Chapter 1: Ms. Evangeline

Sixth grade is a hard-earned milestone in every young dancer's training. Until that seminal year, students progress through their classes like a waltz, the early years floating by in a smooth whirl from one gentle moment to the next. They’re all moving more or less in one direction. 

That’s how choreography works, until the music changes. Then the new rhythm forces the dancer to change steps.

What I’m talking about is the year the dancers go on pointe. It’s a huge year.

You want me to know how much you love to dance? Your parents want me to know how excited they are to see you up onstage? I hear that loud and clear.

Believe it or not, when I was your age, I was you, and I still love to dance. Now that I’m a mom, I know how your parents feel too. I get it.

If you want you to enroll here at Mercer Island Ballet School, and your parents are prepared to support the endeavor, you should learn more about Lauren, Serena, and Bryan’s experience as sixth graders before making the commitment. These kids are a few of my favorite students. There’s so much they can tell your family about studying ballet.

You see, a dance education is so much more than the steps. It’s a life education. I want you to understand that if you open your mind to the possibilities, you’ll learn so much more than ballet. 

That’s enough from me for now. You’ll be more prepared if you hear the details from kids like you.

Chapter 2: Lauren

On the first day of school, I swerved around the fire station and cruised the rest of the way to the bike rack. My watch said I had ten minutes until class. Since kindergarten, my mom drove me to the South End shopping center for ballet, but in middle school, I could ride my bike. 

Ms. Evangeline couldn’t stand it when we were late, so I was in a rush. I couldn’t afford to get in trouble. My parents had enough problems with Josh. They counted on me to be the good kid.

Caroline was climbing out of her mom’s car, zipping her backpack. She’d started developing, and when she came home from the Mandarin-immersion summer camp her mother forced on her, she’d morphed into a taller kid with awkward limbs and braces who looked way more like her American dad. She was beyond a training bra now and had her period and wore deodorant. I wished I wasn’t still flat as a board and couldn’t believe how much she’d changed, even if she was still the same old Caroline on the inside. 

I trusted Caroline and knew she trusted me with her whole heart too. We knew each other’s whims and moods and had spent so much time together we could finish each other’s sentences. When her grandma died last year, we cried about it together. Her grandma had been nice to us and baked us cookies after school.

Bryan rode up next and climbed off his bicycle. He locked up his bike and hurried to catch up with us. His smile always brought a grin to my face. I watched out for Bryan in every way I could, but I was increasingly powerless at protecting him from the mean kids.

Everyone at ballet adored Bryan. At school, well, that was a different story. As if it wasn’t hard enough being black on an island where most of the kids were white and sports-oriented, he had to be a boy who danced too. My dad said Bryan had a hard life ahead of him and that frustrated me. 

“Another vacation over and another missed opportunity for Hollywood to discover me,” Bryan said. He walked with a swish and spoke in a sing-song voice. I laughed, forgetting we were in a hurry.

“Just back from LA?” I asked. He aunt was an actress on a sitcom. “Did you get an agent finally?” 

At the end of fifth grade, Bryan told us he didn’t want to hide behind the scenes anymore and intended to be famous. Suddenly, he’d lost interest in creating things and just wanted attention. He’d talk about movie stars incessantly to anyone who would listen.

For the first time in our lives, I’d distanced myself from him at school. It was almost like he felt pressured to perform around most kids our age. He had never acted that way at ballet or when we hung out on our own.

I caught a glance from Caroline: Tread lightly, you know this matters more than he lets on— “It’s only a matter of time,” she said. Caroline could always be counted on to cheerlead her friends. 

I’m not sure exactly when Bryan decided he wanted to be famous, but it was something he’d become fixated on. For some reason it bothered me more and more. Caroline and I had followed him around for years, but lately we found him embarrassing. Maybe that was why the teachers loved him. He was such a goody-goody.

Bryan gave Caroline a dismissive flip of his hand. “It was like this. The hotel photographer asked to take my picture and my fifteen minutes of fame ended in two short seconds. It would have been better if I’d made my appearance with a ballerina or two on my arm. Still. It’s as I tell you all the time. Dress meticulously, even when you don’t go anywhere. You never knew who might see you.”

Caroline laughed. “It might not be over. That picture could show up in an airline magazine.”

He gestured toward the door. “We better get to class.”

The studio was comfortable and familiar, the same as always. Parents bustled in the hallway amid the smell of rosin and sweat. Chopin drifted through the door of Studio 1, adding to the enchantment. We jostled our way through the crowd.

I loved to watch the older class of teenagers, so focused as they worked diligently on their advanced steps. They were the role models I most admired.

Something that made me nervous about middle school was that my friends and I weren’t supposed to be little kids anymore. I wanted to be like those older girls, to have younger kids look up to me the way I looked up to them, but I was scared too. 

The big girls didn’t know me, not really. I was the wide-eyed face who stared at them and copied their hairstyles. Once, I returned a hairclip to Julie, my favorite older girl, that she’d left in the lost and found. Did she even remember?

When I watched the teen class dance, a longing rose inside my chest that I couldn’t ignore. The idea of inspiring people…of dancing so beautifully that my joy would spread to others. That was my dream. I knew I had so much to give to the world, and ballet was the perfect medium. I could learn to be perfect on the outside. Since dancers never had to speak a word, I could hide all my real feelings.

At ballet school, I felt safe.