Today's Reading

For a glorious few minutes, she had their rapt attention, until Tabitha plunked down on the floor. "I want a marshmallow," she demanded.

"Me too!" chimed in Dottie.

Whenever her students became fidgety, Marion couldn't bring herself to resort to what some of the newly hired instructors did, namely, snap at them and scare them back into focusing on her. While the other teachers had no problem wrenching a student's feet into the proper turnout with a forceful hand or humiliating a struggling dancer in front of her classmates, Marion vowed to never stoop to such behaviors. After all, dancing was supposed to be joyful.

Although right then no one in the room was feeling much joy at all, including Marion.

She walked over to the accompanist and whispered in her ear. The students, sensing that something was up, quieted, and even Tabitha rose to her feet, curious.

"It's time for freestyle," said Marion, and was rewarded with cheers.

The accompanist broke into Carl Perkins's "Blue Suede Shoes" as the girls assembled against the side wall in a line.

Marion pointed at the first dancer, who sailed across the studio floor, performing a mad jumble of moves that involved a great deal of shimmying, jumping, and twirling. One child rolled around on the floor, finishing off with a crablike scuttle, while the next skipped gaily, flinging her arms as if she were tossing confetti into the air. Each student earned praise for her originality and effort.

After two rounds of freestyle, it was back to business, and the rest of the hour went off without a hitch.

Marion dismissed the girls and thanked the accompanist. As she turned to go, she noticed that the whisper-thin Miss Beaumont had joined Tabitha's mother at the window, their lipsticked mouths wearing matching frowns. Out in the waiting room, Miss Beaumont asked Marion to see her in her office before she left for the day.

The Broadway Ballet and Dance Studio was considered one of the best in New York, where former ballerinas from national companies taught master classes after they'd retired, and Marion knew she was lucky to be teaching and taking classes here, having no professional experience herself. One of the perks of teaching meant she could slip into any classroom she fancied, focusing on lyrical jazz one day and modern dance another.

She still remembered the moment she fell in love with dance. When Marion was five and her sister, Judy, eight, their mother took them to see a children's performance in the city. The way the dancers crossed the stage mesmerized Marion, their arms like jelly, as if there were no bones inside, rising high on their toes, where they stayed for what seemed like whole minutes at a time. Marion wanted to move like that, to spin until it seemed like there was no way she could possibly remain upright, and then freeze in place, one leg outstretched. She'd told her mother that evening as she was tucked into bed that she wanted to be a ballerina, and her mother had kissed her nose and said, "Of course," with a satisfied smile, as if that were the most natural thing in the world.

Marion collected her things from the locker room and passed through the waiting area on her way to Miss Beaumont's office. Two of the advanced students had gathered in front of the bulletin board. Marion recognized one—Vanessa—as they'd been in the same ballet class several times. The girl had landed a job as an extra in the film Seven Brides for Seven Brothers a few years ago and spoke of it incessantly.

"Who knows? Maybe this time next week, I'll be a Rockette," Vanessa said loudly as Marion walked by.

Marion glanced up at the bulletin board. A notice that read Join the Rockettes! was pinned next to the studio's class schedule. The auditions were to be held at Radio City Music Hall the next day.

Marion had seen the Rockettes many years ago, when her father's company bought a block of tickets for employees and their families. The dancers moved as one, with every arm position, every tilt of the head, exactly on cue. When they lined up in a long row and began kicking for the big finale, a shiver had run down Marion's spine and then she'd burst into tears. Judy had looked at her like she was mad, but when Marion had tried to explain how magical it all was, she found herself unable to find the words. At home, she'd tried duplicating the kicks in front of the mirror in her room until her father yelled up at her to knock it off, that the chandelier in the living room was shaking from all the jumping around.

The student next to Vanessa turned to Marion. Pauline was her name, Marion remembered. "Miss Brooks, did you hear that Vanessa's going to audition for the Rockettes? Isn't that brave? I know two girls who auditioned and never even got a callback."

Vanessa gave a not-so-modest shrug. "They need good tap dancers, which is my specialty. It's an honor to be invited to audition."

"But it says here it's an open call." Pauline pointed to the notice. "Anyone can show up."

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