Backstage Gillian tried to calm her shaking hands enough to put on her make up. She took some deep breaths. None of the others seemed as nervous as her, what was the matter with her?
Gillian studied her reflection in the mirror; she looked terrified, almost tearful. Who was she trying to fool? She could not do this. She slipped off to the toilets unnoticed. The others were busily putting on their makeup and chattering happily. The atmosphere was bright and bubbly, there was a certain amount of tension in the air yes, but everyone was handling it, why was she the only one going to pieces?
She locked the cubicle door, put the seat down on the toilet and tried to reason with herself. “I’ve been looking forward to this for months, I have practiced at least four times a week, all my friends and family have come to see me”. Unfortunately, thinking about that made Gillian feel worse, a wave of nausea swept over her. The thought of letting her friends and family down was awful. What would they say to her after if she was dreadful? They would struggle to try and be positive and not hurt her feelings. At least it would be better for her to try and fail than not go on at all. “Right, come on” she rallied herself. She mustered as much confidence as she could and walked back into the changing rooms with her head high and a fake smile plastered on her face.
“There you are Gilly; we wondered where you had gone, come on selfie time”. All twelve of them squeezed giggling into a selfie photo, some pouting, some posing, some blowing kisses. Gillian just about managed a smile; well what she thought was a smile, it turned out to be a rabbit caught in the headlights stare.
As the phone was passed from person to person to see the photograph, Gillian studied herself, she looked so out of place, amongst all those glamorous girls, she stuck out like a sore thumb. “I shouldn’t be here.” she thought to herself as she passed the phone back.
Initially she had taken up ballet to keep fit and hopefully lose a bit of weight; she thought it would be a bit gentler and less boring than the gym. From the first lesson she had loved it, a lot more difficult than she had expected but the teacher and the group were so friendly and supportive it had quickly become the highlight of her week.
When the teacher had mentioned the performance Gillian had been really excited, a chance to show her family how much she had improved and how technically difficult ballet was. She was regretting it massively now.
The panic was taking over so much now Gillian was beginning to feel faint, she could see flashing lights, she was lightheaded and her face and neck were burning hot, she had to get out. She made her way quickly through the dark corridor leading to the side door. A man with a clipboard and headphones asked where she was going “I just need some air” she managed to mutter as she grabbed the metal handle of the door.
The cold, stark air felt like a slap across the face. She inhaled deeply sucking in the air her body had desperately been deprived of. She sunk down onto the cold concrete wall with relief. The dizziness started to pass. “I could hail a taxi now and this could all be over” she thought, pretend she had been ill and had to go home, they would understand wouldn’t they?
She looked down at her black leotard and pale pink tights and wrap skirt and thought how ridiculous she looked. This was the biggest mistake of her life. Suddenly she remembered her bag, keys, purse and phone were all inside, she was trapped. She was about to make a fool of herself in front of all her friends and family. Why did she ever think she could do this? Her heart started accelerating again at the thought, what if she collapsed on stage? What if she vomited on the stage? Panic was taking over her again.
Footsteps shook Gillian from her spiral of negativity. “Oh hello, I take it you are in the show, could you please take my daughter in? We are late, stuck in traffic, she’s not on until the second half, she’s all ready in her costume, I can run in and get my seat” A flustered mother with a small child looked at her pleadingly. “Oh, okay no problem” Gillian replied.
“Great thanks, give me a kiss darling, good luck” she pushed the five year old towards Gillian and hurried off in the direction of the main entrance.
“What’s your name?” the child asked Gillian.
“I’m Gilly, what’s yours?”
“I’m Beatrice” the beautiful little girl smiled, her huge blue eyes wide with excitement.
“Are you nervous about dancing on the stage?” Gillian asked.
“No” Beatrice answered without hesitation. “I’ve been practicing hard and I don’t want to let me troupe down.” The words hit Gillian like a tonne of bricks. If a five year old was not going to let her friends down then neither should she. “Come on then, I will show you where your friends are changing”. Gillian reached for Beatrice’s chubby, warm hand and led her to her allocated changing room. “Good luck” she shouted to Gillian as she ran excitedly to her calling friends.
Gillian opened her own changing room door with trepidation “There you are, we were starting to panic” Janet hugged Gillian “We are on in five minutes” Gillian put on her ballet shoes and another coat of lipstick just in time for a woman from the stage crew to come and collect them and take them to the wings of the stage.
“Good luck everyone” Karen whispered to the group “We are going to smash it”. Gillian lined up in her position, in five minutes the whole thing would be over and she could tick off another thing from her fifty at fifty list. Just before Gillian’s fiftieth birthday she had written a bucket list of all the things she had never done, “Dance on a stage in front of an audience” was number twelve on the list.
The music started, Gillian forced her face into a wide smile, took a deep breath and slowly walked onto the stage.