Several girls sat tightening the ribbons of their pointe shoes. Some leaned against the bar to stretch, waiting for more dancers to arrive.
Monday night's rehearsal at the Piedmont School of Music & Dance in Kannapolis began with the fitting of costumes. The girls adjusted their green-and-purple knee-length tutus and tugged at the bodices.
"Can you breathe in this thing?" one teenager asked another, picking at the costume's clasps.
"You're not supposed to breathe in ballet," said Sheri Giller, the school's associate artistic director, grinning as she strode into the studio.
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The girls were taking their places around the edges of the floor when 13-year-old Emily Simpson scampered in, moving as quickly as her stiff-toed pointe shoes would allow.
"Emily, you look so pretty!" the girls said, admiring her full-skirted, fur-trimmed velvety red dress, which disguised the insulin pump clipped to the inside of her costume.
The school's performing company, Piedmont Dance Theatre, will stage Tchaikovsky's classic Christmas ballet, "The Nutcracker," at 7 p.m. Friday and 2 p.m. Saturday at the Kannapolis Performing Arts Center at A.L. Brown High School.
They'll perform again at 6:30 p.m. Dec. 19 and 2:30 p.m. Dec. 20 at Catawba College's Keppel Auditorium in Salisbury, accompanied by the Salisbury Symphony Orchestra.
Her hair tightly curled - as it will be for performances - Emily stood to the side as the others began dancing "The Waltz of the Flowers."
She watched, counting beats to herself. At her cue, she ran gracefully to the middle of the floor, her face beaming.
Emily, a Charlotte Latin School eighth-grader from south Charlotte, was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes when she was 11 months old.
She has danced in "The Nutcracker" each of the past six years, but the coveted lead role of Clara is the most difficult she's tackled, she said. She's been rehearsing since September.
"It's a lot more rehearsals because you're in the whole ballet," she said.
Emily has been dancing since second grade and has learned to manage her diabetes. She checks her blood sugar during rehearsals and eats a snack when she needs to. She also wears an insulin pump, which delivers the vital hormone to her bloodstream through a site on her arm or abdomen.
"I've learned how to hide it," she said, removing a case clipped to the back of her leotard and revealing a small pink pump.
At last week's rehearsal, the dancers leapt and whirled in time with the beat.
Emily spun down the length of the room, her dress flowing around her.
"Keep in a straight line," Giller shouted to her over the music.
Emily's mom, Eileen Simpson, described her daughter as very structured, whether it's managing her diabetes or dancing. The danger, she said, is that rigorous dancing could cause her blood sugar to drop rapidly. But she knows instructors and other dancers are watching out for Emily.
After nearly three hours of rehearsal, the dancers practiced the routine for "The Waltz of the Snowflakes," Emily's hardest dance.
After starting and stopping to polish turns, the girls finally reached the end. Emily melted to the floor, laughing with the other girls. "I'm taking these shoes off!"