IT ALWAYS FEELS LIKE DEATH At least at first. Your muscles stretch and burn and they might rip. The bones in your hips threaten to rotate right out of their sockets. Your spine lengthens and twists into impossible shapes. The veins in your arms swell, blood pulsing through them. Your fingers tremble as you try to hold them taut but graceful, just so. Your toes jam into a pretty pink box, battering your feet with constellations of blisters and bruises.
But it all looks effortless and beautiful. I hope. Because that’s all that really matters.
Studio B is a fishbowl today, and I wish the three glass walls were blacked out or covered up. I can feel Liz’s glare hot and heavy, her face pressed up against the glass. I knew she wanted this—maybe even more than me—but that doesn’t mean she deserved it. She’ll claim that I got lucky, that it was nepotism, that being Mr. Lucas’s niece has its perks. I mean, Bette told me she said as much in her drunken babblings last night. But I know better. I earned this.
Morkie barks orders at the corps girls, then turns to the pianist to nitpick a chord pace for the spring ballet, La Sylphide. I’m the only Level 6 girl cast as a soloist, and while the others pretend to be happy for me—well, most of them anyway—I know they’re hoping to see me fail. But I won’t give them the satisfaction. Even though it’s hard being the youngest one in here. And earlier, when one of them asked me if I was fifteen, I wanted to lie and say I was seventeen or eighteen like them. As I watch the other dancers spin across the floor in a series of pirouettes, I keep my smile plastered across my face. I won’t falter. I can’t let them know how hard this is. My muscles ache and my stomach churns, empty from a morning spent reliving last night’s revelries. I never should have let Bette talk me into drinking. I’m definitely paying the price now.
The music stops abruptly, and Morkie towers over Sarah Takahashi, making her do the turn over and over again, yelling corrections in Russian like Sarah understands her. Sarah bows, and it seems to infuriate Morkie even more. She’s my understudy and a Level 8 girl. An 8 girl should’ve had the lead—an opportunity for the company masters to see her talent and offer her a spot.
I take every second of this break to review the variation in my head, to think through the music. Morkie does the steps one by one, stamping her little heeled ballet slippers. Even nearing seventy, she’s still a strong portrait of grace—a true danseuse russe.
Bette slips through the door. And she lets it bang closed so I know she’s here. I hate how she always finds a way to announce herself, but I could never tell her that. Everyone watches—her halo of blond hair pulled taut in its bun, her designer dance skirt floating around her like cotton candy, her pink lipstick expertly applied. She’s told to find a spot in the back, and plops down right near the dance bags. There were rumors that a fat check from her mom secured her a seat in the studio to learn the role, too, but I didn’t dare ask her. She’s been so gracious and helpful. Defending me to Liz and the others when I first got here, showing me the ropes, threatening the other girls if they didn’t stop messing with me.
Will enters a few moments after. His red hair is gelled up,