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The gypsy wagon jerks unexpectedly to a stop. I try to hide my relief that the uncomfortable journey is finally at an end. The others gleefully jump out of the wagon, their whoops and screams echoing hauntingly throughout the wilderness. I clamber out of the wagon as well, pausing on the top of the hill.
All of the gypsies are running, dancing, and cartwheeling through the grassy clearing. Rays of orange and gold shoot out from the sun, bathing all of us in its last blaze of glory before it will be forced to retreat behind the shadowy mountains. I soak up its warmth for a moment before running down the hill to join the others.
My bare feet find the rhythm the others are dancing to, and I feel myself meld seamlessly into their almost undetectable pattern.
Marai, a petite blonde girl a bit older than myself, grabs my hands and spins me into a tight circle. The world spins and shifts around me as that delicious dizziness overpowers me. Even once I stop spinning, I continue dancing, not pausing to let the dizziness subside. Why would I? I revel in those feelings of disorientation. It improves my dancing, erases everything in the world but the rhythm and my own heartbeat.
A flash of vivid green catches my eye. It's Sarhya, the lead dancer in our caravan. She twirls around me like a leaf caught in the wind, her abundant red curls flying. A faint smirk flits across her face. You'll never catch up with me, it seems to taunt. And I know that she's right. Besides, I would never dream of trying to take her place as lead dancer. I know my place.
The sun has given way to a misty twilight as Marai and I saunter through the nearby village, calling out to attract people to our performance.
'Come one, come all, to see our gypsy caravan perform in the clearing tonight!'
'Admission is only three silver pieces! A bargain!'
'You won't want to miss the special solo performance by our lead dancer!'
Our calls rebound through the crowds in the village as we weave through the streets, the bells on our skirts jingling lightly. I notice that the majority of the people who seem interested are young men, just like always. They follow us back towards the clearing like moths irresistibly attracted to the light. We could jump off a cliff, and they would follow without question.
Back in the clearing, the stage has been set up. I hurry to the backstage tent to warm up and practice.
Sarhya is back there, wearing a stunning green silk skirt with a belly-baring gold top. She looks cool and collected, as she always does. The other girls, however, are as jumpy as rabbits, peeking nervously out of the curtains. I retreat to a back corner of the tent to practice.
I mark the routine carefully, humming the music to myself. Step right, center, left, prep, turn, jump left, jump right'As I practice, I spot Sarhya practicing her triple turns. She executes them perfectly. Trying hard to be inconspicuous, I mirror her position, and then I spin. I turn not three, but four times! A quadruple turn!
Exhilarated at my newfound talent, I try again, and accomplish it flawlessly. Just as I am about to attempt it again, I see Sarhya staring at me angrily. Flames shoot out of her eyes. The others feel the heat, and turn to see what is happening. Embarrassed, I duck my head and hurry towards the dressing room. Still, I cannot help but feel a small glow of pride in my heart that I can do something better than Sarhya.
I wait in the wings of the stage, adjusting my red and orange skirt anxiously. Marai is standing next to me in the same outfit. Her eyes are intently watching Sarhya, who is performing her solo part onstage. Every one of her steps is perfect, but instead of feelings of admiration, I have a strange competitive instinct as I watch her. I can do that, I think every once in a while.
I realize our cue to come on is approaching. I quickly turn to the mirror in the wings, and check my makeup and costume. Satisfied, I move away from the mirror and twirl onstage just in time.
The lights immediately heat my dark skin, despite the cold mist that swirls through the air. I flash the crowd my most dazzling smile from the back of the stage where Marai and I are located. My attention moves back to my feet. They pound on the wooden stage, sending little clouds of dust into the air. They soak up the rhythm hungrily, pulsing along with the music.
Sarhya is still center stage, smiling flirtatiously out into the crowd. Every once in a while, she winks or blows a kiss to one of the enthralled young men in the crowd, and I have to restrain myself from rolling my eyes.
The most difficult part in the dance approaches, when all of us do the triple turn. Only a few steps before the turn, I decide on a whim to try the quadruple again. I prep myself, and then launch myself into the turn.
Yet again, I nail it, but for some reason, the crowd gasps and then groans. I look around to see what happened, and I see Sarhya in a heap on the stage. She tries to stand, but falls over again. I suddenly realize that she had tried to do the quadruple, just so that she wouldn't be outperformed by me. I feel a strange sense of pity for her as she gets unsteadily to her feet, embarrassment sparkling in her eyes. She shoots me a look filled with fire and daggers. I shrug helplessly.
The dance ends, and we run offstage amidst applause from the crowd. All the other dancers flock anxiously around Sarhya, asking her what happened.
She straightens herself up, and tosses her curls over her shoulder imperiously.
'I got dizzy,' she says calmly. I can't help but smile to myself.