by Olivia Wright (@oawright1)
Editor: Tiffany White (@tiffanykwhite)
After years of gruelling work, sixteen-year-old Anna James is one audition and a handful of pirouettes away from getting into Laine Theatre Arts, the best dance school in the country. It doesn’t matter that her grades are disastrous, her Mum is constantly on her back, and her friends are basically a distant memory—it will all be worth it when she gets her Laine acceptance letter next week.
When audition day finally arrives, Anna is cut after the second round. Heartbroken, she hatches a desperate plan to renovate an abandoned theatre and put on a showcase to grab Laine’s attention. There’s just one problem. Her mum says she can only put on the showcase if she brings up her slumping grades, which would be bearable if her tutor wasn’t the most infuriatingly smug guy in school.
As Anna fights to bring up her grades and save the showcase, she comes face to face with a truth more painful than any pointe work she’s ever danced: sometimes, dreams aren’t meant to come true.
Readers who loved the portrayal of ambition and jealousy in Rachel Lynn Solomon’s You’ll Miss Me When I’m Gone and fans of ABC’s Make It or Break It will enjoy BREAKING POINTE, a contemporary YA novel, complete at 69,000 words.
I’m a Yorkshire-based Content Editor by day, a writer by night, and an angry feminist all the time. BREAKING POINTE draws on my childhood experience as a competitive dancer.
First Five Pages
When Lauren Fairchild told me to break a leg, I figured she meant it metaphorically. Now, as she glares at me across the stage, I’m not so sure. I widen my smile and try to ignore the pure hatred radiating from her. It’s not my fault she messed up that triple pirouette.
The stage lights beat down on me, and drops of sweat bead around my gel-slickened hairline. I wipe them away before the layers of foundation plastered on my face melt and run into my thickly painted eyes. I’ve had this stage makeup on since half eight this morning. It’s now gone six, and I’m beyond ready to attack my face with a makeup wipe, get my screaming, bloodied feet out of these pointe shoes, and eat a mountain of McDonald’s.
Unfortunately, this adjudicator is like a hundred years old and taking an eternity to make a decision. I drop my plastic smile for a split second to give my aching cheeks a rest and put it back on when a less-than-enthusiastic smattering of applause bubbles up from the audience. The adjudicator is on the move.
Mrs. Loretta King shuffles toward the stage. She’s clutching her notes and three shiny medals in her withered hands—like she’s done a hundred times over the past fortnight and a thousand times over the course of her never-ending career. She reaches the edge of the stage and pauses, her wrinkled forehead creasing further as she eyes the steps.
“I hope you’ll forgive me if I don’t join you on stage, ladies. I’m not quite as nimble as you young things.”
I glance across the stage at Tia and roll my eyes. She mimes falling asleep in return, and I nearly choke trying to suppress a giggle.
“I know you’re all tired,” Mrs. King continues, “so I’ll make this quick.”
She begins her usual judging spiel: lovely choreography, stunning costumes, yadda yadda yadda. This is the last day of the Princess Risborough Dance Festival. Over the past two weekends, I’ve competed in thirteen different sections—which means I’ve heard this exact same speech thirteen different times.
I zone out while Mrs. King doles out meaningless platitudes and run through the solo I’ve just danced again in my head. I only finished learning it two weeks ago, in preparation for my looming Laine audition, and today was something of a dress rehearsal. I replay every pirouette and pas de chat and stifle a satisfied smile. This is the best routine I’ve ever danced by far.
I wiggle my blistered toes in my heavy pointe shoes and cut the replay short, tuning into Mrs. King’s ramblings just in time to hear her call my name.
“First place with ninety-six marks goes to Anna James.”
The audience applauds, and I hear an unmistakable whoop from my mother. My heart soars as I trot to the edge of the stage, my pointe shoes thudding against the wood.
“Well done, dear,” Mrs. King says as I lean down to take my medal from her liver-spotted hands. “If I’m not mistaken, that’s the highest mark of the festival.”
I flush with pride and scurry back to my place in the line-up. Lauren is shooting me daggers.
Mrs. King waits for the applause to die down before continuing with her judging. Second place goes to Rebecca Walters, a girl from a neighbouring dance school who I’ve competed against since I was six; third goes to a new girl I’ve not seen on the festival circuit before; and honourable mentions go to Tia and a couple of girls I recognise but don’t know. Lauren gets nothing. I steal a glance at her while Mrs. King wraps up, and a wave of pity washes over me as tears glisten in her eyes. Any sympathy evaporates when her eyes meet mine, though. Seriously, so much rage for such a petite girl.
Mrs. King thanks the audience, and the twelve of us curtsy and scuttle off stage, a blur of sequins and satin. I drop my smile as soon as I enter the wings and wait for Tia. She emerges seconds later, an explosion of red net and glittering, golden-brown skin.
“Well done, babe!” I squeal as she embraces me. “That was incredible, as always.”
Tia shrugs off my praise. “It was alright, I suppose.” She takes a swig of water from the plastic bottle she stashed in the wings earlier. “But well done to you, my little prima donna. Laine’s not gonna know what’s hit them.”
I laugh, heart swelling at the compliment. Tia’s been my best friend since we started Baby Ballet together thirteen years ago. Any other friendship would have crumbled under the weight of my medals, but Tia never minds coming second. She just turns up, has a laugh, and goes home. It’s one of the things I love most about her. While I spend every waking minute practising pirouettes in my head and daydreaming about dancing Odette at the Royal Opera House, Tia reminds me there’s a life outside of dance—even if it’s a life I’m not particularly interested in.
“Well done, Anna.”
I turn to find Lauren Fairchild standing behind me, arms folded across her chest, pale pink tights sagging at the ankles. Her mouth is turned up in a smile, and her voice is sickly sweet, but her pale blue eyes are cold and hard.
“If that’s the solo you’re dancing for your Laine audition,” she continues, “the rest of us might as well stay home.” She laughs brightly, but it falls as flat as her feet.
“Aw, Lauren,” I say, mimicking her saccharine tone. “Don’t be so hard on yourself.” I cock my head. “I’m sure one of these days you’ll finally nail that pirouette.”
Lauren’s smile drops and her face clouds over, her lips twitching as she searches for a retort. I don’t hang around to see if she finds the words. I just link arms with Tia, whose own lips twitch with a smirk, and stride out of the wings toward the dressing room.
“I didn’t know she was auditioning for Laine,” Tia says as we leave a seething Lauren behind.
I shrug. “Maybe applications were thin on the ground this year.”
Tia snorts. “You know, I wouldn’t underestimate Lauren Fairchild. She might swoop in and steal your sport from under you.”
I stare at my best friend in abject horror, then burst out laughing as the glint in her eyes reveals she’s joking.
“Right,” I say, pushing open the double doors to the large school sports hall that doubles up as a dressing room. “And hell could freeze over.”
Ours was the last section of the day, so the enormous hall is deserted aside from me, Tia, and the other ten girls we just danced against. And a gaggle of dance mums, of course.
I spot my own mum in our usual spot in the far corner of the hall. She’s busy packing away the explosion of lipsticks and hairpins I left in my wake but stops when she sees me approaching.
“That was the best you’ve ever danced,” she enthuses.
I roll my eyes and place my medal in the zip compartment of my bag with the other four I’ve won this weekend. “You’re my mother. You have to say that.”
“Doesn’t mean it’s not true,” she points out. “Anyway, do you fancy going out for tea tonight to celebrate your win?” She unzips the costume bag where my tutu lives. “We could invite Tia?”
I shake my head. “We’ll be home by half seven. I’d rather spend a couple hours rehearsing.”
Mum lets out an exasperated sigh but says nothing as we begin our post-festival routine, slicker than any piece of choreography I’ve danced today. I pull bun pins out of my head and shove them into my festival box, while Mum begins the fiddly work of undoing the corset on my tutu. The festival box is actually a tool box from B&Q, but it’s perfect for dance competitions. Each compartment overflows with hairpins and mascaras and blushers and lipsticks in every shade of red imaginable. Oh, and a screwdriver. For tightening the screws on my tap shoes. Or for stabbing the competition. It depends on my mood.
Mum finishes undoing my corset, and I slip out of my tutu, pulling my Tristan Theatre School sweatshirt over my bare chest after I flash the whole room. I plonk myself on a chair and stick my feet out so Mum can untie the ribbons on my pointe shoes while I run a makeup wipe over my face. Bit by bit, my garish makeup disappears, revealing pale white, freckle-dotted skin.
I rake my fingers through my knotted red hair, and Mum returns the last piece of costume to its bag. We head to the door, passing Tia and her mum on our way out. I flash Mrs. Singh a quick smile and give Tia a one-armed hug, trying not to bash her in the shins with my bags and boxes.
“See you tomorrow at the studio?”
“Obviously,” she replies, giving me a squeeze. “If I ever want to beat you at one of these things, I need all the practice I can get.”