Ashley, you're dancing in the Nutcracker ballet tomorrow!" I said to my twin sister. "You're practically famous!"
I was sitting with Ashley and our friend Sarah in a corner of Madame Pavlova's dance studio. Ashley's ballet class practiced there every week. Tomorrow they would perform in the Pavlova Theater right next door!
"Come on, Mary-Kate." Ashley blushed. "I have a small part in the ballet. But I love being in the show."
"I wish I could be in the show too," Sarah said. She twirled a lock of her brown hair around her finger. "But I can't-all because of my dopey brother, Noah!"
Sarah is nine, a year younger than Ashley and me. She's in the same dance class as Ashley. Today she carried crutches and had a cast on her right ankle.
"What happened?" I asked.
"Noah put a frog is my ballet bag. I jumped and tripped over our cat, Mr. Snuffles. I sprained my ankle, so I can't dance. And Mr. Snuffles is a nervous wreck!" Sarah sighed. "If I can't be in the ballet, I'm glad you are, Ashley. Are you nervous?"
"Well, maybe a little," Ashley admitted. She tightened the ribbons on her ballet slippers and stretched out her legs. "But I'll feel better once we get to practice onstage in our costumes."
"Dancers, take your places, please." Madame Pavlova clapped her hands.
Madame Pavlova has pale, smooth skin and big brown eyes. Her black hair was wrapped tightly in a bun. "I want to run through the Christmas-party dance before we go to the theater. And I want no mistakes this time!"
"Maybe I should be glad I'm not spending my Christmas vacation performing in the ballet," Sarah said. "Madame P. can be pretty tough!"
"Madame P.?" I giggled. "Why do you call her that?"
"That's what we call Madame Pavlova for short," Ashley explained. "She is strict, but she's a great teacher."
Madame Pavlova clapped her hands again.
"See you guys later!" Ashley said. She rushed to join the other dancers in the center of the room.
Ashley and I both have strawberry blond hair and blue eyes. But Ashley is the graceful one in the family. I would much rather wear baseball uniform than a tutu. But I love watching Ashley dance. I couldn't wait to see her in The Nutcracker!
At least I get to help out with the ballet. I'm going to be an usher at tomorrow night's performance. It will be fun to wear a red uniform and show people to their seats.
Sarah stood up and grabbed her crutches. "I'll see you later, Mary Kate," she said. "My mom's taking me to the doctor. I'll be back to watch the dress rehearsal."
"See you!" I said. I took a seat against the wall. The dancers stood in place on the gleaming wood floor. They all wore black leotards and tights.
Madame Pavlova turned on the music. "Let's begin!" she said.

Ashley and the other girls and boys began to dance. They pretended to be at a Christmas party. A twelve-year-old girl danced through the center of the crowd. She wore her long red hair in a neat French braid. It was Miranda, the star of the ballet. She played the role of Clara.
Miranda twirled with her arms above her head. She lifted her leg high and-
"Ow!" Miranda cried. She fell to the floor.
Madame Pavlova stopped the music. "Please be more careful, Miranda," she said. "I can't have you falling onstage tomorrow."
A girl with curly blond hair giggled. "I told you she dances like an elephant," Becky said. "Maybe I should play Clara, and Miranda can be my understudy."
Becky was furious when Madame Pavlova gave the part of Clara to Miranda and made her Miranda's understudy. That meant that if Miranda couldn't dance in the ballet tomorrow night, Becky would take her place as Clara.
Miranda got up. "You pushed me!" she yelled at Becky.
"Did not!" Becky said.
"Did too!" Miranda replied angrily.
"Quiet!" Madame Pavlova shouted. She looked at Becky. "Excuse me, Becky, but what is that shiny blue stuff all over your arms?"
"It's body glitter," Becky said.
Madame P. pointed at the door. "Go wash it off! No makeup of any kind is allowed in class."
Becky frowned and stomped out of the room.
Madame Pavlova put a hand to her forehead. "There will be no more fighting in my ballet! Or nobody will dance tomorrow. Does everyone understand?"
She looked around at the group of dancers. Everyone nodded. "Good. Now let's begin again," she said.
The dancers took their places. The music started again. Just then I heard a shout from the hall.
"Gotcha!" a boy yelled.
"You missed!" another boy yelled back.
I looked out the doorway and saw two boys playing with wooden swords. They were already wearing their costumes. I recognized the boy with wavy brown hair. It was Sarah's brother, Noah.
"Ha! Gotcha again!" Noah said. He was dressed in the costume of the Nutcracker Prince. He wore a white jacket with gold buttons and black pants. His white shirt hung out of his jacket.

"No way!" the other boy said. His name was Peter. He was dressed as a toy soldier. He wore a red jacket and white pants.
Peter stabbed at Noah's jacket. "Gotcha last! Gotcha last!" he cried.
I shook my head. Noah and Peter are both twelve. But sometimes they act like babies!
Peter ran past me into the studio. He ran so fast he tripped right over my chair!
"Oof!" Peter's wooden sword slid out of his hand and across the floor. It landed at Madame Pavlova's feet.
"Stop!" Madame Pavlova cried. "Stop! Stop! Stop!"
The dancers froze.
Madame Pavlova turned to Peter and Noah. "Noah! Peter! Look what you have done to your costumes. They are a mess!"
Peter's face turned red. "Sorry," he mumbled.
"Come on, Madame P." Noah grinned at her. "We were just having fun!"
"Now is not the time for fun! We have a show to put on," Madame Pavlova scolded. "I want the two of you cleaned up and ready for dress rehearsal. It begins in fifteen minutes. Do you understand?"
"Yes," the boys said. As they walked out of the room, Noah made a face behind Madame Pavlova's back.
Madame Pavlova looked at the rest of the dancers. "I want all of you to go to the dressing rooms and change into your costumes. Then we'll go to the theater for dress rehearsal," she told them.
I caught up to Ashley at the water fountain. She was talking to Miranda.
"Becky did push me," Miranda was saying. "But I don't care. Madame Pavlova knows I'm a good dancer. And I'm going to do great tomorrow."
"You're always so sure of yourself," Ashley said. "What's your secret?"
Miranda smiled. "I'm going to wear my lucky ballet slippers."
Everyone knows about Miranda's lucky ballet slippers. She wears them for every performance. She says they help her dance her best.
"Do you guys need help with your costumes?" I asked. I knew Ashley's dress had a tricky zipper.
Ashley nodded.We walked down the hall to the girls' dressing room. Everyone was buzzing with excitement.

"I'll see you guys in a few minutes." Miranda squeezed her way to the back of the dressing room.
Ashley took her costume off the rack and put it on. I helped her zip it up. "Thanks, Mary-Ka-" Ashley started to say.
That's when we heard a terrible scream.
"Oh, no!" Miranda cried. "My lucky ballet slippers are gone!"