Your feet are screaming, your bodice stiff and restricting, your muscles quivering as you step into a bow. It feels as though the whole world can see your heart beating.
The last thing you want to hear is "Keep smiling!" As if smiling is a mask for the pain beneath pirouetting in dead shoes or developing your leg above 90 degrees.
The music ends, and you rise out of your curtsey only to gaze up at a mirror taunting you with frazzled faces.
Just when you've cleared the floor and catch a fleeting breath, comes the menacing words, "Go to the part where ..."
This is how it is. Every rehearsal a series of backwards and forwards, picking away minor and major imperfections, reviewing, revising and improving.
Your best try is never good enough, and even when you smile to yourself because you felt like you were flying, you see the critical eyes of the ballet mistress and a note scribbled down and suddenly you don't feel so brilliant anymore. Or the next step in the choreography eludes your memory and suddenly you are alone in confusion as dancers swirl around you.
Criticism follows, impatient words flung at you with high expectations. Sometimes it hurts, sometimes you don't understand why what's so difficult for you comes so easily to others.
When all feels lost, your legs have turned to Jello, your heart's about to break and you feel as though you will never be good enough, comes your teacher's kind words: "You are beautiful, through all the corrections I want you to remember that."
Suddenly, your confidence is restored a little, just knowing that your efforts are being noticed. Coming from someone who is so hard to please, it all means so much more.