I stop for a brief moment at the thudding vibrations I can feel beneath my feet. A moment later, I hear it.
"Bethie, what is it?" asks my Mum, her light, high pitched voice concerned as she comes up behind me with a worried expression on her face. She puts a supportive arm under my elbow, not wanting me to fall as I finally meet her green eyes.
"Do you hear that music Mum?" I ask, and she is silent for a moment, concentrating.
"Yeah, I do," she says quietly after a minute. "Do you want to go see what it is?" Eagerly, I nod and she leads me away, toward the sound and the music grows louder as we get closer.
A crowd is gathered in the heart of it, where the music is loudest, so loud it's almost defeaning and I cover my ears with my hands momentarily as I get used to it. I follow along behind as Mum pushes through the gathering crowd. It still amazes me the way people part for her. My mother is a petite woman with a fragile appearance, but something about her, I suppose, seems forceful, and she does push her through. My mother is a determined lady, I'll give her that one.
The music alone is wonderful, and I'd close my eyes and simply enjoy it, but the sight around which the crowd is gathered is awesome too, and so for a moment, I stand and watch.
"Excuse me, do you think I can take this chair for my daughter?" I hear Mum ask politely. The person must be putting up a bit of resistance I guess, because Mum speaks again. "My daughter needs this chair. She's disabled." I look over in her direction out the corner of my eye with a sigh at this. Does she have to advertise that small, irrelevant fact to the whole world? I close my eyes, expecting what comes next because it's happened so many times before. The guy she's been talking to looks me up and down, and I can almost read his mind. What are you on about Lady? his expression seems to be saying. There's nothing wrong with your daughter.
But actually, I do have something 'wrong' with me, I think as I sit down in the chair Mum's forcefully claimed for me. You just don't need to know that. And really, it's not that obvious, even if it does seem like the most obvious thing in the world to me My jeans just happen to be covering any and all signs of it today..
With the familiar embarrassment flushed from my system, I relax into the chair and return my attention to the cleared space in front of the crowd. There's a girl up there, who looks about my age. Her long, dark, glossy hair is pulled tightly back and is currently bouncing about as she runs around, gracefully extending her limbs, falls to the ground, rises again quickly and repeats it all over again, all perfectly timed to the beat of the song playing over the loud speakers. I look her up and down as I bob my head in time to the music while she dances. Her slender figure, no doubt obtained from all the practice she must have had to do to achieve the flexibility she's currently displaying, is shown off by the short, loose black crop top she wears and her legs are hidden in the middle of her baggy pants. As the rest of her group join her, for most in the crowd, she's lost among the group, but she's captured me and I try my best to follow her with my eyes.
When the song ends, the group begin to bow. Before I realise what I'm doing, I've risen to my feet as I clap. Mum, I know, will be frantically trying to stop me, but completely lost in the moment, I barely feel her hand touch my arm, trying to coax me back into my seat. From the front, the dark haired, dark eyed, olive tanned girl who I'd been watching smiles warmly in my direction. I look back over my shoulder, assuming there must be someone she knows behind me before embarrassedly realising it's in fact me she's smiling at and offering her a small smile in return.
The exotic looking girl and her group run off then and a new group, dressed in quite bright colours compared to the last ones, who were dressed in neutral tones, run on. They all stand shoulder to shoulder in a row, heads bowed as they wait for the music to begin. When it starts, I see them all rhythmically bobbing their heads, as I'd been doing, but I can't quite ascertain whether that's part of their dance or if they're just trying to get into the rhythm and the beat themselves. Shrugging it off, I continue to bob my head as the music grows louder and the new group start to dance. Still in a line, they're moving their arms out to one side, then the other, up, and then shaking their hands theatrically as they bring their arms down to their sides again. This group is younger than the last, who, I guessed, were around my age. These girls look eight, ten at the most.
A collective whistle rises from the crowd around me as the girls part into two groups and a lone boy emerges from the aisle they've created for him. He's smiling widely as he turns back, linking arms with each girl in turn and spinning around with her as the loud, beat filled music from before fades into a happy tune that's catchy, but could get annoying if it got stuck in your head for too long. Just as quickly as they'd come on, the younger kids are joining hands and taking their bows as I, along with the crowd clap and cheer for them.
The next track is really loud to start with, and has this cool beat. The drums go rhythmically as the next group of dancers, including the dark haired girl from before, start to dance. She's in the middle of the group and I can't tear my eyes away as they squat down and begin swaying from side to side in time with the beat. I don't even realise that I've been dancing in my seat until Mum taps me on the shoulder and gives me a warning look.
"What?" I ask in a whisper. The look remains as I await her response and I shrug, still swaying like the girls up the front as they straighten up and begin running around in a circle.
I shake my head, blinking my eyes in disbelief. And I'd thought the dancers and the acts before had been good…. Granted, that dark haired girl is extraordinarily talented, but this… this is magic. The guitar is playing steadily, quietly compared to the previous songs, the man singing softly as the pretty, borderline anorexic girl dances around, spinning, extending her arms out toward the crowd, rising on her tip toes, and what's more, staying there.
"I… I want to do that too," I say breathlessly, pulling on Mum's shirt so she squats down next to me.
"I want to do that too," I say again in a whisper, trying as unobtrusively as I can to point toward the jet black haired, dark eyed, tanned ballerina still dancing gracefully, slowly, up the front.
"Oh Bethie," says Mum, her face falling. "Darling, I don't know…" I didn't notice Mum rising to her feet again, having been enveloped in the girl's dancing.
After the ballerina has finished, instead of running off she stays where she is, raising her arms above her head and clapping rhythmically, smiling bright. It's not long before I twig and start clapping along, the crowd around me soon following my lead. As the clapping continues, the other acts all run out until the big space in front of the crowd is no longer such a big space. I look at the dancers, searching for the beautiful dark haired girl who'd been dancing when Mum and I first got here. Soon, I find her, clapping away and smiling, though she really does look a little tired. Our eyes meet for a moment, and I smile too, a little embarrassed to have been caught looking.
As the crowd slowly lessens, I get up and start moving forward, toward the space the dancers had been using as a makeshift stage. Faintly, I hear Mum calling my name as she runs somewhere behind me, no doubt pushing through the crowd in an attempt to reach me. I sigh as she succeeds.
"What's wrong Bethie?" she asks me, her green eyes wide.
"She's gone," I say, letting out another breath.
"Who's gone?" Mum asks, starting to look around. "The ballerina? She's right over there."
"No," I say, following where her finger points to see the exotic looking ballerina before returning my gaze to Mum. "The dark haired girl. The one who was dancing when we got here."
"Oh," says Mum, her frown deepening as she looks around.