Chapter 1 Chapter 1
“HAVE YOU GIRLS got everything?” Katarina’s dad asked as he unloaded the suitcases from the trunk of his car.
Katarina did a quick check. She had her suitcase, with two weeks’ worth of clothes, including her ballet shoes and as many leotards as she had been able to jam inside. Her backpack held her journal, pictures to tack up on her dorm wall, and a couple of books. Her dance bag was slung over her shoulder. And tucked in her front pocket was the letter she’d received the week before and had already read so many times that the paper was beginning to fray at the edges.
“I think so!” she said.
Her friend Celeste nodded. “Sure do! Thanks again for driving me down here.”
“My pleasure,” Katarina’s dad said. He pulled his daughter close and gave her a big hug, pressing a kiss to the top of her curly hair. “We’re sure going to miss you.” He got back into the car, where Katarina’s dog, Lulu, barked her goodbye.
“I’m going to miss you both,” Katarina said, and scratched Lulu behind her ears, right in her sweet spot! “You be a good girl, Lulu! I’ll be back before you know it!”
“Have fun, girls!” her dad said, and then he drove away.
Katarina waved until he disappeared around a corner, and then she and Celeste made their way into the tall brick building. It would be home for the next few weeks, and Katarina couldn’t wait!
After the girls registered, they made their way to the room they were assigned: 302. The room had two beds, a big window, and a small closet. Even though it wasn’t fancy, Katarina knew that with the help of the posters and pictures she had brought, it would resemble the feeling of her bedroom at home.
Celeste glanced at her watch. “Ah! We’ve got to get moving. The shuttle is coming to get us really soon.” The girls were both excited and nervous for their first official day at camp. Katarina and Celeste had won their spots at the World Dance Camp months ago, and now they were finally here!
Katarina changed into her favorite purple leotard with a yellow top patterned with stars and rainbow-striped leg warmers. She grabbed her dance bag and headed down into the lobby with Celeste, where the other dancers were waiting too. The shuttle pulled up, and all the dancers climbed aboard.
As the shuttle made its way toward their destination, Katarina stared at the huge white building with its golden pillars that appeared in front of her. This was the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, the most famous theater in Washington, DC.
“Here we go!” Katarina said. She took a deep breath, and then she and Celeste started to follow the stream of young dancers heading into the building. They walked through a massive hallway filled with row after row of flags hanging from the ceiling, each representing a different nation. Katarina could hear different languages being spoken all around her by the dancers who had come from all over the world.
She thought about the letter in her pocket and smiled. All the dancers attending the World Dance Camp had been sent the name and address of one of their fellow attendees weeks ago and had been encouraged to write to them. Katarina had written her letter, which she’d decorated with her very best stickers, to a girl named Mimi who lived in Paris. Then last week she’d received a letter of her own all the way from England from a boy named Ricky. He sounded even more excited about the camp than Katarina was, and she hadn’t thought that was possible! She couldn’t wait to meet them both. With so many new friends to make and so many new things to learn about dance, she was sure this was going to be the best time of her life!
Once they’d checked in again, the dancers met in a practice room in one of the Kennedy Center’s many basement levels. Katarina felt a thrill of excitement rush through her as she walked past dressing rooms, costume shops, and rehearsal halls where musicians were practicing. This was a real theater, just like the one her favorite dancer, Tiler Peck, performed in! All the memories of meeting Tiler backstage at Lincoln Center came flooding back. Only, this time, Katarina would be the one to call this theater home for the next two weeks. She couldn’t believe she was really here.
As she stepped inside the mirror-lined room, a lady with a clipboard asked for her name.
“Katarina,” she said.
The woman checked her name off the list. “Okay, Katarina. You’ll be dancing in group six. They’re just over there.”
She pointed to a corner of the room, where two girls were stretching and chatting with each other. As Katarina headed over, she spotted Celeste in another group across the room and waved. Celeste seemed to be getting along with her group already. Katarina hoped she would too. The nervous little butterflies in her stomach gave a flap of their wings as she approached the two girls in the corner.
“Hi,” she said to them. “Is this group six?”
“Sure is!” a blond girl with a Southern accent said as she reached forward to touch her toes. “My name’s Myka.”
The eyes of the small, dark-haired girl beside Myka lit up as she approached Katarina in her wheelchair.
“Katarina?” she said. “Je suis Mimi!”
Katarina didn’t understand all of that, but she recognized the word “Mimi.” This was her pen pal from Paris!
“Bonjour!” Katarina said. It was the only French word she knew, other than ballet terms and “pamplemousse,” her friend Sunny’s favorite word, which meant “grapefruit.”
Mimi gave her an airy kiss on each cheek. “It’s so nice to meet you,” she said, with a sweet French accent. “I loved your letter.”
Katarina began stretching with Myka and Mimi, getting her muscles ready to dance. Soon two more girls joined them: Leilani, who came from Hawaii, and Bianca, who was from Italy. But where was Ricky? Katarina was eager to meet the boy who had written to her.
An elegant woman with her silver hair done up in a French twist around her head and dressed head to toe in black stood up at the front of the dance studio and clapped her hands. The dancers quit their chattering to listen.
“Hello, everyone. I’m Madame Maxine, the director here, and I want to welcome you all to the World Dance Camp!” she said. Everyone broke into applause and cheers. In all the commotion, Katarina almost didn’t notice the boy who slipped through the crowd of dancers and joined their group. But she met his eye, and he grinned. Was this Ricky?
“We’re so excited to have you all here,” the woman up front continued. “As you can see, we’ve broken you up into smaller groups. Not only will this make rehearsals run more smoothly, but these will be your performance groups for the final recital. You represent some of the finest young dancers from all over the world, and we believe you’ll be even better dancers when you leave here in two weeks. That’s going to mean a lot of hard work, but don’t worry, we’re also going to have a lot of fun! Now we’re going to do a warm-up together, and then our guest choreographer will begin teaching you the first number for the recital.”
All the dancers took their places at the barres that had been set out around the room. The pianist in the corner began playing a classical tune while Madame Maxine led them through a series of barre exercises to warm up their bodies.
“Psst!” Katarina whispered to the boy on the other side of the barre as they each did a grand plié. She knew she should be giving the warm-up all her attention, but she couldn’t resist. “Are you Ricky?”
“That’s me,” he whispered back in a musical English accent that sounded almost as nice to Katarina as the tinkling notes coming from the piano.
“I’m Katarina!” she said.
A big smile lit up his face as they went into a port de bras forward and cambré back, a backward stretch. “Nice to meet you!”
Katarina went back to focusing on her barre; she’d talk to Ricky more once they had a break, but she already sensed they were going to be great friends. She concentrated on all the elements of technique she had learned since she’d started taking ballet that spring, paying particular attention to her turnout. Katarina had always been a little pigeon-toed, but she’d been learning how to turn her feet out from the hips, and all her hard work was beginning to show.
“Excellent job, everyone!” Madame Maxine said as their barre came to a close. “Now it’s my great pleasure to introduce you to our guest choreographer who will be teaching you your opening number. I’m sure you’ve heard of her, and maybe some of you have been taking her daily classes online from home! Please give a warm round of applause for Tiler Peck!”
Katarina put her hands over her mouth to muffle her shriek of excitement. Tiler Peck! She was a principal ballerina with the New York City Ballet, and Katarina had actually met her a couple of times. Not only was she a great dancer, but she had given Katarina such good advice about being herself when she was dancing that Katarina had practically memorized her words. Katarina could hardly believe she was going to get to learn a dance from her idol!
The whole camp clapped and cheered as Tiler stood up at the front of the room.
“Thank you, Madame Maxine. I’m so excited to be here!” she said. “Are you guys ready to dance? Let’s go!”
Tiler began to teach each group sixteen counts of eight of choreography that would eventually be strung together to make one complete dance. When it was time for her group to go, Katarina immediately recognized the song the pianist began to play. It was the waltz from Cinderella, one of her favorite ballets. More than anything else, Katarina wanted to impress Tiler and show her how much she’d learned, so she paid close attention. It was hard work, and soon Kat’s curls had become as drenched as a wet mop from all the sweat. But it was the most fun she’d had in ages!
As they learned the steps, Katarina couldn’t help but watch the other members of her group in the mirror. They were all so talented! Katarina had never seen anything quite like it. Myka’s elegant fingers and toes seemed to stretch for days. Mimi had beautiful expression and musicality as she glided across the floor, moving in her chair with the swell of the music. Leilani’s turns were all perfectly balanced, while Ricky’s nimble feet breezed through all the complicated footwork Tiler was teaching them. Each dancer had their own unique set of skills, but the one thing they all had in common was just how much they loved to dance. Katarina’s group shined like the brightest constellation in the sky. She couldn’t wait for the big recital at the end of camp, when they’d finally be able to show everyone the star-stuff they were made of.