ELLE Talent Competition 2017: Runner Up, Sian Norris

When we launched this year's annual writing competition with the brief to pen a memoir about 'The Outfit I Will Never Wear Again', nearly 1,000 aspiring writers entered. Here is one of our five runners up.

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In my mum's house, I found my old ballet shoes.

Battered and full of holes, they'd travelled from the Bolshoi master shoe-maker's workshop to Bristol, ending up in a cupboard never to be worn again.

I didn't attend Russian ballet school full time. Instead, from the age of 12, I went every day after normal school. Standing in a tutu from Le Corsaire as my teachers took every stereotype of Russian ballet mistresses to the extreme lessons spent being screamed at until I would break down and cry.

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It was easy to get things wrong but after a screaming session you didn't get it wrong again. Sometimes, so angry at my inability to stand in a straight line, she'd scream at me in Russian, remember I didn't speak Russian, and scream at me again in English. Then I'd cry.

Mum wanted me to leave. I'd scowl, dry my tears, try harder.

We worked hard. After half an hour of barre we'd be sweating. Floor work, where my jumps were especially praised, followed by pointe work: courir-ing until our toes bled right through to the gel pads I used to protect my poor, bruised feet.

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Mum wanted me to leave. I'd scowl, dry my tears, try harder.

Today, my posture is great. If I slouched, I'd feel the slap of the side of a hand against my spine.

'Don't slouch!' My teacher cried with joy at my first injury. She was so proud. Our pain, our blood, our twisted muscles and deformed toes were badges of honour to show off. We strained to reach the goal of 'wearing down all the cartilage in our hips to achieve perfect turnout.'

We must have been mad.

Holding the shoes in my hand, it all has an element of fantasy now.

The smell of battered satin, sweat and hairspray. The tapes playing classical scores, the Vaganova method, the wall-length mirrors, the stickiness of resin, the flirting with our reflections.

There I was, turning 15, all my energy focused on extending my body's reach turning into a being that could achieve gravity-defying, awe-inspiring things.

I didn't care about the pain and the blood and oh-my-god all those fucking tears, because finally I stood on stage in Giselle, bound into a tutu and corset, creating patterns with my arms, my face smiling under a mask of clumsily-applied stage make-up.

There I was, turning 15, all my energy focused on extending my body's reach – turning into a being that could achieve gravity-defying, awe-inspiring things.

It all ended with Giselle.

The school imploded; the teachers on the warpath. We didn't know the attached company had been taken over and were sent to perform to the company's surprise.

They couldn't let our ballet school hearts down. They let us dance with them.

My glittering career: a one-night-stand in Swansea.

The next day I dumped my costume on my teachers' front door step and my life as a ballet dancer was over. I'd never join a company. I'd never master a pirouette.

My feet wouldn't bleed anymore and, luckily for my hips, I'd never wear down my cartilage enough to achieve perfect turnout.


Competition winner Beth Crane, and five runners-up (Caitlin Black, Sian Norris, Angela Locatelli, Lily Peschardt and Victoria Richards) each receive a monogrammed Smythson notebook from Selfridges.

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