Dancing One's Way Into the Winter Festival

'You can't learn to dance from a book," scoffed Rink's friend Marlee. She was older by one year and one month and sometimes acted as if she knew everything.

"Yes, I can. I have a plan," Rink said as she turned the pages of her new book, which showed pictures from famous ballet productions. She stopped when she found "The Nutcracker." A dozen dancers frolicked through deep, blue-white snow drifts as a sleigh pulled into view.

"Maybe your mom will change her mind. There are only six weeks of Tuesday rehearsals," Marlee said, slipping her slender arms into her jacket - the black one with the two big yellow eyes on the back and "Cats" written underneath. The eyes were almond-shaped and very intense, a little like Marlee's. She'd seen the Broadway show "Cats" four times.

Rink shook her head sadly. No, mom wouldn't change her mind. She couldn't. On Tuesdays Rink had to take care of her six-year-old brother, Curry, while mom took an evening class at the university. No after-school activities, period.

"See you tomorrow," Marlee said from the doorway of Rink's bedroom.

"Tomorrow," Rink echoed, turning back to the description of "The Nutcracker." Her dance teacher, Mr. Allen, was producing a dance from the ballet for the school's Winter Festival. The steps weren't easy, so everyone had to work hard. All the dancers would be snowflakes, dressed in sparkling white leotards trimmed with silver sequins.

Rink loved to dance more than anything. She just had to be in the Winter Festival. Her plan was to learn the steps on her own and show Mr. Allen somehow. Then maybe, just maybe, he'd let her be a snowflake, even if she couldn't attend Tuesday rehearsals.

Rink propped the book up on her dressing table and looked at herself in the mirror. She struck a pose, feet turned out in first position, arms high above her head in fifth. Good. She looked like the picture in the book. She tried another pose, then another, until she'd copied them all exactly.

"Now, time to dance," Rink said to herself. She slid a videotape of "The Nutcracker" into the VCR and cued it up to the dance Mr. Allen had chosen for the Winter Festival. She played it over and over, each time dancing with the ballerinas as if she were looking into a mirror. Rink hadn't told Marlee about the videotape. She wanted her friend to be surprised when she performed the dance perfectly for Mr. Allen, like an audition.

Rink's big chance came at the end of dance class a week later.

"OK, everybody," said Mr. Allen, clapping to get their attention. "Now I'd like to practice the snowflake piece. All dancers who know the steps please come out onto the floor. Everybody else can watch."

"This is it!" Rink thought as she took a place right in front facing the mirror.

"What are you doing?" whispered Marlee, who had found a spot right next to her.

"I'm going to show Mr. Allen I can be a snowflake," Rink whispered back. "I learned all the steps."

The music started. Rink lifted her arms high, bent her knees in a plie, glided three steps to the right, did a pirouette turn, then posed with her left leg outstretched. There were a few giggles from the sidelines. Rink concentrated especially hard on the next sequence of steps so that the noise wouldn't distract her.

Three steps to the left, right arm forward, step left again.... Something was wrong. The other dancers didn't seem to know the steps, Rink could see them in the mirror. What was the matter with them? Hadn't they learned the steps in rehearsal? Now she understood why the kids were laughing softly. Mr. Allen would be doubly impressed that she knew the dance when everyone else didn't.

Rink executed a series of chaine turns to the right, little steps strung close together like links on a chain - one, two, three, four. She knew this part so well she could do it with her eyes closed. She just wished the other kids would stop giggling. Didn't they know that was rude?

When Rink and Marlee collided and fell, the room exploded with laughter. "Rink! You're doing everything backward!" Marlee said, picking herself up off the floor.

"No, I'm not! I'm doing exactly what I saw on the video!"

"What video?" Marlee asked, readjusting her headband.

"I've been doing the steps at home along with a video of 'The Nutcracker.' I watch the dancers, then I...." Rink gasped. Marlee was right! Rink had been using the video like a mirror, but it really wasn't. When she stepped to the right, the dancers on the screen were really stepping to the left. Why hadn't she realized that before?

"What a disaster! I'll never get to be a snowflake now," Rink whispered to Marlee.

Mr. Allen had turned off the music and was walking across the floor toward Rink.

"You've given me an idea, Rink," he said. His voice was warm and his eyes twinkled. "One line of snowflakes will do the original steps while another line will dance the piece your way. It will look great on stage, a little like a snowstorm. I can see you already know your part."

"You mean I can dance in the Winter Festival?" Rink could hardly believe it. "But I can't come to Tuesday rehearsals."

"The backward snowflakes will rehearse on Thursdays after school. OK with you?" Mr. Allen was wearing a broad smile.

"Yes!" Rink answered. "Oh, yes!"

As the two friends left the dance studio and headed home, Marlee said, "I'm glad you're going to be a snowflake." A gentle snow had begun to fall.

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