Although most days would be spent going to school during the day and spending the evenings in ballet class learning and perfecting exam material, this spotlight will jump to the most important day… the exam day!
I remember the night before was always the most scary. Of course everyone, teachers, parents, friends, all said, “Get a good night’s sleep.” But that never happened. Before bed I would always double check my bag. ‘Do I have my uniform? Are they all in good shape? Do I have my hair kit? My good luck charm?
I’m reassured that my bag it ready, so now time to try to fall asleep. Snuggle into bed, turn off the light, shut my eyes… fall asleep… fall asleep… go to sleep… GO TO SLEEP! But all that is going through my mind is the exercises. Plie on one, rise on two, arm to second on three, head turn on four, and on and on and on. I play the entire exam in my head as I lie in bed. I can hear the music; see the examiner and my friends in my group. My partner for the character dance and I have been in total sync for the past week. We’ve got that down. I’m sure of it. But what about the study I do alone? What if I forget what comes next. ‘Just breathe and try to sleep,’ I tell myself in between the exercises happening in my head. And eventually I do drift into sleep.
In the morning the panic sets in. This is it. The day. I carry my bag downstairs and leave it by the front door. It’s ready to go. Breakfast is eaten but it doesn’t taste quite as good because of the nerves. I pack a bottle of water and get ready to go to the studio. Butterflies fly through me, but I try to appear cool on the outside.
At the studio I find all my friends in the same state as me. We have got to breathe and relax a bit if we are going to enjoy this at all. After our hair is finished – a very tight bun that doesn’t let any little piece of hair get loose – we start to warm up together. Over the past few weeks, we’ve learned to support each other, to work together, to calm each other. I know that I will have friends to my left and right that will always smile back even if the examiner isn’t.
It’s time. We line up at the door, our character skirts folded neatly over our arms, our shoes in hand. We have perfect uniforms, perfect hair and perfect smiles. We’ve practiced the examiner’s name over and over again. We are ready. The bell rings. The door opens. And…
About an hour later we emerge. Life is back to normal, relaxed. “How was it?” someone asks. “Great!” I say, “so much fun!” Fun? Not often a word one hears alongside “exam”. But, this exam was fun. It was a chance to be in front of an audience, even if only an audience of one. I performed with my friends, we showed off the skills we’ve been working on all year and most of all we got to dance, dance, dance! No stopping for corrections from teachers, no pausing to ask a question, just straight dancing!