They were the only two in the garishly lit basement. The fluorescent lighting was harsh and unflattering; it made Hannah feel as if she was on a stage. Looking over at the other girl she could see the lighting had completely washed her out, her blonde hair seemed translucent, it was as if she had stepped into this room and started to disappear.
Hannah striped down to her leotard and started to tie the ribbons on her slippers. She had always danced and she was looking forward to taking this new ballet class. Out of the corner of her eye she noticed the other girl was slightly over-weight as she crossed the ribbons on her ballet shoes. Shaking her arms to loosen them up Hannah smiled at the girl. Silently they both went through elaborate warm-up stretches, once they were flexing their toes Hannah turned to the girl and said in a well practiced tone, “Hi, my name is Hannah, this is my first time. I’ve heard so many good things about this class.” The other girl didn’t offer her name but did nod, “I’m going to like this class I’m sure”, Hannah declared. Again the girl nodded in affirmation and this gave Hannah the courage to continue, “My Mum told me that when I was a toddler I would point my toes, raise my arms over my head and spin until I fell. She used to call me her little sugar plum fairy” Hannah didn’t add, “Now she just calls me sugar plum!”
Hannah knew she was over-weight. She had gone through chubby, big-boned, buxom and even full-figured. The last label was her Nan’s who liked to think of herself that way even though she was a heavyset woman with swollen legs. Tracing a circle in the air with her nose Hannah tried to concentrate on getting her Mum’s negative voice out of her head. The girl studied Hannah, she was frowning and a line like an exclamation point was etched between her over plucked eyebrows. Realizing what she was doing she smoothed the line and as Hannah watched her she gave out a small laugh. Hannah wasn’t sure if it was in amusement at the story she had just told or in embarrassment at the way Hannah was staring at her. “I love to dance”, the girl said. Hannah echoed her but with more force, “I LOVE to dance!”
Hannah’s fingers were lightly resting on the bar fixed to the wall. As Hannah looked down at her hand the girl’s gaze followed. Hannah quickly snatched her hand back and curled her fingers to hide her bitten nails. She had tried everything to break her habit and sometimes she was able to stop long enough to grow the nails to the tip of her finger. When that happened Hannah would think, “I might be able to get a manicure soon”. But then her Mum would make a cutting comment about her weight and Hannah would go to her room and rip her nails with her teeth until they were bloody and she got the taste of coins on her tongue. Hannah moved away from the girl so her hands would not be seen.
“Shall we go through some simple moves while we wait?” Hannah asked quietly. In reply the girl moved her feet into the elongated distorted V of first position her arms in a low curve as if she was carrying the lightest basket in the world. As the girl moved smoothly through the basic ballet positions Hannah studied her turnout. Hannah had been doing her ballet since she was five and knew that this had undoubtedly helped her own turnout. She knew a dancer’s ligaments and bones were more flexible before puberty, she was fifteen now and had only started her periods a year ago so that had given her an added advantage. The girl said, “Think of turnout as a rose blooming from the inside out”. Hannah nodded and added, “I used to try and walk with my feet turned out thinking it would improve my turnout. All that happened was I got nicknamed the ‘incredible waddling Han’ and people would quack when I walked passed them in the hall”. The girl looked at her, understanding in her eyes, “Just shake it off”, she said, “What do they know anyhow!”
Hannah retrieved her water bottle from the depths of her bag and took a deep sip as she rooted to find her phone to check the time. The basement had no clock and although Hannah knew she was early she felt that some of the other members of the class should be there by now. “Where is everyone?” she asked the girl, “The class should be starting in a couple of minutes”. The girl just shrugged and took another sip of water.
“I suppose we could make the most of having all this space to ourselves” she said turning to the girl, “I’ve got a Bluetooth speaker in my bag so I can play some music. What do you fancy?“ After a pause Hannah answered her own question, “How about ‘The Nutcracker’?” She queued up the music. The whimsical notes of ‘Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy’ rang around the hollow basement. “Great acoustics”, said Hannah almost to herself as she started to dance on pointe across the floor. The girl followed suit. Hannah and the girl moved in unison executing pirouettes, and finishing with a perfectly executed ‘rounds de jambe’. They both came to a stop as the music died away and slumped down on to the floor. Patches of sweat darkened the pale pink of their leotards. Hannah had almost forgotten why she was there she had become so caught up. When she was dancing her body seemed lighter as if she was a sylph or air spirit. The girl beamed at her in the mirror that took up one whole wall in the musty room. They were both startled by the sound of clapping.
A man with a long face was leaning against the wall in shadows by the door, he was holding an over sized broom. “Bravo but what are you doing in here?” he asked. His voice was soft with over use and had the same singsong quality that reminded Hannah of her Welsh Nan. “Um just passing the time waiting for the ballet class”, Hannah answered feeling her face glowing with being caught. “Oh lovely class was cancelled. Miss Carol had some bad news and had to go home for a few days. She’ll be back next week though. She was supposed to let everyone know” the caretaker said kindly.
Hannah started untying ribbons and shrugging on an over large hoody, “ Sorry I’ll be out of your hair in a minute. I must have missed the email”, she said. The caretaker held the door open for her, “We’ll be back next week then”, Hannah said as she walked out of the basement. The caretaker looked a little puzzled but didn’t say anything until Hannah was half-way up the stairs and then he called her back, ‘Oi Margo Fonteyn I think you’ve forgotten something”. Coming back into the basement she scanned the room and saw her water bottle in the corner. Hannah hurried over, bending from her waist she picked it up; as she straightened she looked at herself in the mirror. The girl in the mirror looked back at her, she shrugged. “See you next week then”, Hannah said to her reflection.
(c) Adele Evershed