Mary Poppins and an Evening of Dance

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Anna sighed. It was hard to believe that summer was here. It seemed like only yesterday that she had first started working on the ballet. Helena, her teacher, had done a good job. The ballet, Mary Poppins this year, was the best yet. Anna had enjoyed every moment of it. A tall fourteen year old with straight brown hair and greenish blue eyes, Anna had been dancing ever since she was three or four. She hoped to teach ballet to young children when she was older and eventually open her own ballet school. Looking out the car window at the dark night landscapes speeding by, she thought over the events of the past few days…
~ ~ ~

It was Sunday. The last performance night! The dressing room was packed with girls stretching to warm up their muscles and talking loudly among themselves. The small TV in the corner showed the auditorium above the dressing room beginning to fill up. It was almost seven o’clock, and the girls who were in the first dance were putting on their costumes. There were old-fashioned women in funny hats, handsome men in suit coats, and children in play dresses. Of course, all of these were really the other girls in my ballet class, and all were about fourteen or fifteen. I looked up from stretching and saw one of the old-fashioned looking women “text messaging” her friend on a neon pink cell phone. It struck me as funny the way her costume looked like it was from a different century and clashed with the obviously modern cell phone.

The door of the dressing room opened, and Amena Smith, the assistant director, and Kari Austen, the costume designer, entered.
“OK, everyone listen up!” Amena called over the noise of the talking. The room quieted and all eyes turned towards her. “The show starts in twenty minutes. All the townspeople had better get up on stage. Everyone make sure you have all your costumes. If you are missing a piece that you were responsible for, you have to skip that dance. Helena doesn’t want people in only half of their costume on stage. Don’t get upset about it, just go on to the next dance. You guys are responsible for warming yourselves up. For some of you, that might mean you don’t think you have to do anything. Not a good idea, especially if you think you ‘pulled a groin muscle’ yesterday,” Amelia teased her daughter, who groaned and made a face. “Also, on this TV set you can see the stage. It’s your job to make sure you get there on time for your dance. Now everyone listen to Kari.” All heads turned toward the costume designer.

“There was a rumor going around that the chimney sweeps were supposed to roll their tights up above the knee. That is not true. Tights need to be over your feet at all times during the show,” I sighed with relief when I heard that; I had forgotten my convertible tights. “Everyone have a good time and stay in character. Don’t forget to smile! OK, that is it. Have a great time, and do your best. Break a leg!” Kari and Amena left and a general chaos erupted among the townspeople who where the first to go on stage.

After they left, the music started. You could see the stage on the TV set and hear Helena give her speech about turning off “all pagers and cell phones, and please, no flash photography, respect our dancers!” We all looked at each other and began to feel the first twinges of nervousness as the curtain opened and the ballet started.

~ ~ ~

There is no way I can even begin to describe that moment. The music washed over me, and all the other dancers around me ceased to exist. It was as though my joy lifted me up and carried me off into another world. The curtain on the tiny TV screen rose. The lights came up. I felt my whole body tingling with joy…

Then back to reality as my friend, Korrina, asked, “Hadn’t you better get your costume on?”
“Oh, yes, thanks for reminding me!”
Korrina was a dark haired, slightly darker skinned young lady of sixteen, and she and I had been friends for the past year. I got up and rummaged through the costumes hanging on the rack (which was sagging dangerously with the weight) till I found mine. It was a black, sparkly dress that came to about half way down my shin. A long ruffle went down the front. The funny little black hat that came with my costume was adorned with an enormous, flamboyant, bright red silk flower. All this completed my ‘Nanny’ costume.

I quickly pulled the dress on, shoved my feet into my black ballet slippers, and set my hat at a jaunty angle on my head. I couldn’t resist doing this, even though we were supposed to be, in the words of Helena, ‘snooty old nannies with sour looks on our faces’. The rest of my class had already started up the dark passageway that led to the steps up to the stage, and I followed as fast as I dared go on the slippery cement floor. All of the parents called the lower level of the auditorium the Dungeon, because of the cement walls, floor, and ceiling. Because it was underground, there were no windows, and it could get quite stuffy and dark. I liked the dressing room, though. It was bright and cheerful if you turned on the lights around the many mirrors that lined the wall. Each dancer, at least almost each dancer, got her own mirror. I was one of the ones who were too shy to shove people out of the way to claim a mirror. That was usually done on dress rehearsal night. All the mirrors now had peoples’ names marked on them in lipstick. I just shared a mirror with Korrina and Chloe, another of my friends.

Now, as I reached the top of the steps to the stage, I hoped everything would work out and nobody made mistakes. I knew my siblings, parents, and grandparents would be watching me, and I wanted to do my best. Taking a deep breath, I stepped into the wings.

~~~

The waiting for our entrance was almost unbearable. Every group of dancers had to be in the wings and ready to go one full dance before their turn. As I stood in place, peeping out between the wing scrims, I saw Reilly Faith and Hannah McKay, who were Jane and Michael Banks, exit the stage. It was almost our turn! I heard the music for our dance begin, and got into position in the wings as the stage went dark. A spotlight came on and in its circle of light I could see Michaela DePrince, an accomplished dancer and one of the older nannies from the advanced class. She was dressed much the same as I was, with a black sparkly dress and funny hat. Holding up a piece of newspaper, she pretended to read an ad, and, looking excited, rushed off the stage. A few more spotlights came on and the same thing happened again, with other Advanced Ballet students. Then the lights began to come on and I stepped onto the stage.

~~~


That first step is the most exciting moment of the year for me. In the glare of the lights I could barely see the audience, and I smiled at the place I knew my grandparents and siblings were sitting. After that, the music picked me up and whirled me on into the dance. I worked through a complicated dance sequence perfectly, as if one with my classmates dancing with me. Plie, jete, gran battement, pas du chat, pirouette…the dance steps whirled through my head, going down my legs and into my feet. I leaped, twirled, and glided.

I can’t describe how it feels to know that you are a part of an enormous production that has been worked on for months and that so many, many people are watching. It makes me feel like I am needed, and wanted. That is when I am most myself, after that first step onto the stage when the music fills me to overflowing. It is amazing. More than amazing.

~~~

Finally, our dance was finished. I stepped breathlessly off the stage into the wings and hurried out of the way of the next dancers. Taking the steps two at a time, I rushed back down the stairs to the dressing room. It would be awhile till my next dance, but I would rather be safe than sorry. My class was the chimney sweeps for our second dance. Our costume consisted of a black, one-piece suit, sort of like the kind car mechanics wear, a belt, and a black or checkered hat. We also carried a “chimney sweep”, a round and floppy black felt disk on a stick.

I sat in a chair in front of the TV screen. I could see Rachel Z., who was Mary Poppins, finishing her dance. It was now my friend Korrina’s turn to go up.
“Good luck, Korrina! Break a leg!”
“Thanks! You can watch my class dance on the screen. Tell me how it looks.”
“Ok. I’m sure it will be great!” I called after Korrina as she ran after her class.

Korrina’s class, ballet six, did their dance perfectly. After their dance came the park scenes and the dream scene, both of which went smoothly. Then came the bank scene, and our turn to go up. I grabbed my hat and rushed up the stairs with my group. Since we had a little while before our dance actually started, we helped David, my dance teacher’s husband, set up the “chimneys” we would be dancing on. They were large boxes made of plywood and painted black. The tallest ones came up to my shoulders, but some of them were only about a foot and a half tall. Those were like long railings almost. Me and two other girls from my class, Abby and Mia, got to stand on one of those. Finally our music started. The stage blacked out. A thin scrim came down so that we could see the audience but they couldn’t see us. We all ran to different chimneys and hid or lay down behind them, depending on the height. Everyone peeked out to watch the last steps of the dance before ours and at the last possible second before the scrim went up and the lights came on we ducked back down.

The audience saw a stage set to look like it was on the roof of a house, with chimneys and a backdrop of church spires and other roofs. Suddenly, Jane and Michael came running on with Millie Heckler, who was Burt, and then the lights came up, and the music started, and our second and last dance had begun!

~~~

One at a time we hopped from behind our chimneys and made funny faces at the audience. Once we were all out the dance began, if you could call it a dance. There was hardly any “real” ballet in it, since it was mostly kicks and jumps. It was definitely very fun! I loved the leaping through the air, the spinning and kicking. Smiling my biggest smile, I twirled and kicked as hard as I could, since Helena had told us that this was supposed to be one of the funniest and more complicated dances in the whole ballet.

After the chimney sweep dance there was one more scene, then the finale. Since that last scene was really short, the chimney sweeps who were nannies in the finale had a very quick change. Because of that, they brought their costumes up to the wings to change there. This made it quite crowded!

I stepped off the stage and squeezed through the dancers to the rack that had my costume on it.
“Oh, no!” it wasn’t there. I searched under and around the rack, but to no avail. Suddenly I stopped. I remembered now, I had left it down in the dressing room! My heart beating fast, I raced as quickly as I could safely go back down the three flights of steps. Once in the dressing room, I saw my costume. It was the last one left on the rack. I grabbed it and whirling around I rushed back the way I had come.

That is a very scary feeling, knowing that you might not make your entrance. Luckily I had more time than I thought.
“Calm down, Anna. You don’t have to go on for another few minutes,” It was Noel’s mom, the backstage parent for that night. Apparently I was breathing quite hard from my run up and down the steps.
“…I know…Thank you…” She was hooking the back of my dress. We were expressly forbidden to go on stage without our dresses hooked up at the back of our neck.

“Will someone please help me…?” It was Emily Foreman, another girl from my class. She was fighting with her chimney sweep costume. The zipper was stuck and she was one of the first to go on in the finale. A group of girls was gathered around her trying to pull it loose, but it wouldn’t budge.
“Go downstairs to the costume shop and cut off the zipper,” we were all trying to stay calm without much luck.
“I can’t, it’ll take too long!” Emily wailed.
“Hurry, you can still make it,” Noel’s mom was trying to help too. Emily ran off at full speed, out of the wings and down the steps. We were left behind, hoping against hope that she would make it in time.

~~~

“Help me get this on,” it was Emily, back from the costume shop. Kari had had to cut out the zipper. One girl handed Emily her shoes, another attached the wreath of flowers to her head (Emily was one of the carousel for the finale), and a third helped her on with her costume. The music for the finale started. Emily struggled with her costume. The carousel girls started onto the stage. Silently cheering, we watched Emily, panting, pull on her last shoe and step onto the stage, moments before her dance started. We all gave a sigh of relief.

“Anna!” It was Maddie calling me to get into my place in the line behind her.
“Coming,” I straightened my Nanny hat and found my place, in between Maddie and Hannah. Our music started and the half of our class who were chimney sweeps jogged onto the stage, did a little kick step, and got to their poses, slouching with their sweeps over their shoulders. Me and the other nannies leaped onto the stage and ran to our places with our chimney sweeps. I was with Jenna Wells. We all did a waltz step with our pas de du partners and then separated into lines, the nannies in front, and the chimney sweeps in back. Jane, Michael, and Mr. and Mrs. Banks danced across the stage in front, and after another short dance sequence the curtain closed. It opened again for curtain call, and then shut for good. I glimpsed the audience roaring and clapping, and a few people giving a standing ovation just before the curtains closed.

Behind the curtain it was pitch dark. After it shut, there was complete silence for a split second, and then mass chaos broke out! Screaming, jumping, yelling, clapping, waving, shouting, the noise was deafening. Everyone cheered off the last of the adrenaline that had helped them finish the finale and curtain call perfectly.
“SSSSHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Quiet!” Helena had come on the stage behind the curtain. “You guys were great tonight! Thanks all of you for committing yourselves to this production and working your hardest. It’s been a great year, and I look forward to more! Have a great summer!” More cheers erupted and Helena got quickly out of the way as dancers started pouring off the stage.

I was picked up in the crowd and swept down to the dressing rooms, which were doubly packed since the girls who were in the second half of the performance had arrived. The second half was for all the jazz, modern, hip hop, and lyrical dances. Most of them were kind of weird, the dances I mean, not the girls.
“Excuse me…pardon me…incoming…!” The dressing room rang with voices. I pushed my way through the crowd to the corner where I had my stuff. Slipping off my costume, I pulled my shirt on over my nude leotard. I would change completely when I got home, since the lines for the bathrooms were quite long indeed. Stepping into my pants and pushing my dance bag into a corner, I grabbed up both of my costumes and started pushing my way back to the door.

~~~

There was an enormous crowd out side of the costume shop, too. I waited impatiently in line, knowing that my family was waiting for me. Finally it was my turn.
“Hi, Anna!” Kari took one of the hangers from me, “I’ll take the chimney sweep costume, but since this is the last night, you take your nanny costume home. Just the dress, not the hat, though. Have a good summer!”
“Thanks, you too!”
“Hi Emily, You need your jazz costumes?”
As Kari went on to the next person in line, I carried my costume back to the dressing room. Pushing my way to my dance bag, I scooped it up, pushed my feet into my crocs and gathered the rest of my things into a nice pile.
“Are you staying for the second half?” Korrina asked me.
“No, I don’t think so,” I answered.
“Well, good bye then…we won’t see each other till next year.”
“Yea. Well good luck on your other dances!” Korrina was in a few jazz classes. “I’ll see you next year…” I gave Korrina a big hug, gathered up my things, and started pushing my way through the crowd to the door. I looked back, waved, and stepped out into the hall.

On my way down the hall to the door I saw Chloe and Noel standing in a corner. I walked over to my two other friends to say goodbye. “You guys are staying for the second half, right?”
“I am,” Noel said.
“Me, too. Are you leaving?” Chloe asked.
“Yea. I’ll see you next year. Bye!”
I hugged them goodbye and started up the long, dark flight of steps leading to the auditorium. Reaching the top, I stepped from the cool, quiet darkness into the bright, noisy hall. Spotting my family standing by the door, I walked towards them. The night was over. The magic was ended. A season of dance was finished.

~~~

Anna shifted in her seat to a more comfortable position. The ride home was almost over. In just a few more minutes she would be there. Now that dance was over, there would be three months of carefree summer, and then back to school and ballet. The summer would pass too quickly, Anna knew. She wondered if any of her friends from this year would be in her dance class next year. She hoped so. The car slowed to a stop, and they were home. Anna climbed the steps to the house and opened the door. All was quiet and calm. Anna smiled as she thought again of all that had happened during the past few days. She climbed the stairs to her room, changed quickly into her pajamas, and was asleep before her head hit the pillow.





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