The Grand Neopian Travelling Circus: Part Two
'Nah, it's not really like that – you have to wrap the foot around the ankle,' Nina sighed.
'That's hard,' Sinead said, trying to turn out her leg. Focus! She growled to herself.
'You'll get better at it, though,' Nina assured her. 'Practice makes perfect!' she pointed out her toes and brought her foot to her ankle, wrapping it perfectly.
Sinead collapsed theatrically onto a bean bag, shaking out her stretched muscles. 'Yeah, but some people are naturals. It's weird – I've always been a natural at almost everything – well, maybe not maths. I never found it hard to write or play the horn. But look at those dainty feet of yours!' She wiggled her own feet around in the air, and they both giggled.
Nina was another Aisha, who had been learning ballet for a while now and always showed Sinead things to do, who was eager to learn. She was Sinead's best friend, who had always tended to keep to herself a bit more, and so Nina enjoyed her peaceful company. They always partnered up in Science or Games at school, and they worked well together, except if Sinead turned into a bit of a control freak – which Nina now knew how to turn around.
'You're a good dancer,' she insisted. It was true. Sinead was always leaping about and could be very graceful when she wanted to. She had the natural ability to keep in time with the music, and sometimes she even sang while she danced to her songs. But when it came to pirouettes, Sinead would try and go through the preparations steadily, becoming frustrated with her lack of coordination. 'You just need to fine-tune things. Which is why you're getting my teacher to help you!'
'Thanks,' Sinead said gratefully, rising from her chair to face the mirror once again. They were having the regular meeting in her bedroom, where they were strictly not to be disturbed by Chloe or Tori, who would no doubt rant on about her bean sprouts. It was obvious she didn't have the energy for a lot of ballet, while growing her million veggies and looking after her two pets, but Sinead had seen her dance, and whether she was mixing a classical step with a modern twist, she always moved beautifully and like a bird.
Sadly it had been a while since they'd all been dancing, but maybe if they cleared a space in the living room, Nina could join in too.
'Come on,' Sinead said, opening the door.
'Cool, what are we doing?' she asked.
'Centre work,' replied Sinead. (because, as you know, in a traditional ballet class you do exercises at the barre, and then at the centre, doing things like jumps and repertoire and so on.)
Tori came in while they were shifting the coffee table, spying the ballet slippers and music player at the door.
'It's raining again! Well, well, what do we have here?' she said, her eyes sparkling; for once, not mentioning her bean stalks.
At that moment, Chloe flapped in. 'Dance party!' she cheered.
Who knows, thought Sinead, as they all joined hands and grooved away to the melodic bass line of Yes Boy Ice Cream. Who knows what will happen tomorrow?
Flump! A clod of loose earth hit Sinead's face, causing her to blink the dirt from her eyes.
'Oops! Sorry,' apologised Chloe, looking around to her sympathetically, and continued digging.
Sinead chuckled, then sighed, setting her fork on the ground. And resting against the wall. Following the past week, the weather had been remarkably sunny, which translated for Tori as the perfect time to have a huge working bee on the garden.
She wiped her brow, then bent down to touch her toes without bending her knees. Resisting the stretchy pain, she struggled to place her palms flat on the ground, which made her feel a little inflexible. Last week she had attended her first ballet class, which was undoubtedly a very good one, luckily, but she felt her frustration mounting. Everyone else was familiar with everything, and quite better than her. She felt clumsy and frail compared to the other dancers, and a little stupid for her short attention span in class.
She shook her head doggedly like a Kau shaking off flies. She'd catch up, for sure, wouldn't she?
'Want a break?' Tori asked sympathetically. She knew about Sinead's troubles from her first class. 'Come on, I'll go through the lesson with you. But first, would you like a cold drink?'
They sipped some of their freshly home made lemonade for a minute, Chloe announcing glowingly that she'd continue the work, pulling away weeds and digging away persistently, throwing glances over to see how impressed Tori and Sinead were, who both grinned appreciatively.
'She's a good teacher, isn't she?' Tori commented, stretching out her legs on the fence.
'Oh yes. I just... find it hard to pick things up just like that, you know.'
'It's ok – you just have to practice!' Tori smiled radiantly, then swept up her arms and her leg around into an elegant turn in the dry grass.
Sinead smiled. There was all this space out here! What she really wanted to learn to do was a fouette (fwet-teh) turn – when you turn on one leg, with the other sweeping in and out and around like a whip. This demanded total concentration and good coordination – practice was the key. After five minutes, she felt much like she was getting the hang of it. Tori had gone over to help Chloe de-weed the sunflowers, but she looked over and whistled. 'Wow, that's great!' she said, as Sinead finished off the turn, applauding her.
'That was beautiful!' Chloe said, straightening up, with a sunflower tucked behind her ear and dirt smudged on her overalls. Sinead and Tori couldn't help laughing, as they traipsed inside with the afternoon sun on their backs.
The next day, on Monday, Sinead had her second lesson; and this time she made sure she was prepared.
'But remember not to overstretch your muscles,' Nina had warned. 'There's nothing worse than turning up to class stiff and achy.'
That afternoon, all the school pets spilled out into the quadrangle seconds after the bell rang. Nina and Sinead met at the gate, smiling in anticipation. They chatted excitedly about the day's events; the upcoming field trip to Terror Mountain where they'd be snow skiing and tobogganing for hours on end, the new art department, and the class Turtum's close shave on the window sill.
'So luckily Martin rescued her in time - poor Shelly could have landed on her back, and you know sometimes they can't get back up again that way, unless someone comes along and finds them.'
They chuckled, talking about how cute Shelly was and what she might be like when she grew up.
'We've been learning heaps about Turtums,' Nina said. 'I've heard they can live for two hundred years!'
'Maybe,' said Sinead. 'She's only like a baby now then - she'll probably just be a teenager when she's fifty.'
They had reached the ballet studio, a large hall a short way from the school, the back wall lined with mirrors and waist-height bars against the side walls. The windows were open to allow fresh air in, and the doors were ajar.
Inside, their ballet teacher Amelie, a bouncy, full-figured Aisha was sweeping the shiny floorboards, swishing her skirt along with the motion. 'Hello, girls!' she said warmly. 'I'm glad some people like arriving early. Would you like to go and get changed?'
The girls both grinned, and slipped their uniforms off to show their leotards and skirts worn underneath. Sinead had found them in Tori's old things, a stretchy, cornflower blue number with embroidered daisies around the shoulders, with a matching floaty skirt.
Nina was dressed in a turquoise leotard, with a lilac skirt decorated with little flowery beads.
'You look lovely, girls.' Amelie beamed, throwing off her cardigan and approaching the bar. 'I'll show you a couple of stretches, then, shall I?'
They were stretching out their legs on the bar when Ben and Anthony, a Ruki and a tall Kyrii came in. 'Hi Sinead,' Anthony said. 'Enjoying class?'
'Oh yeah,' she said, blushing.
Amelie chuckled. 'Where have the others got to?'
Then the door clacked open and Sophire, Jimmy and Anna entered, dressed and ready.
'Sorry we took so long,' Sophire, a brightly orange Pteri giggled, slipping her ballet shoes on. Jimmy, a handsome Bruce, took the bar and began warming up. He was very good.
Anna and Sophire chatted for a bit, laughing and giggling. They were in the same year as Nina and Sinead at their school, and were very friendly and silly.
'Right, my noble dancers,' Amelie put on her thick, Terror Mountain accent, which brought many laughs. 'Today I start assessing your individual skills, what you need to work on and so on. Remember the key is practice. Anna!' she said abruptly at her chatter. 'What is the key?'
'Practice,' Anna said, ceasing her discussion.
'Correct. Now, everyone come to the barre. And remember to look at the mirror, that's what they're there for, so you can correct yourself. No looking at the floor!' she said, swishing over to the music player.
A slow, piano piece began to play, and they all began their pliés simultaneously, in time to the flowing music. Bend your knees until you have to lift your heels, then stretch up again. Then repeat. Then a grand plié, bending all the way down until your calves were parallel to the floor, and upright again.
The pets shook their legs out after every exercise; the following were battements-tondues (striking straight), ron de jambe par terre (moving the foot around on the floor), fondue (bending the knee and foot inwards in a melting movement), frappe (beating the foot to the ankle), grand battements (sweeping the foot high into the air) and adagio, the slow, controlled movement that composed everything they'd learnt into a graceful dance. They all had different music to go with the pace, fast, slow, flowing, and bouncy.
Once they'd finished the barre exercises, they moved into the center. First was some spotting; turning with the eyes focused on one point to avoid dizziness, then the turns, then jumps and leaps, such as one called the grand jette where they jumped with their legs almost in the spits.
Then they were allowed some time to put together what they'd learnt in a song, and were all given an individual turn to examine their work.
'Very good, Sinead,' Amelie had praised, as Sinead turned and finished her dance in a graceful position, smiling.
'You did great!' Nina said, as they packed up their things ready to go.
'Did I? Thanks,' Sinead grinned. She glowed, feeling exhausted.
They thanked Amelie and left with the other pets.
'You did really well today, eh?' Jimmy said, smiling as they walked along the street.
Sinead smiled cheerfully. The sun was almost ready to set, but she had one more thing left to do.
'Come on,' she said to Nina, pointing down the road to the beach.
They both laughed, skipping down the path where they could see the waves breaking gently on the shore. Kicking off their shoes and socks, they paddled their feet in the cool, salty water, watching the sun set in a deep, golden pink sea.
To be continued...