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Mary's older sister Brenda is frighteningly dedicated to becoming a ballerina. Can the angel who watches over the ballet school protect her from herself?
Fanaticism always hurts somebody.
Every Christmas, Miss Hopkins produced a show with her pupils. Everybody came, not just parents, because she polished up her best pupils to a really high standard. Miss Hopkins had a great sense of style – her shows were worth watching. All her ex-pupils came, with their children, and a lot of outsiders came as well, just for the show. Brenda always had a good part, even when she was in the baby classes.
In the next show, they did a bit out of Swan Lake.
For this, Brenda needed a white satin tutu with a stiff net skirt. We couldn't afford to buy one, so Mum made one out of an old wedding-dress she bought from a friend. Because she didn't have a sewing machine, she sewed all the stiff net layers on the heavy satin by hand until her fingers bled. She said it was worth it, to see Brenda looking a treat. Mum got white tights and new shoes, though, pink ones, with blocked toes, of course, and wide satin ribbons.
Although Brenda was still only fourteen, she was going to dance a big solo, alone
on stage. It wasn’t snappy and showy, all fast flicking spins and dazzle, that only
needs confidence and oomph to get over the mistakes and make everyone clap.
No, Brenda’s solo was much more difficult. It was slow and stately, to show off her
rock-steady balance and drifting, elegant style. She practised it every night at home, humming the music to herself till I was sick of it. However, it was worth it. On the night she did it beautifully, and got one of the biggest rounds of applause that evening.
The next day, it was Brenda who had her picture in the papers, not the older girls. 'Another Markova? Prima Ballerina in the Making!' the headlines said. Mum was so proud of her, she cut out the article and photo. ‘I’ll start a scrap-book!’
Brenda herself just shrugged. ‘Markova? Huh! Stupid gits!’ she said. ‘Don’t know what they’re talkin’ about! But I'll do it yet!’ She winked at me. ‘Your angel’s doing her stuff, eh?’ She held the new shoes close to her heart, and put them away on her shelf carefully as if they were made of gold. She’d not use them for ordinary classes.
Brenda and I shared the same bed, as we'd always done, but we didn't see much of each other these days. She was out in the morning before I woke up. She went to school straight after her paper rounds. Most days she went off to ballet right after school, running the mile to Miss Hopkins' studio. She wouldn't take the tram, of course - it would cost money, and every penny went to pay for lessons.
Then in February Miss Hopkins told us that the King's Theatre was putting on a Charity Show, and the Hopkins Academy had been asked to repeat the Swan Lake dances. She was quite excited about it.
So was Brenda. ‘Miss Hopkins says a teacher from Sadlers’ Wells will be there!’ she told us, her face flushed with excitement. ‘She’ll speak to him about me, and if he likes me, they'll test me for a place! She thinks I could even get a scholarship to pay all the fees, boarding an’ everything!’