Yet Jenny refuses to give up her dream. With determination and a little ingenuity, she finds ways to observe ballet classes without actually participating. She trains in the safety of her room, while hiding the truth from her parents. Then Jenny meets her exact opposite: Ara Reyes, an outgoing, spontaneous, and accident-prone girl who loves dancing but has always been overlooked.
The girls' friendship blossoms as they help each other uncover their real talents. Ara's dancing takes a leap forward and Jenny discovers she has an amazing gift for choreography. With the support of the school's newest teacher, Jenny's original ballet might just make it on stage ... but will she?
Charming and inspiring, Dancing on the Inside shows how pursuing our passions can often lead to wonderful and unexpected results.
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Dancing on the Inside
By Glen C. Strathy
iUniverse, Inc.Copyright © 2013 Glen C. Strathy
All rights reserved.
"You know, it's not too late to back out," Jenny's mother said over the squeak of the windshield wipers and the drumming of rain on the car roof.
It was the twentieth time that morning Jenny had heard these words. She turned her head to stare out the rain-splattered window beside her. Between the clouds and the damp asphalt, the streets looked even greyer than usual. "I know," she said.
"If you decide after today you don't like it, I can get a refund. But if you go to two classes and then change your mind, I can't get the money back."
"I know," said Jenny. They were driving through an older part of town, with tall trees and sidewalks. The houses were big, with peeling paint and weedy gardens, but Jenny liked them because they were all different. Some had second-floor balconies and round, tower-like rooms on the corners. Some had wrap-around porches and gingerbread trim. There was a stone house that looked like a miniature castle and another that looked like it belonged to some Goth family. If only someone would fix them up, Jenny thought. They're so beautiful.
"And I can probably return the clothes too, except for the tights."
Jenny glared at the back of her mother's head. "Mom! I want to do it. You promised."
Glancing up at the rearview mirror, her mother's eyes met Jenny's. "I'm sorry, honey," she said. "I'm sure you'll have fun. And make lots of friends. Well, I hope so, anyway. And if not, there's always that Girl Guides chapter I saw advertised."
Jenny growled her annoyance. "I'm too old for Guides. It's called Pathfinders once you're twelve. And besides, I don't want to do it."
A few minutes later, her mother turned the car into a small parking lot and stopped. "Well, this is the address," she said. She peered at the long stone building next to them. "Looks a bit run down to me. But maybe it's newer on the inside. The website said the studio was fully equipped."
Jenny got out of the car and pulled her raincoat tight over her white leotard and tights. She had chosen white because she thought it looked like what dancers would wear. Jenny had put on this outfit the night before and slept in it, hoping it would make her feel more like a dancer herself. But the cool September air made her shiver a little.
They walked up the rusty metal steps, through the heavy front door, and down the corridor. There were lots of closed doors along the way, leading to little offices that were shut on Saturday. Some looked as though they'd been shut for a long time. At the end, one door stood open next to a sign that read "Kingston Ballet School."
Jenny felt her stomach tighten as they went inside. This was her first time inside a real dance school, and she had no idea what to expect.
She had seen one ballet in her life. Two years ago, her grandparents had sent her a DVD of Swan Lake for Christmas. It was an old Russian production. Jenny had set it aside, unopened, for almost a year. Then one day after school, curiosity and boredom inspired her to watch it, and it awoke in her a fascination that was both surprising and irresistible.
Jenny had watched Swan Lake hundreds of times since then, often pausing it so she could draw pictures of the dancers in different poses, leaping through the air, gliding across the floor, twirling. Her parents eventually bought her a portable DVD player so they wouldn't have to see the same performance over and over on the big TV. The more she studied Swan Lake, the more Jenny longed to be part of the world she saw on the screen, a world of astounding beauty. But she had never seen live ballet or met a dancer in person.
The room was lined with shabby beige couches. A pile of brochures sat on a badly scratched coffee table. Bits and pieces of scenery leaned against one wall, next to what looked like a box of old junk. On another wall hung a pink Bristol board sign saying "Volunteers Needed!" with a sign-up sheet stapled underneath. At the far end, a large table and chairs had been set up. No one else was there.
Jenny's mother started to help her take her coat off, but Jenny pulled away and did it herself. They were just about to sit down when a woman strode in from a doorway on the other side of the big table.
She had short, brown hair and a round body. Beige-rimmed eyeglasses hung from a string around her neck, overtop a pink sweater. At first glance, Jenny thought she looked more like a librarian than a dancer. Only her black tights and ballet slippers said anything different. "Hello!" she said, smiling.
Jenny's mother walked over to the woman. "Hi. I'm Marilyn Spark. This is my daughter, Jenny. I phoned the other day."
"Yes, of course," said the woman, in a slight French accent. "You're a bit early. But that's good. Most of the other students have already registered." She turned to Jenny. "Hello, Jenny. You may call me Madame Beaufort. I'll be one of your teachers."
Jenny gave her a slight smile but said nothing. Madame Beaufort looked down at Jenny's feet and frowned slightly. "It's still raining, isn't it?"
"Yes," said Jenny.
"Well, from now on, please don't wear your ballet slippers outside. It's not good for the slippers, and it gets them dirty. We have a room just down the hall where you can change into your dance outfit right before class."
Jenny's mother glanced quickly at Jenny's feet. "You changed shoes in the car!" she exclaimed.
Madame Beaufort looked Jenny up and down and then turned back to her mother. "It's fine for today, but for the next class, she'll need a black leotard. A black silhouette against a white wall helps us see whether a student is standing correctly. Also, she will need pink tights. That's 'ballet pink,' not regular pink. We like it if all the girls dress the same."
Jenny began twisting a lock of her hair around her index finger.
"She'll also need to come with her hair arranged up off her neck, preferably in a bun at the back. And she'll need to let her bangs grow out from now on. Can't dance with hair in her eyes."
"I see," her mother replied.
Madame Beaufort looked at Jenny again. "First time taking dance?"
"Yes," Jenny said. The knot in her stomach was getting bigger. The class hadn't even started, and already she'd messed up.
"Well, it won't take you too long to catch up."
"This is a beginners' class, isn't it?" her mother asked, a little concerned.
"This is Grade Four Ballet, for twelve-year-olds," Madame Beaufort explained. "Most of the girls are returning students. But don't worry. Everyone must start somewhere. She can work at her own pace for now. I think you'll be amazed at how quickly her strength and flexibility will improve." She looked down at Jenny again. "Not to mention posture and poise."
Jenny tried to stand a little straighter. The lock of her hair was now very tight.
Madame Beaufort sat down behind the table and opened up a file folder. "Now, I'll need you to fill in a registration form." She smiled at Jenny. "You can go on down the hall and see the studio if you like, while we get you registered."
"Okay," said Jenny. Her stomach was getting tighter by the minute. Jenny had hoped the other students would be beginners too. Now she knew that she would be the worst dancer in the class. And it hadn't even started yet!
But she was curious to see the studio.
Madame Beaufort pointed to the archway behind the table. "It's just down the hall. The first two doors are the changing rooms. You can hang up your raincoat in the girls'. The studio is at the far end."
"Have fun, honey," said her mother. "Do you want me to wait around, just in case? Or should I just pick you up after?" She stroked Jenny's back reassuringly with one hand.
"After," said Jenny. And she started cautiously down the hall.
The wall on the left was covered with framed photographs. Each photo showed a group of children, almost all girls, in a frozen tableau from some past performance. Some were dressed as clowns, pirates, or animals. Others wore abstract costumes that reminded Jenny of rainbows or fairies. None of them wore white, puffy skirts like in Swan Lake. But they were all dancing ballet. The girls looked so strong and graceful. They were obviously having fun. Jenny felt a deep pang of envy and longing combined.
In the girls' changing room, Jenny hung her raincoat on a hook and then checked the bottom of her slippers. They were a little damp but not too dirty. She wished she had chosen a black leotard rather than white. The last thing she wanted was to stand out.
Then she went to look for the studio.
The studio floor was a few inches higher than the hall floor and had a slightly springy feel to it. It was a big, empty room with white walls and a high ceiling. Full-length mirrors and wooden rails ran along one wall. A piano stood in one corner, covered by a quilted cloth. A stereo system sat on a small shelf unit.
Jenny felt very small as she walked to the centre of the room. So this is where real dancers practise and learn, she thought.
The more she looked around, the more Jenny found herself wondering if she really belonged here. With each passing moment, she felt sure she didn't. The girls in the photographs all looked so happy and confident. Jenny had nothing in common with them. She didn't feel confident at all. She felt like a trespasser.
Jenny didn't want to wait for the girls in the photographs to arrive. She didn't belong with them. They would stare at her wrong-coloured leotard and her long hair and know she was not a dancer. She wished she were at home, curled up in her room with a sketch pad. Maybe there was still time to leave before anyone else saw her. Maybe she should tell her mother to ask for a refund. She hoped she wouldn't be too annoyed.
Jenny was just turning to leave when she heard the sounds of light, hurried footsteps coming from down the hall. Too late. The other students were coming. Jenny held her breath. Her feet froze to the floor, and she paused, waiting for them to burst into the studio.CHAPTER 2
No Way Out
Jenny heard a door swing, and the footsteps quieted. She guessed the newcomers had run into the changing room. Jenny didn't know what to do, so she stayed still, listening intently. She could hear the muffled voices of girls chatting to each other, the dull thuds of things being dropped on the floor, and the rustling of cloth. As minutes passed, the noises grew louder. Other people were arriving. Then the door creaked again, and the footsteps began growing louder, coming closer to the studio.
Jenny scanned the room. Not knowing what else to do, she ran over to the piano. She lifted the quilted cloth and peeked underneath. There was just enough room. Jenny ducked under the piano, under the cover, and out of sight. She sat down on the floor, knees in front of her chest, head down, peering through a gap in the fabric, hoping she was safely inconspicuous.
A few seconds later, three girls about Jenny's age walked into the studio. All of them wore black leotards over pink tights.
One girl, with auburn hair past her shoulders and a pimply face, was speaking. "So, Veronique, did you do that workshop over the summer?"
"You can't just do it," Veronique replied. She was tall, with blonde hair tightly held in a bun and a slightly regal look about her. "You have to pass the audition first. Plus, you usually have to go to one of the best schools already before they'll let you in. But I might try out for next summer's workshop."
"You should, you know. You're really good."
"Maybe we all should," said the third girl. She was skinny, with a dark complexion, and her tights had small holes on both knees. Her hair was arranged in two black pigtails, placed lopsidedly on the back of her head.
"Oh, I don't think they'd take me," said the pimply-faced girl.
"Why not, Trish? You had fun in last year's show, didn't you?"
But before Trish could reply, the girl with the pigtails continued. "Hey, do you think we're going to learn to go on point this year?"
Veronique looked disapprovingly at her. "It's not 'on point.' It's 'en pointe.'" She made the second word sound like "pwahnt."
"Well, whatever. I just want to try dancing on my toes." And with that she began to dance a circle around her friends, stepping on the balls of her feet.
As she twisted another lock of hair, Jenny watched the girl closely. She was not as graceful as the dancers Jenny had seen before, but she looked like she was enjoying herself and had obviously danced before.
"My mother says we might start pointe work next term," said Veronique. "But you need to practise more. Look, it's like this." She repeated the other girl's steps but with a little more poise and precision.
"Yeah, well, it's been a while." And the pigtailed girl did the dance over again, nearly the same as before.
"Hi, Veronique. Hi, Trish. Hi, Ara," said a voice from the hall.
A fourth girl ran into the studio. She was dressed like the others and had thick, curly, brown hair tied in a loose ponytail.
"Hi, Kristen," said Ara and Veronique.
Kristen looked at Trish. "Oh, good. We don't have to have our hair up today."
"We're supposed to," said Veronique.
Trish looked blankly at Veronique for a second and then gasped, putting her hands up to her head. "I forgot!"
"Well, at least I won't be the only one," said Kristen. "My hair grew so much over the summer that when I tried to put it in a bun, it came out so big it looked like I had a coconut on my head. I need to get it cut or straightened or something for next week."
All four girls laughed. For a second, Jenny smiled too. Then Ara, the girl with pigtails, turned her head, and her eyes met Jenny's through the gap in the fabric for the first time. Jenny's stomach flipped over. She dropped her head, squeezed her eyes shut, and hugged her knees a little tighter. She wished she could turn invisible.
Seconds later, Jenny felt a slight change in the air. She opened her eyes and found Ara squatting in front of her, holding back the piano cover. "Hey, look, guys!" Ara shouted over her shoulder. "There's someone under here." Turning to Jenny, she demanded, "Who are you?"
Just then, Madame Beaufort strode briskly into the studio, followed by two other girls and a boy dressed in black tights and a white T-shirt. He was wearing ballet slippers too—black ones. Ara stood up, still holding back the cover, leaving Jenny exposed.
Everyone looked at her curiously except for the boy, who immediately chose a spot on the railing away from the girls and draped his arms over it, as though trying to look cool.
"Good morning, girls," said Madame Beaufort. "Gather 'round, please."
The rest of the class followed the instruction at once. But Jenny just hugged her legs even tighter. She felt light-headed and dizzy. There was a high-pitched buzzing in her ears.
Madame Beaufort had obviously noticed Jenny sitting by herself and called out, "Jenny, would you please join us."
Jenny said nothing. She didn't look up. Two seconds later, she heard footsteps approaching. She opened her eyes. This time, Jenny found herself looking up at Madame Beaufort.
"Please come and join us," said Madame Beaufort.
In a small, panicky whisper, Jenny replied, "I can't."
Madame Beaufort looked into Jenny's eyes and seemed to recognize that something was seriously the matter. She squatted down and whispered, "What's wrong, Jenny?"
Jenny couldn't explain. She wasn't entirely sure herself. All she knew was that she couldn't budge from her spot—and that she wished she could make herself disappear. "Please," she said, "can I just sit here for a while?"
"Are you not feeling well?" Madame Beaufort asked kindly. "Your mother might still be in the lounge. If she is, would you like me to get her?"
"No," Jenny said at once. The last thing she wanted was more attention. "Please, can I just sit here and watch? I won't make a sound. Can I?"
Madame Beaufort looked concerned but also a bit uncertain. She seemed to be weighing the situation in her mind. She put a hand momentarily on Jenny's forehead. "Do you feel like you're going to be sick?" she asked.
"Yes. I mean, no," said Jenny. "I'll be okay if I just sit for a while."
"All right," Madame Beaufort decided. "But let me know if it gets worse."
"I will," Jenny whispered.
All the other girls were now looking at Jenny with curious expressions on their faces. Jenny hung her head again to avoid their eyes.
Excerpted from Dancing on the Inside by Glen C. Strathy. Copyright © 2013 Glen C. Strathy. Excerpted by permission of iUniverse, Inc..
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