Glissade. Pas de chat. Glissade. Pas de chat.
Ella ran over the steps in her head while she changed her shoes. Then she saw one girl finish tying their own pointe shoes and realized she needed to hurry. Big time.
Over. Over. Behind. Wrap. Tie. Tuck.
She focused on putting the painful but beautiful thing called a pointe shoe on her foot. Then she was finished. She stood and went to get in line with the other girls.
It was only the dress rehearsal, but that was almost as scary as the actual performance because tomorrow they’d get yelled at for all of their mistakes.
Then the music came on, and all the girls in line, plus everyone else hanging around backstage at the moment, went silent.
The first girl in line went. Then the second. Third. Fourth. Fifth.
Ella was lucky, she was one of the last girls in line since she was one of the shortest. That didn’t make her feel any less nervous; every spot on stage was a visible one, and they were being recorded on camera.
Her turn came.
Glissade. Pas de chat. Glissade. Pas de chat. Glissade. Pas de chat.
Over and over until she got to her spot on the other end of the stage. It seemed much too quick.
Face the audience in fifth position. Smile. Hold your arms in fifth position too.
Balancé.. Soutenu. Pas de bourrée.
Ella’s muscle memory took over for the rest of the dance. She knew the steps by heart, having practiced them so many times over and over until the ballet teacher was satisfied.
The five minutes of the dance passed quickly. They either felt like an eternity or one second. There was no in-between.
When Ella got backstage to the dressing room, she automatically checked the list to see which dance she had next. It was her solo.
Even the word was scary. Solo. Singular. Alone on stage with no one to guide you. It was a terrible way to think. Someone would probably think she was copying the others in every other dance she was in. She didn’t copy them, but she did like their presence because whenever she danced alone she always sped up the time too much and rushed through whatever she was doing.
Ella had been coming into the studio for an extra hour- Mondays at four o’clock- to practice for her solo. It was choreographed especially for her, showcasing all of her best skills. That scared her because even though it was all her best skills, she still wasn’t confident in her abilities to do them.
Her best friend, Terah, wished her luck right before the music for Ella’s solo came on.
Halfway through the three minutes that were proclaimed to be Ella’s and Ella’s alone, was nicknamed the ‘turn section’. Ella happened to be very good at Grande pirouettes and could pull off some decently nice fouetté turns.
Hop hop hop hop. And up, and demi pilé. And up, and demi pilé. And up, and demi pilé. On and on for eight counts of the music.
Finish in fifth position. Point second, point fourth, start turning, lift leg into passé, and begin the fouetté turn. Whip leg, and bring it in. Whip leg, and bring it in. Whip leg, and bring it in. She fell out of her turn on the third one, but quickly recovered, and stood in fifth position.
Then there were the piqué turns. Ella’s all-time favorite step. But the catch was, she was doing her turns and traveling in a large circle around the stage. This meant she had to change her spot over and over and over again.
The three minutes felt like a lifetime. But they passed, and Ella went to go do the rest of her dances in the show.
The next two weeks passed quickly. Ella went to regular practices and classes and the stage rehearsal.
And suddenly, it was the day of the big show.
All Ella felt were nerves. It was normal for her stomach to feel like an empty pit, even though she’d eaten, but this was normal. The show happens once a year. It should be a simple routine by now.
Her grandparents, along with her aunt and two cousins were coming from an hour away to see the recital. Her other grandmother was coming. And of course, her mom was coming. Their presence didn’t make her nervous. They would tell her she did great even if she didn’t.
It was everyone else that scared her.
Them silently judging her and wondering, “What is that girl doing?” That would be their interpretation of who she was. A girl who couldn’t perform a solo.
Her teachers had told her that if she messed up, no one would know. She’d be the only one on stage, so if she acted like she meant to do everything she did, then no one could contradict her except for the teachers who choreographed the dance. But even they would only congratulate her afterward.
None of this made Ella feel better. She was still a nervous wreck.
Time felt like it was crawling along at the speed of a snail.
Dancers arrived at two o’clock sharp in the afternoon. The show didn’t start until five. It was a two-hour show. The dancers spent their time warming up, going over their dances, and helping the little kids find their classes.
Being busy didn’t help Ella’s nerves. She could worry and do everything she needed to at the same time. A multitasker’s curse.
Time crept on.
“Just take it step by step, and nothing can go wrong,” Ella whispered to herself in her mind, in an attempt of assurance. A weak attempt, but an attempt nonetheless.
Ella’s solo music came on. She waited until her cue then ran out and did a grand jeté. Everything went slowly as her brain went into hyperspeed and focused on every little detail.
She didn’t remember any of the details or steps after she did them. She had to focus on what came next.
She did her piqué turns and finished in fifth position.
Relevé. Arabesque. Hold.
The music stopped, and she held her position. She would stay until all the music faded away and the lights went down.
When everyone heard the music go down, they clapped and cheered. It made Ella’s smile become not forced, but voluntary. Mr. Dawson, who was in charge of the lighting on stage, turned them off for Ella, and she ran off stage.
That wasn’t as bad as I thought it was, she thought as she rushed to the dressing room.
Yes, it was. Her brain told her.
Yeah, she agreed, but I think it was worth it.
And her thoughts were only confirmed when at the end of the show, when all of the dancers went out on stage and it was her and the other soloists (who included some of her friends, like Terah, who had been just as nervous as Ella.) turn to take their bows and curtsies, the applause got very loud.
Ella knew it wasn’t really for her, probably for someone else like Maddison, who was one of the best dancers in the studio, but she decided to ignore that because it made her feel good.