“Has anyone seen my lipstick?” Yumi asked, frantically searching the dressing room’s counter.
“You mean this one?” Amber asked as she applied a bright red layer to her lips.
Yumi scowled and held out her palm. “Hand it over.”
“How do you still not have your own stage makeup?” I asked. I was sitting on the floor doing up my pointe-shoe ribbons.
“Because I know I can borrow everything from the two of you?” Amber said. She pinned once last loose piece of hair into her bun. “Right, Natalie? Can I borrow your blush?”
I sighed. “It’s in my makeup bag.”
Amber smiled as she picked up my pink polka-dot bag and rifled through. I didn’t mind. The three of us had been dancing together for the past five years—since we were ten. We were prepping for our annual year-end ballet recital.
“Two minutes!” the stage manager called over the intercom.
“Was that for us?” Amber asked.
“Yes!” Yumi said. “Hurry up and finish your makeup.”
I stood and looked in the mirror to make sure I didn’t have any stray hair poking out of my bun. I smoothed out the front of my purple-satin bodysuit. Amber reached over and fluffed up the long purple tutu.
“I love these costumes,” Yumi said, looking at herself in the mirror. “I can’t believe we’re finally dancing ‘Waltz of the Flowers.’ ”
I smiled at her reflection. “We earned it.”
“Waltz of the Flowers” is a dance from the ballet The Nutcracker, but one that isn’t considered too Christmasy. It was performed every year at the recital, and it was always the first dance a class would perform on pointe. The part of Dewdrop was performed by one of the more experienced dancers at the school.
“One minute!” the stage manager announced.
“We have to go!” I said to Amber. She was adding some finishing touches to her eye makeup.
“I know, I know!” Amber said but didn’t budge from the mirror.
“Amber! Put the eyeliner down!” Yumi said and started shoving Amber toward the door.
We were in one of the smaller, older theaters in Toronto. There were two levels of dressing rooms backstage, all connected by narrow hallways. We passed other dancers on our way to the stage door: little kids in pink tutus, older dancers in feathery Swan costumes. We met up with the rest of the girls from our class.
“Pinkies!” I whispered and held up my pinkie finger. I shook pinkies with Amber, Yumi and the rest of my class for good luck before heading through the stage door.
We had to wait quietly in the wings while the soloist on stage, one of the senior dancers, finished her “Dying Swan” solo from Swan Lake. I got goose bumps on my arms as she danced—it was so beautiful. The crowd applauded as she took her final curtsey and the red velvet curtain came down.
It was our class’s turn. We got into position in our opening V-formation—with Amber and I at the tip of the V since we were the tallest. The curtain rose. The music began, and we danced. There wasn’t anything else quite like dancing onstage—the lights, the adrenaline making my turns crisper, my kicks higher. I loved the sound of our pointe shoes as we landed a jump in unison, the rustle of our tutus as we moved about the stage.
It was always over much too soon. We hit our final pose: arabesques around Dewdrop. The audience applauded as Dewdrop curtseyed, and then we Flowers took our own curtsey. The curtain came down, and I sighed as I left the magic of the stage behind.
We still had one more dance to perform. We changed out of our purple flower costumes and into much simpler costumes—navy-blue leotards with matching wrap skirts. Our second dance was a more modern dance our teacher, Michelle, had choreographed. It was set to an upbeat violin piece by Lindsey Sterling.
“Uck,” Yumi said as she patted her forehead with tissues. “Why must dancing require so much sweating?”
“Dancers do not sweat—we perspire!” Amber said as she blotted her own forehead.
“Here,” I said as I rooted around in my makeup bag. “I have some actual blotting papers. No need to use up the dressing room’s entire supply of tissues.”
“You’re always so prepared, Natalie!” Amber said. “Oh, and I might need to use your finishing powder again too.”
“Of course,” I said, laughing.
“You’re both taking summer classes, right?” Yumi asked as she began sticking a couple more bobby pins into her bun.
Amber and I exchanged looks in the mirror. “Of course!” we both said.
“Only novices take summers off,” Amber said haughtily.
While we waited for our next dance, we stretched to keep our bodies warm and chatted—about boys at our schools (we all went to different high schools), what dances we might get to do the next year (I was dying to do the “Dance of the Swans” from Swan Lake), and who might be teaching the summer session (sometimes it was Michelle, and sometimes it was a much sterner teacher named Madame Lebrun, who we often called Madame No Fun).
“One minute until ‘Beyond the Veil,’ ” announced the stage manager.
“That’s us!” Amber said. “Let’s make Michelle proud.”
Yumi nodded. “I love this dance.”
“Me too.” I did a last check in the mirror before I left our dressing room.
This time we were following one of the preschool classes dancing to “The Teddy Bears’ Picnic.” They wore fluffy white tutus and each held a stuffed bear. It was pretty adorable.
The curtain came down. Yumi, Amber and I went onstage first. The rest of the class joined in throughout the piece, and all of us did one big combination together. Then we quickly exited, each of us doing a different turn or leap. I danced off doing a series of piqué turns. I lost my balance and nearly fell into Yumi, who was doing a grande jeté.
“Yikes, close one,” Yumi whispered once we were in the wings.
“Sorry,” I whispered back and felt my face flush. I would definitely be working on my piqué turns over the summer.
We headed back to our dressing room, dripping sweat once more. I handed out the blotting papers. Yumi also wiped off her bright red lipstick.
“Yuck, I can’t stand stage makeup,” she said.
I wiped off my lipstick too. It always felt tacky and gross, no matter what lip gloss I tried to smooth over top of it. Amber touched hers up.
“I like it,” she said, admiring her made-up face in the mirror.
“If you like it so much, maybe you should bring your own next year,” Yumi said.
Amber changed the subject. “Did your dad come this year?” she asked me.
“Ha, as if,” I said. “He’s still traveling the world. I got a birthday card from China a while ago. And last year it was New Zealand.”
“Sorry,” Yumi said.
“Maybe next year,” Amber said.
“I doubt it,” I told them. My parents split when I was two. It’s just me and my mom at home, but I don’t mind. She works a lot but always finds time to drive me to my ballet classes. She says watching me do something I’m so passionate about makes it all worth it.
I changed into my after-show outfit—a blue sundress. I packed up the rest of my things and made sure my costumes were hung up in the garment bag with my name on it. We didn’t get to keep them. We left them in our dressing room to be picked up by one of the costume assistants after the show.
We had to stay backstage until all of the dances were done, but as soon as they were I headed for the lobby with Yumi and Amber and looked for my mom. She was relatively easy to find, since she was tall, like me. I spotted her carrying a giant bouquet of pink daisies.
“Mom, you didn’t have to get me flowers,” I said, even though lots of other parents had brought flowers for their kids. I saw Yumi’s dad present her with a bouquet of white roses.
“You were so beautiful!” my mom said. “Let me take a picture!”
“Okay. That’s enough,” I finally said. How many pictures did she need of me standing in the lobby, holding my flowers?
“That first costume was beautiful!” she continued to gush. “You looked just like a real ballerina! And the second dance was amazing!”
“Thanks,” I said. “I almost fell during my exit.”
“I didn’t notice. You looked perfect to me,” she said, still smiling.
“Thanks, Mom,” I said. I could have done the chicken dance in a monkey suit and my mom would still tell me it was the most beautiful thing she had ever seen. “Is it okay if I go say ’bye to my friends?”
“Of course! I’ll meet you just outside,” she said.
I found Yumi with her roses and Amber holding a bouquet of blue and purple orchids.
“Fancy,” I said to both of them. My pink daisies seemed a bit childish next to theirs.
“I love daisies,” Yumi said. “They’re super pretty.”
“Thanks,” I said. “So—see you in two weeks?”
“Ah, the worst part of the year!” Amber groaned. “Fourteen days to kill between recital and summer session!”