The show starts in ninety minutes, einlass in an hour. The girls need to be ready: primped, perfumed and poised by the time the crowds well in through the main gates of the circus. I sit in the corner of the dressing room, which, in reality, is an antique wooden caravan complete with a long makeup table and bulbs tracing the outlines of the mirror.
The ballerinas are all British. This was the time before the shows replaced them with cheaper labor from Russia and Kazakstan. These Kates, Janes, Maries are in their early twenties. Girls, really, but to me, they are the incarnation of the ideal female specimen. Lithe, long limbs. Flat stomachs result of hours of dance exercises. They exist on a diet of muesli and yogurt – fat-free because it is all the rage in the 90s.
I spend my entire summer in that narrow caravan just observing. How they comb their long, full hair under the hair net and place imaginative wigs, number after number. How they slip into the tiniest thongs I had never seen anyone use as underwear before. How they paint on their show face and help zip up the backs of their glittery ballgowns in all shades of pastel. It’s a dream.
Then there is the penultimate number right before the finale. Powdery, sky-high Marge Simpson hair with rococo costumes. Cornucopia-filled tables as dresses. I run back to our caravan and hand in hand, my sister and I ask to have costumes just like the ballerinas. We find cardboard boxes to perforate and cover them with nonna Daisy’s tablecloths. Checkered with flower and tomato and eggplant motif. We run around the circus grounds, showing off to everyone and anyone. We are convinced we’ll grow up to wear the real deal, one day, glistening in the circus ring spotlights. Every summer we practice as if we’d soon become part of the troupe. But we are not artists and we lack the discipline. We’re outsiders. Private people, they call us. We arrive at the dress rehearsal but it will never be the premiere for us.