pass plus

Pass Plus

When I was a little girl, I wanted to be a ballerina.

I started ballet lessons purely because of my best friend Jenny. You know that thing your mum always says to you when you’re young and stupid, and way too impressionable? That thing about how, “If so-and-so jumped off a cliff, would you jump too?”

I would totally have jumped off the cliff after Jenny.

Because of Jenny, I was absolutely elated when I was told I’d have to wear glasses. Jenny wore glasses, you see, and if they were good enough for Jenny, they were MORE than good enough for me.

Because of Jenny, I begged my mum to let me get the same ugly, orthopaedic-style school shoes Jenny wore. I can still vividly remember those shoes: they were a murky brown colour, clumpy and hideous, with a round toe and a double-buckle t-strap, which looked just AWESOME with my white school socks. Jenny wore those shoes for medical reasons: she had flat feet, and needed the extra support. I meanwhile, wore the shoes for Jenny reasons: I could only DREAM of having flat feet, but hey – I’d FINALLY got the poor eyesight I’d so envied (They were thick, NHS frames! They had a little case! And a little cloth to clean them with! SO. COOL.), so who knew, maybe flat feet wouldn’t be too far behind?

Because of Jenny, I also started ballet lessons. Now, Jenny herself hated ballet: she thought it was boring and hard work, but the doctor had told her mum that it would help raise her arches (Those darn flat feet again! Why did people with flat feet get ALL the fun?), so she was stuck with it. She couldn’t understand why I would actively CHOOSE to take ballet lessons when my feet, in their hideous brown shoes, needed no extra help with their arches, but of course, I knew better. I knew, for instance, that ballerinas were the most beautiful women in the world. They wore big, tulle skirts and pink silk shoes, and they danced on their tiptoes, as graceful as swans. I would be like that.

Well, I started lessons, and it didn’t take long for me to realise that Jenny had been right: it WAS a bit boring, and it WAS hard work, and there was no dancing on our tiptoes, or wearing tutus. In fact, according to our teachers, Miss Carrie and Miss Rose (Who were, as it happened, The Most Beautiful Women in All the World: I’d got that bit right, at least…), we would have to work very, very hard, for years and years and years, before we would get to do ANYTHING fun at all. It was a bit of a bummer, to be honest.

Worst of all, there were exams. Well, OK, there was ONE exam, and I don’t think “exam” is even the right word for it. It was… a grading? I guess? Can you tell this was a very long time ago? Anyway, for this grading, we were taken to one of those big, Georgian houses in Edinburgh, where we little ballerinas stood giggling in the hallway, waiting for our turn to go in and be, er, examined. By the time my turn came, I had whipped myself up into such a frenzy of nerves and excitement I could barely remember my name, let alone the little routine I had practised, but I pushed open the door and walked into the room, where I found myself face to face with my future. Yes, I was THAT dramatic, even as a child.

At one end of the room: me. At the other end, a long table, at which were seated a row of very old, very stern looking people. It was like the X-Factor, only with ballet dancers. And as soon as I saw those unsmiling faces, I forgot every last thing I’d ever known about ballet: and I hadn’t known much to start with, trust me.

That’s not the only thing I forgot, though. For instance, I’ve completely forgotten what I said to that panel of judges: honesty compels me to report that it was more likely to have been something horribly stupid than something terribly witty, but whatever it was, it made them all suddenly burst out laughing. (I know, it’s kind of an important detail to forget, huh? In my defence, I had no idea I would one day be writing about the experience on the internet, so…) And with that, I relaxed. I did my routine, I re-joined Jenny on the other side of the door, and I forgot all about it…

… until a few weeks later, when Miss Carrie gathered us around her at the start of our ballet lesson, and told us she had the results of our grading. There was a collective intake of breath as she shuffled the certificates importantly, and then smugly announced that we had all passed. Phew! “And,” said Miss Carrie, enjoying the drama, “you all got a Pass Plus, too!” We had no idea what “Pass Plus” was, of course – we had paid little to no attention to the details of this grading we were to undergo – but it was obviously a bit better than a mere “Pass”, so this could only be a good thing, right?

“You all got a Pass Plus,” said Miss Carrie… “Except Amber.”

Every head in the room swivelled in my direction, a bit like the little boy in The Exorcist. I quaked in my ballet slippers, wondering what was coming, instinctively knowing it wouldn’t be good.

“Amber got a ‘Commended'”, said Miss Carrie.

There was a gasp of horror. It probably came from me. I didn’t know what “Commended” meant, but I knew it didn’t have the word “Plus” after it, and I ALSO knew that all the little ballerinas were staring at me with a mixture of pity and schadenfreude, so it wasn’t hard to deduce that I had messed up royally, and I would never, ever live it down.

Everyone else got Pass Plus. I just got a stupid “Commended”. Everyone else was better than me. I was the worst in the class: quite probably the worst in the WORLD. I had never been so humiliated in my life, and I resolved then and there that this would be the last ballet class I would ever take. Also that as soon as it was over, I would persuade my parents to move far, far away from here, where no one knew the shame of The Girl Who Only Got a Commended.

It was only when the class ended, and Miss Carrie approached my mum to tell her how pleased she was with me that I found out the truth:

‘Commended’ was actually BETTER than ‘Pass Plus’. (Which was stupid, because if that was the case, why not just call it “Pass Plus-Plus?” to avoid confusion?) And, OK, it was still fairly mediocre, as far as ballet gradings go – I was never going to be the next Darcy Bussell, let’s not kid ourselves – but the fact remained: I was NOT worse than everyone else. Actually, I had done BETTER than everyone else. Me. Amber. The one the judges had laughed at. It was hard to comprehend – I don’t think even Miss Carrie had expected it of me – but I had somehow managed to get the best mark in the class.

I’d like to be able to say that this news changed me: that it gave me a new confidence, which turned my young life around, and that I am, even now, a prima ballerina who dances on her tiptoes with the greatest of ease. It didn’t, though. The thing was, although I knew I wasn’t quite the spectacular failure everyone had assumed me to be, no one else did. They all still thought I was the dunce of the ballet class, and there was no real way of convincing them otherwise. Even at my young age, I knew it wasn’t the done thing to rock up to class one day and be all, “Hey, bitches, how does it feel to be totally owned by the ginger with the ugly brown shoes?” so instead I did absolutely nothing.

I DID tell Jenny the truth about my shameful ‘Commended’, but I could tell she didn’t believe me, so rather than sharing the news with the rest of the class, I said nothing, and continued to re-live that horrible moment when they’d all turned their pitying looks of horror on me instead. And I know it’s stupid – I think I knew it even then – but for the rest of my short-lived ballet career, I would gladly have exchanged my “Commended” for a “Pass Plus”, purely so I could be the same as everyone else, and no longer the odd one out.

It took about 30 seconds for me to realise that Jenny may have suited her glasses, but I certainly didn’t suit mine, so poor eyesight clearly wasn’t all it was cracked up to be.

It took roughly two weeks for me to start hating those hideous shoes (which I had to keep wearing anyway, because as my mum reminded me, we weren’t Made of Money, and I HAD cried to get them…). You could keep your flat feet, thanks: I’d be wearing pretty shoes from now on. (Or from such a time as the ugly ones wore out, and my mum dropped her strange insistence on choosing my shoes based on comfort rather than on style.)

My ballet career lasted about a year: I quit immediately after the dance recital we’d been working towards, at which point I realised that all that tedious barre work really wasn’t worth the two minutes of “fame” it got me, and that “Showjumping Detective” would probably be a better career move for me after all. And I never did get those pointe shoes, either.

It took many, many long years for me to realise it was OK to be the odd one out, and that I didn’t HAVE to be the same as everyone else. They could jump off the cliff if they wanted to: I didn’t have to follow them.

Jenny moved to England a few months after our final ballet class. We wrote to each other until we were teenagers, and then lost touch when we went to university. Our parents still exchange Christmas cards every year. I’m not sure what Jenny’s doing these days, but I’m pretty sure it isn’t ballet…

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  • I remember the feeling of being the worst in your class… I took swimming lessons, and there was a competition with cups and medals for the fastest kid to swim from point A to B, and I was to participate… If only someone had bothered to tell me what I was supposed to do in a competition! I was barely six, and the only thing I knew was ‘Get in the water and swim fast from here to there’; I didn’t know they’d be taking my time, that there would be prizes, that they would take my time ONLY when I *touched* the other edge of the swimming-pool! So of course the first round was a total fail, with me arriving at the other edge and then stopping because I thought I was done, but of curse not, the poor sod taking my time had to scream at the top of his lungs to get me to touch the edge! Obviously afterwards it was a Pity-Festival all around me, when everyone was ‘nice’ to me, the last in the classification… I felt like an idiot. I still took my ‘revenge’ in the 2nd round of the competition, several months later, where would be decided the final winners, which would receive the cups (I’ve always wanted a cup, since I was about 3): now that I knew how it worked, I jumped in the water and swam so fast I got the best time, and my final result was of… 4th place, and a medal. Ok, it wasn’t that bad, considering I went from 15th to 4th in the end, but still, no cup! If I had known of the cups from the start, I would have done better, sure.

    May 23, 2014
  • Oh gosh I remember doing those ballet exams too! Having to buy hair nets and have your hair twisted into an unbearably tight bun. I actually have no idea if I have any ballet ‘grades’ or anything, I’d love to find the certificates! I can totally see why this skirt reminds you of ballet, sort of looks like a nicer version of the skirts you’d wear over your leotard! xx

    May 23, 2014
  • I was always the odd one out, I never had those silly little shoes with the keys in the bottom, I went for clompy boots with heels for school instead because I was going through my Mildred Hubble phase. I used to wear kilts and culottes for school (the rules only said “grey” and whilst most people would assume that was skirts or trousers, I was never much a fan of uniforms or following rules). My mum used to embrace the fact that I wanted to be different and knew what I wanted. I do remember “helping” a pair of school shoes wear out quicker as I wanted a new pair, at one point.
    I’ve always been more interested in wearing what I wanted to rather than what was “trendy”, which I guess is still very much true today, but on a larger scale.

    May 23, 2014
  • I love your outfit and it does have a very ballerina feel to it. I used to love ballet but as luck would have it I grew too tall and ballerinas just aren’t supposed to be tall. So then I became a swimmer. As a kid life was pleasant enough and man I had a great childhood but the one thing I missed out on is having friends from childhood. We moved (to France when I was two, to the States when I was five and then back to the Czech Republic when I was eleven and that’s when things got especially tough). Moving is so not fun, particularly for a child, having to leave all your friends behind and everything. So basically I never knew what it was like to have a “best friend since birth” friendship and that’s probably shaped even the rest of my friendships.

    May 23, 2014
  • Hi Amber,
    Love this whole look. I find myself buying more midi or full skirts these days. Love the style. The whole outfit is beautiful. I was a ballerina, but when I was younger, I was a little pudge, so not the most graceful of ballerinas!
    I looked at this top as Asos, and love the shape with the fuller skirt, will have to get one.

    Please stop by

    May 23, 2014
  • Doretta


    The photography of you is just amazing! You are beautiful, and stylish, but someone really knows how to bring it out!

    May 23, 2014
  • Diane


    I love this outfit, its very floaty and girly!

    May I ask – of all the bardot tops youe been wearing lately, which is the least clingy? I really love off the shoulder tops like that, but im not so keen on anything that clings to my less than flat mid section 🙁
    I dont usually like to buy clothes unless I can see them, feel them, try them on, but I cant see this style in any of the shops.
    Help Appreciated! Thank you!

    May 23, 2014
  • I’ve always wanted to take Ballet, and to say that I’m a Ballerina. I plan to take an adult beginners class very soon. I wish I could find a video instead as I’m doing it for exercise since I’m terrible at running. I had all the thoughts you had about ballet when I was little, but I never got to experience the disappointment because my parents claimed we couldn’t afford lessons. What it really was, was that they didn’t want to schlep me there and back.

    May 23, 2014
  • Sun


    Your outfits are lovely and you look beautiful but you should so write a book. Your writing skills are awesome. Thank you.

    May 23, 2014
  • Aww, a ballerina look indeed! (I commented on your shoe post before stopping over here, obviously. 🙂 ) I have spent most of my life in ballet, and it was only once I was too old to really make anything of it for myself that I started wishing I was a professional ballerina. All of my best friends had nothing to do with dance, so that was probably what made it more of a hobby than a life goal. I do still love it, and I absolutely agree, ballerinas are some of the most beautiful women in the world. I love your outfit; that skirt is amazing!

    May 24, 2014
  • I wore saddle shoes for-evah! It was horrible. I remember the ah ha moment years ago, when I realized that my ongoing shoe obsession is very likely due entirely to the fact that I wore a single, and ugly, shoe style for my entire childhood. Great post Amber!

    May 24, 2014
  • Christiane


    In the beginning of my teenage years I would do anything to not be the odd one out but because I was so much taller than the others in my class, I found it really difficult to be like the others. How often I have wished I could be the same height as everyone else! Later I learned to embrace myself and I did anything I could to be the odd one out.

    My biggest dream as a child was to become a ballerina as well. My parents took me to the ballet every so often and I lived for those moments when I could watch the ballet dancers. I still sort of dream of becoming a ballerina or at least learn to dance ballet. I might have to get that skirt so I can pretend to be a ballerina!

    May 24, 2014
  • Pru


    “Hey, bitches, how does it feel to be totally owned by the ginger with the ugly brown shoes?”

    I wish I’d had this attitude at when I was a kid/teenager! It would have made life as a ginger kid so much easier. Still, I like to think we’re like diamonds. It may take a while, but all the pressure makes as tough as nails. 🙂

    Wonderful writing as always. And I love the outfit, it looks very classic Hollywood. 🙂

    May 24, 2014
  • Tess


    You looked in great in this flirty skirt. I’m beginning to like skirt again.

    May 25, 2014
  • Hi Amber, hope your weekend is going well. Like the new look on the website. Ever since I began wearing the flowy a line or the midi skirt this year, I cant look back. I wear mostly dresses and skirts, so I love this one. I need to find a top that would balance out the sillouette of the skirt. I see on Asos, they have the Bardot tops, are these the ones you like? I would like to give them a try, I want to accentuate the small waist I have, and they seem to do that for you.
    xx jess

    May 25, 2014
  • Terry


    Really enjoyed your story, I award it a highly commended 😉

    Husband x

    May 26, 2014
  • Hi Amber,

    I always read your blog but this is the first time I´m leaving a comment. And more than a comment it is a question.

    I´ve been considering buying those shoes (Melissa) for a while now, but this week I was really close to do it. I didn´t because I read some comments saying they are pretty uncomfortable and I thought, you know who will be able to answer my question? Amber!

    So here I am, asking for your opinion on those shoes (I know you have a few of them)! I really, really like them but at the moment I´m been more careful with my expenses, so I want to make sure I would be able to wear them a few times without crying of pain!

    Thank you very much (and sorry to bother you with something as silly as this!).


    June 26, 2014
  • GoddessMel


    So funny that I came across this post today and you describe your outfit as making you feel like a ballerina, as that’s exactly what I thought when I put on my outfit today! Though mine is not as soft and pretty as yours (and I’m certainly a curvier ballerina 😉 ) that combo of a ballerina scoop/off the shoulder top and a full skirt makes me feel so lovely. (BTW, it’s winter here so my combo is black skirt, tights and Mary Janes and a cherry red top!)

    July 9, 2014