slowly.
“Is there any reason why you wanted to ask? I thought you already knew, I mean it's kinda obvious right?”
“Oh… No reason.” She dismisses me with a wave of her hand.
“You sure?” Mum sighs and turns to me.
“Do you remember my friend Lyania?” I raise a brow. I do not remember this Lyania, but maybe with some explanation, I might. Mum has too many friends to keep track of. “Well, she was the dance teacher at Twintrix Academy.” I nod my head, showing her that I’m still listening. “Well, she’s had a promotion to a senior position, and now she knows everything that’s going on. Not in just her studio, but the dance world.” What’s she getting at? I don’t really care what her friends do for work, even if they work at a prestigious dance academy. “Well, she told me that Twintrix, Myrios and a bunch of the other high-ranking arts’ colleges are sending scouts to nationals to find dancers for their scholarship program in the dancing stream. You could get a scholarship, Raquel! You have to get it, you hear me? Art college is expensive, and if you don’t get the scholarship, your father and I won’t support your dancing anymore because funds are too tight, dance is expensive, and you can just go to college at the local public college. So train hard Raquel, and get that scholarship or you can’t dance anymore. Understood?” I mumble a reply and wander back into the lounge room in shock, only faintly hearing my mum say to me; “Oh and Raquel, you better get into Twintrix, because it's the most prestigious college in the region and I won’t settle for anything less from you. Lyania is expecting you.”
Mum would do that? Just pull funding and support for my dance career if I don’t get offered a scholarship? And a scholarship to the best dance school in the region at that. What happened to all the motherly support for following my dreams? Or just for my future in general? My grades were always in the upper end of average, but I never found school interesting. Dance is where my heart is, and dance is where it’ll stay. I will get that scholarship, no matter what it takes because my future is on the line, my relationship with my mum could be destroyed by her disappointment and my frustration, my dance career will be over and worst of all, I won’t get to dance with Nahaliel anymore. The stakes are high and I will not lose.
Nahaliel and I are just hanging out in the studio after practice, stretching and practising, still in our dance uniform. The uniform is a navy leotard with a lace strip from shoulder to shoulder just below the neckline and a navy wrap-around skirt with tan tights. Nali is practising her fouettes and I’m sitting on the floor with a foot on a chair, stretching my oversplits. She spins around and around, her ebony hair making its way loose from the ponytail she put her hair in after practice. Finishing her turns, Nali grins at me.
“Wanna make a duet?”
“Sure why not. I mean we could do with some practice before the auditions tomorrow.”
Nahaliel grabs my hand and skips to the center of the room, flicking her hair behind her. We discuss and dance on and on, bouncing ideas off each other and challenging each other to do better, to leap higher, to turn faster. Eventually, we’ve done choreography for the whole dance and are just practising it over and over with the counts.
“Hey Nali, do you wanna do it with the music now?” She nods, plugs her phone into the AUX cable in the wall and skips over to her starting position in the corner of the room. The music soars through the room, lifting me up as I leap, glide and twirl and it feels almost as if I’m flying. Crossing the dance floor, I do a grand jeté as Nahaliel does the same on the other side of the room. We twirl and leap across the floor, crossing over and pushing off each other and as the music comes to its booming finale, we do a tumbling pass to the front corner and strike our finishing pose as the music fades out. Nahaliel turns to me grinning like a wild cat and raises her hand for a high-five.
“Did we just rock that or did we just rock that?” I high-five her waiting hand.
“Nah nah nah. Nahaliel, we nailed it.” We both burst out laughing and grab our things, heading out of the studio.
Today’s the day that the studio heads, Kathryn and Sofienne are announcing the dancers for the smaller group dances at nationals. We all did our auditions yesterday and I think I did a pretty good audition for the female solo, so I think I stand a good chance at getting the solo. Only thing is, Nahaliel rocked her audition, so she may have a small chance at taking away my soloist streak. That thought doesn’t settle well with me. I’ve always danced the solo, and she’s always been the feature dancer in the small group dance. Why should it change now? Besides, I have to get the solo. I have no other choice if I want to have a dance career, if I want to get that scholarship. My mum won’t allow otherwise. We have some time before Kathryn and Sofienne announce it, so Nahaliel and I head to one of the rehearsal rooms to chill out and practice some of the ten-person dance for the finals at regionals. You can feel the edge of suspense around all the dancers and the studio itself, almost begging to find out, but Kathryn and Sofienne decided to announce it today instead of straight after the auditions. Don’t ask me why, I don’t know.
“Elle, let’s go through the choreo for the ten-person dance. It’ll help take our minds off the announcement,” She pauses, looking at me, “And I may or may not need a little help in the contemporary section.”
“Fine, alright.” She opens her phone and goes to open the music, but I hold out a hand.
“Wait, Nali. If you’re unsure of the contemporary choreo, we should go over it with the counts first before music. And when you’re satisfied could you help me go over the tutting section again, since you are the ‘master’ of tutting?”
“Well, you know just as much as I do that I will never be satisfied, so let’s do the tutting section first.” I shake my head at the Hamilton reference Nahaliel didn’t even try to hide and nod in response. I’m hard to satisfy too, but Nahaliel is a whole new level of stubbornness and I'm not in the mood to argue right now.
“So it goes like this, then this, then da da da da,” Nahaliel explains, gesturing the different hand movements. I nod, and follow her movements, replicating to the smallest movement exactly what she did, trying to commit it to memory. I know most, but not all of it. “Then the next section is like, this, then here, here, and around.” To anyone else, the dance babble wouldn’t make any sense, but with Nahaliel illustrating the movements and the fact that I can speak fluent dancer, I understand exactly what she’s saying. She glances up to me, making sure I follow and her eyes widen. “No, no. Not like that! It has to be like this.” She shows me the exact position I just did.
“Nali, I don’t see the difference.”
“Well you did this, but it’s like this.”
“I. See. No. Difference.”
“The fingers have to be flexed fully, yours are bent.” Bent? My fingers were ramrod straight, thank you very much.
“Whatever. Go on.” She finishes the section and tells me to do it to the counts. I have it memorised now, I’m all good. We go through it twice with counts, Nali correcting my ‘bent fingers’ every time before I finally crack.
“Are you done? My fingers are clearly flexed, so what is your problem? I know the choreo yet you still won’t let me do it to the music? Come on Nali, can we just do it to the music and be done already? Then I’ll help you with contemporary.”
“Fine, music it is.” She shrugs and walks over to her phone to turn on the music. We go through the steps, one by one and are nearing the end of the section before Nali cries out. “NO NO NO! Not like that Raquel! That’s so wrong!” I don’t understand what she’s talking about, I did the exact same thing as her. “You need to flex your fingers as I told you to! Otherwise, it looks all sloppy.” What the fouette. Is she serious? My fingers are already at hyperextension point, I can’t flex any further unless she wants me to break my fingers.
“What the fouette is wrong with you Nali? My fingers are flexed to hyperextension, yet you tell me I’m not flexing? My tutting is flawless now that I remember the choreo and I don’t need you to boss me around and correct me like a baby when I’m doing NOTHING wrong. I’m sick of this, you can go practice your contemporary alon-” A pointed cough sounds in the doorway. It’s Tyler. Nahaliel and I both turn to him and say in unison, “WHAT?” He shrugs and turns to leave, calling over his shoulder.
“Kathryn and Sofienne are announcing the dances now. Ta ta, twins.” We’re not twins, just friends but since Tyler mistook that when he first came to the studio, he’s used it at every chance he can just to piss us off. Ugh, boys. We both give him glares that could shoot daggers, then I stalk off and get my bag.
“Enjoy practising your contemporary, I’m going to go find out who got the small group dance and duet since I obviously got the solo.” Nali bristles at that, but doesn’t say a word and eventually we’re both standing among the group of the dancers before the studio heads.
Sofienne lists name after name and I don’t hear Nahaliel’s name for the small group dance which is odd. I didn’t hear mine either.
“Now the two people for the duet are… Raquel and Tiffany!” What? Everyone claps, but I’m shocked. I’ve barely danced with Tiffany before, only Nahaliel, so there won’t be any chemistry. Besides, Tiffany is barely at my level. What are they thinking? I turn back to face the studio heads as Kathryn announces the female soloist.
“-soloist is… Nahaliel!!” What the fouette? Nahaliel got the solo instead of me? This is ridiculous.
I’m sulking in my bedroom when my mum knocks on my door.
“Nahaliel is here to see you, darling.”
“I don’t want to see her.”
“Aw come on Raquel, you can’t let the solo get in the way of your friendship. You guys have been friends for years, but did Nahaliel ever ignore you because you got the solo?” My silence is answer enough. “Stop sulking and talk to your friend, I’m going downstairs and letting her in.”
Sure enough, after mum leaves, it takes mere minutes to hear the bounding leaps up the stairs before Nahaliel slips into my room.
“Didn’t anyone teach you to knock?” I mumble. She sits down softly on the end of the bed and takes one of my hands in hers.
“I’m sorry I took the solo from you. I didn’t mean to.”
“Congrats on the duet. That’ll be great! At least you’re still featured. Besides, duets allow you to show the college scouts how you can work with other dancers.”
“But that’s not what they’re looking for and you know it.” She dips her head. Guilty. “Why are you really here Nahaliel?”
“Fine, I’m here to say sorry for scrutinising your stupid fingers in rehearsal yesterday! They weren’t bent, they were flexed and perfect as always.” I knew it.
“BECAUSE I HATE YOU ALWAYS BEING PERFECT AND BEING STUCK IN YOUR SHADOW!”
“You’re just a spineless, pathetic, utterly useless child, Nahaliel. Go away and don't ever come back. You are nothing to me and I don’t want to talk to you ever again.”
“I came here to apologise, but I guess not. So much for friend support, huh.”
“Friend support? Tell me what friend support is when you help next time rather than use correcting a nonexistent mistake as an excuse to get on my nerves.” She glares, as if staring straight into my soul, then turns on her heel, pausing in the doorway.
“So much for being my best friend Raquel, you are a disgrace. Don’t come crawling back to me when you lose your chance at getting into Twintrix. I know that you’re striving for it, but with that heart of ice you will never make it.” She storms out of the room.