Chapter 1 CHAPTER 1
Welcome to… regionals!” the announcer’s voice rings throughout the packed convention center.
This is it. Regionals. And all eyes are on us. This is the moment! We are here! My costume is super cute. It’s black and pink, with some flowy ribbons dangling off my shoulders. That sounds weird, but it works. I have a little hat on my head, tilted just right and securely fastened by approximately a thousand bobby pins.
At least I hope it’s securely fastened. That would be bad if my hat fell off, wouldn’t it? Ha! Okay, that’s actually not funny. If my hat falls off, then I might trip over it. Or one of my dance squad might trip over it, and slide all the way across the stage—not just across the stage! Off the stage! Onto the judge’s table, knocking everything over and destroying the entire regionals!
My best friend and teammate, Lily, grabbed my hand and squeezed it hard, snapping me out of my imaginary list of things that could go wrong.
“Harper!” Lily whispered to me. “I think my hat is loose!”
“I was JUST thinking mine was,” I whispered back.
“That’s why we’re best friends,” Lily said. “You understand me.”
Lily and I had become best friends ever since I’d moved to Florida. Lily, who had been new to the team too, was the first person I met, right before we’d auditioned for DanceStarz. I remember when I walked in, I was worried I’d never find my place on the team. The rest of the team, aka the Bunheads—Megan, Riley, and Trina—hadn’t exactly been welcoming at first, to either of us. So Lily and I had bonded over that, and then become true friends, totally on the same page. Like for example, worrying about our hats falling off.
“Were you also thinking you’d trip on it, slide across the stage, and fall on the judges and the competition would come to a screeching halt and the judges would toss you out the door of the building?” I whispered.
“Um, no?” Lily said. “I take it back. I guess I don’t understand you.”
We both cracked up a little.
“Are you two laughing? No laughing!” Megan hissed at us. “This is serious business. Regionals.”
When I’d first met Megan, I’d been intimidated by her. We’d had our ups and downs, but now we had mutual respect for each other’s talent and hard work. We even had fun together. Most of the time.
“First this, and then our duet,” Megan said, looking hard at me. “Serious business.”
Okay, this was not one of those fun moments. Megan also was very competitive and intense—and my duet partner. Lily and I smiled at each other. It had taken a little while, but we had learned not to let Megan get to us before a competition.
“You’re on deck, DanceStarz!” A woman with a clipboard came backstage.
Eek! This was it!
We all gathered around in a tight circle to do the ritual we’d made up as a squad.
“Dance!” Trina led the cheer.
Lily, Megan, Trina, Riley, and I all did a little dance move.
“Starz!” Trina continued.
We fluttered our fingers like sparkling stars. Then we leaned into a huddle and said:
DanceStarz Squad was ready to take the stage! HERE WE GO!
“Make some noise for… DanceStarz!” the announcer’s voice boomed throughout the packed convention center.
On that cue, we flashed out best smiles and stepped onstage in formation, our arms swinging in perfect sync. We sashayed to our positions, and we struck a pose and waited under the hot lights for the music. I had one hand on my hip and one in the air, steady. I took a moment to take it all in—the excited charge in the air, the supportive cheers. Yes. This was it. We’d worked so hard to get to this point. We’d edged out the fiercest including the team from competitive Energii, our biggest rivals. All that would be left for us to do is perform our hearts out. A solid show here would advance us to nationals, which—
Which I couldn’t think about right now. I had to focus and go into my zone. This is when all of my training, my muscle memory, all of those hard rehearsals pay off. My brain shuts down, and my body takes over.
The music began. And I danced. We used to watch ourselves in the dance studio mirrors, but now the crowd is our only reflection. From the roar of the crowd, we were delivering the goods. Our leg extensions must have been showing off the flowy chiffon trailing from the backs of our shoulders. The pretty fabric swirls looked like a ribbon dance. Finally, that last beat dropped. We bowed and trotted offstage to extended applause.
Vanessa was the first to greet us offstage. “Beautiful,” she said, beaming proudly. She’s our dance team teacher and our choreographer AND owner of the DanceStarz Studio. We all grabbed one another in a big hug and jumped around to celebrate.
We got two seconds of celebration before Vanessa cleared her throat.
“Duets, get ready.”
Annnnd our killer performance was already a thing of the past. Lily and I went to give each other extra hugs.
“You got this,” she whispered.
“Same!” I told her. It’s a huge day for Lily. She got picked to be the solo dancer, and will be going last.
“Harper!” Megan hissed at me. “Let’s go!”