When I was four years old, my mother took me to a ballet class and I really enjoyed it. I stuck with it for years but as I got older, I began getting teased by the kids on the street and at school. By the age of eleven I decided to give it up, in spite of the fact I'd just reached grade 4 and was really proud of myself. I gave it up for several reasons; it's not cool, I’d found new hobbies and beyond grade 4 it gets really hard and really intense. I don't go to ballet any more but I still get teased for it occasionally and still get called 'Billy' by a handful of kids. This often leads to the tiresome 'why did he call you Billy' conversation. Even some of the girls think it's a bit weird when they learn that I used to do ballet, and all have to ask if I wore a tutu. “Nooo.” I groan. “Boys wear shorts and a T-shirt, like Billy Elliot did.”
My mother understood my reasons for wanting to quit, but told me that I shouldn't worry about what other people say. It wasn't just because I was being teased that I decided to quit my twice weekly ballet classes. It was taking up too much of my time and I felt like I was just growing out of it. Plus, taking it beyond Grade 4 is something only prospective professionals tend to do... and my waning interest no longer justified the time, effort or expense of continuing. I'd also found new interests that I enjoyed more, such as playing cricket, making model kids, going karting and playing video games.
One afternoon at school, Miss York, my English teacher asked if I'd stay behind after class. Initially I thought that I must be in trouble for something, so waited nervously whilst the other kids filtered out. Miss York is also the school's Head of Drama. She tells me that she's looking for cast members for the big play that's performed at the end of the academic year, and asks if I do ballet. “No.” I reply. “Not any more.” I added, informing her that I gave it up a year-and-a-half ago.
“But you'll still know some steps?” she asked. "I'm not looking for Wayne Sleep." she said.
I tell her that I'm not much of an actor and don't have much interest in drama. "...and my ballet's really rusty." I add.
“Well... it needn't be a speaking part.” she tells me. “You'd only be on stage for a couple of minutes, during a dream sequence... it's just requires someone who can do some basic ballet moves, and you're the only one I've found so far.”
“Surely there's girls who do ballet?”
“Yes but I'm specifically looking for a boy.” she tells me before explaining further. The play is called 'dreams and aspirations' and explores how we imagine being racing drivers, astronauts, athletes, doctors, dancers, teachers, builders, engineers, etc. and features a series of dream sequences. My part is dancing the dream sequence of a boy who wants to become a ballet dancer, “Your sequence will be an homage to Billy Elliot.” she tells me. “Have you seen it?”
“Yes.” I groan. I'm less than impressed. “Half the kids already call me Billy the ballerina because I used to do ballet.” I told her. “I've been trying to shake that nickname off since junior school.” I moaned.
“It'll give you the chance to demonstrate how skilful and physical ballet is... if anything it's to challenge the stereotype that dance is just for girls... just like Billy Elliot did.” She's very persuasive and since there's no one else in the school to play the part, I reluctantly accept. We rehearse for weeks and liaise with the woodwork and art teachers when designing the set. The stage will become a classroom set with chairs and desks set out in rows. The play is set during a really boring class and each student drifts off has a dream sequence. These are depicted on a raised platform above and behind the classroom set and will be performed by a 'dream-double'. They've built some really impressive sets depicting an operating theatre, a space station, a racing car, a building site, etc. which can be quickly erected and removed in between each dream sequence. There's also a back projection to give the sequences a more cinematic feel, although my sequence doesn't involve any props other than a bar and a big mirror.
It's been over eighteen months since I quit ballet so I feel more than a little rusty... but the rest of the cast are really impressed with my dancing. None of them could do it and all of a sudden, I feel proud to be part in this year's school play... not to mention proud of myself. Then, two weeks before the performance, John Sully, the boy's who's dream I'm performing has to have his appendix removed and will be off school for about three weeks. At this stage in the rehearsals it's disastrous to lose a key player and Miss York is struggling to find a replacement for him.
The last thing the drama teacher wants is to drop my scene, and I don't want that either... especially after all the work I've put in. I'd resurrected my daily stretching routine which involves thirty minutes in the mornings and evenings as well as practising my steps at home too. After a few days of not knowing if I'm going to be part of the play, Miss York gives me some 'great news'. She's found a replacement for John but since his last minute replacement is a girl called Kelly, some minimal changes need to be made to the script. Instead of the scene being about a boy dreaming of becoming a ballet dancer, it's a girl dreaming of becoming a ballerina. “But... I can't dance like a ballerina... it's completely different... it'd mean changing the choreography and everything.” I state.
“Not really.” the drama teacher claimed. “Just a change of costume is all that's needed.” she says. “I'm disappointed too... I really wanted to have an homage to Billy Elliot in this play.”
“Well... surely Kelly could play a boy?” I suggested. “That makes more sense.”
“She'd need a hair cut.” the drama teacher said. “And I doubt she'd be willing to do that just for one small part in the play.” she claimed.
“She could wear a wig.”
“Possibly... but she is very pretty... even with a wig I don't think she'd be very convincing.” Miss York replied. “I know it's a big ask... but you've put so much into this already, it'd be unthinkable to find a girl who does ballet to replace you.” she said. “Two minutes in a tutu. That's all it is.” she assured. Reluctantly, I agreed to go along with the changes. I did change the choreography a little to make it a more convincing routine for a ballerina. I dug out my old DVDs of the Bolshoi Ballet doing Swan Lake and the National Ballet's Nutcracker and focused on the ballerinas. I wasn't too happy about changing my choreography at this late stage but... if I’m going to do it, I want to do it properly. It was only as we prepared for the full dress rehearsal that I began to wish that I’d never agreed to the changes in my script.
As a ballet dancer, I was only going to wear shorts and a T shirt but now I’m playing a ballerina I have to wear a pink leotard with a big pink pancake tutu which means everyone can see my bum regardless of whether I bend or not. In addition I'm wearing pink tights, pink shoes, full make-up, false eyelashes and a tiara. Even Miss York couldn't help but snigger when she first saw me in costume. Everyone did. My boyish hair is scraped into the tiniest ponytail, held with a bobble, hairpins and hairspray before a fake bun was pinned in place. A pair of magnetic diamanté earrings completed my costume.
“Are you nervous?” Miss York asked as I shyly loitered back stage. I gulped and nodded. “Well don't be... you look amazing and I'm sure your routine will be spellbinding.” she claimed.
It'll be anything but! I might have reached grade 4 so for a twelve year old, I'm not a bad dancer... but that was ages ago and in spite of returning to my morning stretching routines and practising my arabesques and pirouettes, my chasse, saute and jete on a daily basis... I really don't think I'll be convincing as a ballerina. Boy's are taught differently to girls and I rack my brains trying to recall how our dance tutors used to coach the girls. It's subtle differences like the angle of our wrists and ankles, they way we're supposed to hold our heads. Girls deliver their steps with a level of grace that the boy's can't achieve, so the boys tend to be more assertive in their approach. I never learned to flutter my fingers and wasn't confident on pointe; a technique that I'd only just begun a few months before I quit. Whilst I’ve had a couple of months to bush up on my ballet, I've only had two weeks to learn to dance like a girl!
There's nothing to do but limber up and linger whilst the other cast members are getting ready. At least all the other boys are wearing stage make-up too so I'm not the only one feeling shy and sheepish. But unlike mine, there's isn't so distinctly feminine. Some rehearse their lines, others chat in groups. The back stage crew scurry around and I find a quiet corner to do my final stretches and last minute practise. The stage manager (one of the fifth year students) eventually tells everyone to be silent back stage. “Dream doubles in the wings please.” he says. I and the others make our way to the wings, our nerves increase with every step.
Teresa who's playing a school teacher is the first on stage. The rest of us wait in silence. Susan is dressed as an astronaut, Mark is a racing driver, Mary is a surgeon, Robert, predictably is a builder, Brian is a civil engineer and Rose is a computer programmer... and me... being a ballerina am the one they're all staring at. The girls tell me I look cute and boys sneer and call me a faggot. “It's not my fault John dropped out and Kelly stepped in.” I stated beneath my breath as the play acted out on stage. “I should have been like Billy Elliot, not Nikola Morova.”
“Who?” Robert asked as a teacher told us to shush.
“She's a famous ballerina.” I said in hushed tones.
“So are you.” Mark sneered.
I gulped and glanced at the girls. Rose rolled her eyes and cast me a supportive smile. Mary mouthed 'ignore him' whilst Susan faffed with one of several hoses that hung from her costume. I look out to the stage and its schoolroom set. It's in darkness apart from a spotlight on Emily who's dreaming of becoming a teacher. On the platform above, her dream is being acted out by Teresa. Heard but unseen from my vantage point in the wings. Eventually Teresa exits the platform and the stage is fully illuminated once more. She rejoins us and despite that fact we could only hear her performance, we silently congratulated her on a 'great' performance.
The classroom skits in between our 'dream' performances are quite funny. They tease both teachers and pupils, poke fun at the national curriculum. The spotlight soon focusses on James and Mark's performance as a racing driver begins. The sound of Fleetwood Mac's The Chain booms through the PA speakers along with samples of formula one cars, speeding and skidding around the back-projected racing track. Butterflies burst into my belly because it's my turn next. I focus on my routine, visualise the choreography, make sure I'm warmed up by putting my palms flat on the floor (making sure the other members of the cast don't see my backside) before propping my ankle on the waist high rail and reaching out over my leg. I repeat on the other leg, knowing full well that they're all staring at me. It is humiliating but I'm not going to dance without being properly warmed up. “That's really impressive.” Teresa exclaimed under her breath. “How do you do it?” she asked.
“Lot's of practice.” I replied as I put myself on point for a brief moment.
Mark's sequence ended and he returned to the wings holding a huge papier-maché trophy and wearing a big paper laurel wreath over one shoulder. We congratulated him as we'd done with Teresa and after another quick stretch, I took a deep breath before making my way to the stage. I felt a couple of encouraging pats on my shoulders before I made my way up to the platform on which I’d perform my dance. This would have been nerve racking enough if I was dressed like Billy Elliot... I’m practically crapping myself as I climb the steps in the darkness and take my place on the stage where I adopt the first position. I wait nervously for the spotlight to shine on me and my music to begin. I remain completely still and foresee my routine whilst my nerves almost shake me off my feet. All of a sudden, my eyes are filled with light and my ears are filled with the opening notes of Tchaikovsky's Nutcracker suite. I breathed into my diaphragm and began.
The two minute routine incorporates music from the Nutcracker, Swan Lake, Sleeping Beauty and Cinderella. It's not long but when you're dancing, knowing that everyone is watching and you need to do your best, two minutes is a life time. All the time I'm prancing and dancing, spinning and leaping, I'm telling myself one thing... 'don't mess up the point work' ...it's only a short sequence on tip-toe but people underestimate how hard it is having your entire body weight on the very tips of your toes. The adrenalin builds. I feel the fire inside glowing brighter and hotter as the dance takes over. It's cheesy I know but Billy Elliot was right... it feels like electric. My routine ends right on queue to a lacklustre applause. I expected more to be honest. I perform a huge dramatic curtsey before rising and gracefully stepping forward. On the stage below, Kelly should be picking up a bouquet of flowers which she'll hand to me. I reach down and take it, hold it like a ballerina should, curtsey once more and the spotlight dims. Finally, with my heart and lungs pounding, I exit the stage. My fellow cast members tell me I was brilliant... well, the girls do, but I know they couldn't see anything. I thanked them all the same. I'm glad it's over and glad that I didn't fall, twist my ankle or mess up the point-work. Although in a way I wish had twisted my ankle. This is only the dress rehearsal... tomorrow I'll be doing it in front of the whole school and their families!
I want nothing more but to go and change out of my costume, but I stay in the wings with my fellow cast members until the end of the play. I may be the only ballerina but I'm not the only one who's nervous about their performance. Once the rehearsal was over, the drama teacher pulled us up on a few minor details but on the whole, said we'd done and excellent job. Later, she took me to one side and said I was amazing. “Nobody would guess that you're really a boy.” she said.
“They don't have to... everyone knows I am.”
“And after tomorrow, everyone will know what an wonderful dancer you are.”
“Yeah maybe.” I said. Most likely they'll be focusing on the boy dressed as a girl thing... they won't even notice the routine that I've strived so hard to carry off.
I got home and Mum asked how the dress rehearsal went. “OK I guess.” She questioned why I sounded so glum. “There's something I’ve been meaning to tell you... about the play.” I said. I guess I’d hoped it'd be cancelled or maybe I would twist my ankle today, but the show still goes on and it's time I told my Mum that John dropped out now Kelly's playing his part. “...well... not 'his' part... 'her' part.” I gulped. “Which means I’m not playing Billy Elliot but a Ballerina.” I confessed.
“That explains your make up.” Mum said. I felt myself blush. I had washed it off but traces of foundation, eye shadow, blusher and lipstick remained, she informed me.
“I wore false eyelashes too.” I glumly said. “And a tiara.”
“A tutu too I hope.” Mum grinned, before asking when John dropped out and why I didn't tell her. I told her and she assured me that she wouldn't have been mad, before prompting me to describe my costume in detail.
I glumly described the pancake tutu and the hundreds of plastic gemstones that decorate it and my bodice, the little puffed sleeves, my false eyelashes, my tiara, my magnetic diamanté earrings and the layers of make-up that were so think I could feel its weight on my face. “...and dance tights and pointe shoes.”
Mum's enlightened grin had become permanent. “What colour?” she asked.
“Pink.” I meekly replied.
“Just your shoes or...”
“The whole costume is pink... baby pink.” I said as Mum gasped. It was almost as if she'd stopped breathing for a few seconds.
“Oh I can't wait to see it... I bet you looked beautiful. Did you?”
“I dunno... probably not. The girls said I looked 'cute' and the boys said I looked like a fag.” I informed her.
“Well what do boys know?” Mum scowled. “I'm sure you looked delightful... I can't wait for tomorrow. I hope cameras are allowed.”
“I hope they're not.” I said. “It's gonna be bad enough wearing a pink tutu in front of the whole school and their parents... the last thing I want is a photograph of it.”
“Oh it's just stage fright and last minute nerves... I'm sure you'll be perfect.” she assured.
The next day is the most nerve racking day of my life. With the school year coming to a close and only the end of term to look forward to, I and the other members of the cast and crew spend much of the afternoon preparing for tonight's one and only performance of this year's school play; Dreams and Aspirations. We fill the school hall with chairs, over six hundred of them! Cast members rehearse their lines, the school band rehearse the music, the prop builders frantically finish the finer details if the various sets. Its busy, almost frantic. I have little time to worry because there's so much to be done. The school bell rings at 3.15pm but we're not going anywhere. After a buffet supper, it's time for all eighteen cast members to get into costume. The gods must be looking down on me and laughing because I'm one of the first to called. “Already!” I whine as I make my way backstage. It's only just gone 4.00pm and they play starts at 7.30pm. By 4.30 I'm ready. The drama teacher reminds me not to touch my face and definitely don't rub my eyes. I have an embarrassing three hours to look forward to... knocking about in my baby pink leotard and tutu. The girls coo and snigger. The boys just snigger... especially when I’m limbering up and practising my pirouettes. “Oi Billy... you're showing your arse!” Brian taunts. In a pancake tutu, I can't do anything about that. I can't even hang my arms casually by my sides thanks to its broad horizontal disc. They're either folded or I'm stood with my wrists gently brushing the perimeter of my tutu. At some point over the next two hours, seemingly every one of the kids involved with the play ask me why I’m stood like I am.
The drama teacher gathers us all together for a pep talk. Those of us performing the dream sequences must remain deadly silent whilst we're waiting in the wings. “Can we get changed once our skit is over?” I asked, hoping that I'd be able to get out of this ridiculous costume once and for all.
“No.” the drama teacher bluntly replied. “You all need to be in costume and in character for the curtain call.” she told us. “Boys... you need to make a big, dramatic bow, and girls... a nice curtsey.” she said before looking directly at me. “Now Peter, since you're playing a girl, you have to curtsey at the end too... OK?”
“Really miss?” I groan as some of the others snigger.
“Ballerinas don't bow.” she smiled. “Now, after the final curtain call... I want you all to meet and greet and mingle with the audience.”
“After we've got changed?” I asked.
“No... in costume.” she replied. I sighed. I only signed up to wearing it for a couple of minutes on stage. If I'd realised I'd be wearing it for half the afternoon and most of the evening, I'd have had even more second thoughts. The fact that everyone else will be in costume is no consolation. I'd happily wear Susan’s space suit or Mark's racing driver outfit. Even Teresa's blouse, pencil skirt and stiletto heels would be preferable to my costume.
At around 7.00pm, the audience begin filtering in and filling the chairs. All of us involved are getting nervous and not a single one of us wants to mess up our scene. A cacophonous chatter echoes from the hall; hundreds of voices all talking at once. Our nerves increase as we rehearse our lines and routines one last time. I stretch and limber my muscles and tendons, practice my arabesques, plies, pirouettes and jettes. The lights dim. The audience falls silent. The old Grange Hill theme blasts through the PA and play finally begins.
The audience laugh at the classroom skit. We tell Teresa (the first to perform a dream sequence) to 'break a leg' as she makes her way to the platform above the stage. The audience coos as the lights dim and her scene begins. We'd all had chance to watch each other's scenes during rehearsals and the combination of lighting, music and back projections is really quite impressive... for a high school play any way. Mark's noisy racing driver scene means I’ve only got a few more minutes in which to quell the hoard of butterflies in my tummy and prepare myself. “Does my make-up still look OK?” I quietly ask Teresa and Rose. They assure me it does just as Mark returns with his trophy and laurel wreath. We congratulate him and it's my turn next.
“Break a leg.” they say as I prepare to take my position.
“I was hoping I'd do that last night.” I said in a shaky voice before making my way through the darkness, up the steps and onto the dark platform. As I begin to dance, the last thing on my mind is my pink tutu and feminine make-up. I have to concentrate on getting my steps perfect, on being completely balanced, on moving with the music, anticipating the segues between the Nutcracker suite and Swan Lake, Cinderella and finally Sleeping Beauty. I flows through my ears and out of my limbs, conducting every moment of my well rehearsed routine. Arabesque to the left, a petit jete to the right, a pirouette on demi-pointe brings back to centre stage. I chasse this way and chasse back. My weightless tutu bounces around me, but not so much that it would ever cover my backside. Another arabesque and a pirouette back to centre stage where I perform the hardest part of my routine; the pointe work. I raise my arms to the fifth position as I rise into the very tips of my toes. Step, step, passe, passe, step, step arabesque, down, sissone, sissone, back to pointe, step, passe, step, passe, pirouette and finally stop in the fourth position. The music stops right on queue and a huge applause erupts from the audience. Thankfully I'm facing them. I hold my position and take a deep breath. I curtsey then step forward and reach down for my bouquet. In the stage bellow, Kelly climbs into a desk and passes it up to me. “Aaahhh.” the audience coos in unison before clapping once more. I return to fourth, curtsey again and my spot light fades. I breath a huge sigh of relief as I descend the steps and return to the wings.
There's still another forty minutes of the hour long play. We loiter silently waiting for the curtain call. I've been dressed like this for almost four hours now and all I want is to be able to hold my arms normally. If my tutu wasn't part of my leotard I'd take it off. I perch myself on a box, making sure there's space behind for my tutu. Teresa joins me and pulls off her heels. “These are killing me.” she whispers as she rubs her feet.
“Are they hard to walk in?” I ask.
“Yeah... but not as hard as those.” she replied, glancing at my pointe shoes. “Sorry.” she whispers as a stage hand tell us to shush. Turning back to me, in an almost silent whisper she says, “I crept halfway up the steps when you were dancing... it was amazing!”
I gulped and felt myself blush. “Thanks.” I said as we were hushed again. She pushed her toes back into her shoes, took hold of my hand, squeezed it gently and smiled a reassuring smile. She let go and we sat in silence whilst the play progressed. It's a long wait for the end and David Bowie's Space Oddity marks the final dream sequence. “I wish I was in the audience for this bit.” I whispered to Teresa. We'd seen it in rehearsals and the ISS model and ISS set looked great with the star scape back projection. It'll look ten times better with the lights down.
“Yeah but you'd need three seats.” Teresa grinned, stroking my tutu. “I can't imagine what it's like wearing one of these.”
“Neither could I until yesterday.” I quietly replied.
“Didn't you wear one when you did go to ballet?” she asked.
“Boy's don't wear tutus.” I informed her. “Well... not normally.” I said. The music from the stage began to fade so we ceased talking. Susan's performance ended and after one final classroom scene, the curtain came down to a riotous applause.
The kid who played the school teacher took the first curtain call, followed by the kids who'd played the pupils. Then one by one, those of us playing their dream doubles take the stage one final time; Teresa first. Then Mark with his trophy and laurel leaf. Then me with my bouquet of flowers. I performed a big dramatic curtsey and am given a second bouquet. I wasn't expecting that! I take my place with the others and stand smiling as Mary, Brian, Rose, Robert and finally Susan take their curtain call. Susan gets by far the biggest applause because her space station scene is by far the most impressive. I'm a bit annoyed when she takes a bow... but I guess performing a curtsey in her spacesuit would be quite difficult. The stage crew take to the stage and get another round of applause, followed by Miss York; writer, director, drama teacher. The curtains closes. The applause continues. The curtains open once more and we bow and curtsey on last time. I glad it's all finally over. But I know it's not.
There's a buffet in the gymnasium where there's also a display of production sketches and photographs. Myself and the others are ushered through and are greeted by class mates, teachers and family members. Mum wastes no time in finding me and telling me how wonderful I was, and much to my surprise my old ballet teacher Miss Corelli is present. “Your routine was delightful Peter!” she gushes. “I almost burst into tears when you went on pointe... it was simply spellbinding!”
I'm sure she's over exaggerating but I smiled and thanked her. She doubly impressed to learn that it was mostly my own choreography and that I'd learned the short pointe routine without a tutor. My feelings are mixed between pride and complete embarrassment. Whilst plenty of people approach and congratulate me, most of the attention in this meet and greet was on Susan's space suit. Some of those who talk to me are a little taken aback to discover that I'm not a girl. I must have reiterated the tale that I was supposed to be a male dancer a dozen times. “I think it's lovely that he played a ballerina instead of a ballet dancer.” my mother gushed to a small group of parents and pupils. “I only found out myself last night.”
“It was a last minute compromise... it was either that or drop the scene altogether.” Miss York told them. She explained that in she wanted to challenge the stereotype that ballet is for girls, “...a bit like Billy Elliot. Having a girl dreaming of becoming a dancer felt like a cliché but, that's what we ended up with.” she smiled and looked me up and down.
“Having a boy play the ballerina does challenge some stereotypes.” Mum replied.
They both cast their eyes over me. “Yes I suppose it does.” Miss York smiled. “I hadn't thought of that.” Everyone seemed to just stare at me for a few seconds. I've had this costume on for about five hours and there's no getting used to how exposed it makes me feel. “Are you cold?” Miss York asks.
“No I er... just don't know where to put my arms.” I replied. “I can only stand like a capital A for so long.” I told them as I demonstrated the only alternative to folding my arms and huddling myself. They chuckle. I suggest putting a couple of holes in the tutu to put my arms through. They chuckle some more before the small cluster falls silent. I glanced around and Teresa caught my eye. She beckoned me over so I sheepishly sauntered over. She was chatting with Rose and her parents but left them to meet me halfway. “I can't get used to you being that tall.” I said. Her heels must be at least three inches high, putting her a good two inches above me.
“How tall are you when you do that tippy-toe thing?” she asked.
“I dunno.” I said. “I can't wait to get out of this.”
“I bet you can't.” she smiled. “You've been flashing your bum to like... everyone!” she grinned.
I grimaced and glanced around. “I know... I can't help it.” I replied. “...and on Monday at school, everyone's going to be like... I saw your bum on Saturday.” I whined. “Thankfully there's only one week of term left and they'll have forgotten about it after the summer.” I optimistically added.
“Until they start editing the footage for the DVD.” she said. “I'm quite excited about it.” she added, before explaining further. Apparently they'd kept the covert cameras secret so we didn't get doubly nervous but it turns out that they'd put a number of 'action-cams' hidden on and around the stage in order to produce a DVD of the show.
“You're kidding!” I gasped after learning that next term's media studies class will be using the footage to learn video editing techniques. I nervously glanced around as I imagined the footage of me not only being part of the curriculum, but probably leaked and put on YouTube too so my cousins and... I don't even want to think about it.
Mum and Miss Corelli mingled with other parents and teachers. Everytime I scan the room to locate them, they seem to be smiling and gesturing in my direction. I imagine my mother is going overboard with how proud she is and how beautiful my performance was. Miss Corelli will be telling them that she's my ballet teacher and blah blah blah.
Some of my classmates sheepishly sauntered over and took the micky out of my costume, before sort of complimenting my dancing. Some of the girls said I look better as a girl and said I looked 'cute'. I grimaced. “Well I'd have preferred it if John hadn't dropped out.” I said.
“Aren't you glad I stepped in?” Kelly grinned as she leant on my shoulder. “I am!”
“Well I did try to talk Miss York into making you play a boy.” I told her as I eased myself from under her elbow.
“I know.” she said, playing with her long flowing hair. “But I don't think I'd have been very convincing as a boy.”
“Neither was Peter.” one of my friends interjected before mimicking my current stance; a relaxed second position.
I folded my arms and told him that there's not many places to put my arms whilst I’m wearing a pancake tutu. He suggested I changed and I told him that we're not allowed. “Not yet anyway.” I said before glancing around. Susan still has her space suit on and it's still gathering plenty of attention. She's often battling with the tubes and does look quite hot inside it. I turn to Teresa who's also looking hot, but in a different way. She smiles and says “It's a wonder she hasn't fainted in that.”
“I was just thinking the same thing.” I chuckled. “I might tell Miss York that we have to get changed on health & safety grounds.”
“Oh... but you look ace.” she said.
“So do you.” I replied. My eyes dropped to her shiny black stiletto heels and moved up to her nylon clad ankle. Her black tights are much thinner than mine. They're the sort a grown up would wear. Her knee length pencil skirt hugs her hips and ten she erupts into a billowing white blouse. Her skin is like porcelain and her lips evoke a deep red rose. She doesn't normally wear glasses but perched on her nose is a pair of shapely flat-lens spectacles. She really suits them. Her big bright eyes flicker from left to right. She tells me that I'm staring. “Sorry... you just look... really... tall.” I sheepishly mutter.
She smiles and looks me up and down. “Do that tip toe thing... I wanna see how tall you can be.”
“Er... it's not that easy.” I claim, nervously glancing around.
“Oh go on... I'll hold you.” she says, reaching out to take my hands. They're warm and welcoming. She clutches and I clutch back before quickly putting myself on pointe. I hold the position for moment and enjoy being a couple of inches taller than her, before dropping myself down to my natural height. She tells me it's an amazing talent. I tell her it hurts. “It's still amazing.” she said. “Anyone could have played my part, or anyone else's... but no one else in the school could have played yours.”
I gulped as a bucket full of pride dropped into my belly. “I reckon there's girls who could have done better... I might be the only boy who does... did ballet ...but... I think a girl would have been more suited to the role that me.”
“You can say that again.” Robert said, almost sneering at me. “But no.” he added, just before I had time to get offended. “I crept up the steps with the others and... you were brilliant.” he paused and fixed my gaze.
“Well I er...” I sheepishly stammered, not knowing how to respond. It wasn't too long ago he was calling me a fag and now all of a sudden...
“I still think you're a fag.” he spat.
I burst out laughing. Teresa did too. “Only joking.” he grinned. “You might be playing a girl but...” he paused and gestured to his own attire; a Bob the builder inspired outfit that doesn't quite work. “...I think I'm one of the Village People.” he grimaced.
“All we need is a cop and a biker, a soldier and an Apache.” Kelly chortled.
Meanwhile, my mother was raiding the buffet. She called me over and pushed a plate of food in to my hands. Two sausage rolls, a trio of volovants (salmon, mushroom and prawn), a handful of crisps, a slither of pizza, a quarter of a dinky pork pie and several sausages on sticks with either cheese or pineapple. “Be careful not to get crumbs on your tutu Peter.” she says as I bit into a mini sausage roll.
“It's just a costume.” I said as swept a bit of puff pastry off it. “It'll probably never be used again.”
“Maybe not but I don't want it getting messy.” she said.
I shrugged and said it doesn't matter, before biting into the sausage roll once more. Another crumb fell and I brushed it off my tutu.
“Actually Peter, it does matter.” Mum said. “I asked Miss York what would happen to the costumes and she said they'd eventually be sold off... so I offered to buy it.”
“Why would you want to buy this?!” I asked with my mouth still half full of food.
“As a memento.” she replied.
“You'll have photographs.”
“I know but they're not like the real thing are they?”
I didn't want to make a fuss there and then. There's enough attention on me as it is. The last thing I want is for everyone to know that my costume will soon be 'my' costume. After the buffet we mingle some more and thankfully most people begin to wonder off. I sheepishly saunter up to Miss York and ask her if it's true that she's selling off the costumes. “Yes.” she said, explaining that every few years they sell off the costumes and props to make room for the new props and costumes that get made for each school play. With two major productions a year (July and December) and limited space, they need to have a cull to make room, she explains. “Your mother's already bought that.” she tells me.
“I was just about to ask .” I grimly replied. “I was hoping she was joking.”
“Don't worry.” she grinned. “I'm sure it's just a memento.”
“Can't you sell it to someone else?” I causally suggested.
“Well I could.” she cautiously replied. “But I’ve got your mother's cheque in my pocket... and very generous it is too.” she said, revealing a cheque for £100. “Hopefully if the DVD works out, we might break even this year.”
“What?!” I thought. “You're not planning on selling it are you?” I asked
“Hopefully!” she said as my eyes opened to the size of saucers. Miss York explained that we weren't informed about all the covert cameras because the prospect of performing in front of an audience was daunting enough... knowing that we were being filmed from all angles would have only added to our nerves. “You can say that again!” I thought.
I returned to my mother who's stood with Miss Corelli. They're chatting with both my history and geography teachers. Mr Meeker looked down on me and said “It's hard to believe you're one of boys.”
I shrugged. Mr Bryant, the history teacher, complimented my routine. “Stunning considering.” he said.
“Thanks.” I coyly replied. Since it's gone nine o'clock and there's only fifteen or twenty of us left lingering in the gymnasium, I ask my mum if we can we go soon.
“It's not very professional to leave before your audience.” Mrs Corelli, my former ballet teacher said.
“Most of the others have gone.” I stated.
“Yes but they're not trained dancers like you are.” she smiled. “Won't you consider coming back?” she asked.
“Nah.” I replied. “I used to like dancing but it's not for me.” I claimed. “This was just a one off.”
“Well if you change your mind.” she said. “Oh what's this?” she said, peering over my shoulder.
I turned to see Miss York the drama teacher approach. In her hands is the big bouquet I'd been given at my curtain call. “You forgot this.” she said, handing it to me.
“It's just a prop isn't it?” I said as I took it.
“No... the one Kelly gave you was a prop... this one you've earned.” she told me.
“Oh er... thanks.” I shyly replied. If there's one thing worse than wearing a pink tutu, it's wearing a pink tutu and holding a huge bouquet of flowers. “Mum... will you hold these whilst I go and change?” I asked her, handing the bouquet to her before turning to Miss York and asking if could go and get changed.
My mother replied before Miss York did. “I've got your things here.” she said. In her hand is my school bag and a plastic carrier bag containing my uniform and footwear. I asked for the carrier bag so I could go and change. “There's no need... you can change at home.” she said, glancing around the hall. “In fact I think they're eager to lock up.” she suggested, nodding towards the impatient looking caretaker who's pacing around and jangling his big bunch of keys.
“Er... OK.” I said. “Can you hold these whilst I...” I handed my mother the bouquet and trotted over to Teresa and Rose. “We're gonna go now so... I guess I’ll see you both on Monday.” I sheepishly said.
“Yeah see ya Peter.” Rose said. “You were great.”
“Thanks.” I smiled. “So were you.”
Teresa gave me a big hug and pecked me on the cheek. “We'll be the same height on Monday.” she smiled as she towered above me.
“Not if I wear these.” I grinned, putting myself on pointe one final time. I felt like such a ninny as I exited the school wearing my baby pink leotard and tutu. The sun is soon to set on this warm July evening and the numerous plastic gemstones on my tutu and leotard glisten in it's final rays. They shine through the delicate layers of my tutu, enhancing it's pinkness. Mum insists on taking a photograph. “Oh Mu-um not another one.” I whine as she gets her camera out. She must have taken about fifteen at the buffet and god knows how many throughout the performance.
“Oh just a couple.” Mum cooed. “Your tutu looks lovely in the sunlight.”
I grumbled and posed for a couple of photos before asking where the car is. I can't spot it in the mostly empty school car park.
“We came in Mrs Corelli's car.” Mum said. This came as a relief as I momentarily envisaged having to walk home. Mrs Corelli put me on the back seat; in the middle with my tutu up my back. My pancake skirt is too wide for a seatbelt, so I break the law for five minutes until we pull up outside my house. Mum invites Mrs Corelli in for a coffee and she accepts. The west west facing front door is illuminated by a dramatic shaft of sunlight and there's a garden path between me and it. I must be a sight to see for any of my neighbours as I scuttle from the car to the door in my sunlit baby pink tights, leotard and tutu. I immediately ask if I can get changed. “Oh not yet love.” my mother cooed. “you've only just got home and you do look ever so sweet.”
“I know but it's embarrassing.” I whine. Mum pesters me to keep it on until bedtime and since it's Saturday, bedtime could be as late as 11.00pm or midnight if there's a film on. Normally it's about 10.00pm so enduring my tutu for another half an hour isn't the end of the world. “Can I least take these eyelashes off?” I ask. Mum nods and one by one, I carefully peel then off and finally, after a good five hours, my eyelids feel weightless once more.
Mum and Miss Corelli settle in the sitting room. Thanks to my attire, the most convenient thing for me to do is kneel on the floor where the disc of my tutu is uninhibited. All they can talk about is the play and the various dream sequences. Thankfully it wasn't all about me. Teresa's teacher dream was the most amusing. She poked fun at teachers, pupils and politicians. Mark's racing driver was the most exciting with the back projection of a race track depicting fast corners, skids and near misses. Mine was 'beautiful', especially when Kelly handed her 'dream-self' the bouquet. Mary's surgeon was also full of humour as well as political comments and Brian's blundering civil engineer had the audience laughing too. Robert's builder was a slap-stick routine with plenty of mishaps, but Sarah's astronaut scene rightly stole the show. It was always the most visually spectacular which is why it was saved until the end. The space-suit costume, the massive ISS model and ISS stage set, the back projection and soundtrack and the 'I can do anything' message... it really did blow my whimsical dance routine out of the water!
After a small glass of wine my old ballet teacher left, telling me once again that I was perfect and should seriously consider returning to her ballet class. “No I don't think so.” I coyly replied. “But thanks.” I say.
She leaves and Mum tops up her glass of wine, before flicking through the photos she'd taken on her digital camera. “You didn't take loads did you?” I asked as she began showing me them.
“No just a few.” she said. There were three of me on stage, a further five afterwards with various cast members and one of me and Mum, then two outside in the sunlight. “You look like you belong in a music box in this one.” she said. I'm holding the third position and she's absolutely right. “I can't wait to see the DVD.”
“I didn't even know they were making one until afterwards.” I stated. “I'm gonna be called Billy for the rest of my life now.” I whined.
“Oh it'll soon wear off.” Mum said in an empathetic tone. “Don't you think it would have been boring playing a Billy Elliot character instead of a ballerina?” she asked.
“No it wouldn't.”
“Of course it would.” she said, casting her eyes over my costume. “You'd have been wearing shorts and a T shirt instead of your beautiful tutu. Would you have even worn stage make-up? ….and dancing a boy's routine wouldn't have been half as challenging.” she said. “You were clearly elated when you'd finished.” she said. “You were positively glowing with pride when you took your bouquet.”
“I was crapping myself.” I claimed.
“Quite possibly... but you can't deny that you looked beautiful and danced wonderfully.”
“I guess I’ll have to wait for the DVD.” I sighed.
“Oh yes.” Mum exclaimed. “Miss York said the entire school's going to have a go at editing it, and she hopes to have a commercial release by Christmas.”
“Great.” I thought. “That'll be one of my stocking fillers.”