Bunheads meets The Kicks in this second novel in a middle grade trilogy from New York Times bestselling author, dancer, model, and actress Maddie Ziegler!
After a successful first competition, twelve-year-old Harper is eager to keep on making her mark in Dance Starz. But lately, she’s having a bit of “dancer’s block.” In her one-on-one with her teacher, Harper is reminded that dancing isn’t just about the spins and leaps; it’s about the emotion and passion for dancing, too. And lately, she hasn’t felt that Harper has been living up to her usual standards. Vanessa will be choosing the first soloist to compete at the next competition for the team, and suggests to Harper that she find a way to figure out how to get that mojo back.
Thanks to a chance conversation, Harper joins the school musical. Not only is this an opportunity to polish up her stage presence, but as the newbie at school, Harper is excited to make some more friends.
But some of the teammates are not thrilled that Harper is doing something besides the dance team. Plus, their biggest rivals, the Belles, are looking to go toe-to-toe with them in the upcoming competition—and both teams have something to prove. Harper realizes that the musical, dance team, and school might be a little much. Can she figure out how to find her balance—on-stage and off?
The Callback CHAPTER 1 I’m standing just offstage, waiting for my big moment. I’m with my competition dance team. I’m really nervous, because I’m about to do a trick that I’ve never done before. The most complicated leap that my dance team, DanceStarz, has ever attempted! I whip off my pink, white, and gold dance team jacket, which only the five dancers on the select competition team get to wear. Underneath, my costume shined with thousands of tiny sequins, just like I was going to shine onstage!
“You can do it, Harper! Love you, Harper!” My new teammates are encouraging, but I know they’re thinking the same thing I am: This is nearly impossible! How can a twelve-year-old pull off this stunt?
My teammates run out on the stage and get into their positions. The music begins. Five . . . six . . . seven . . . eight . . .
I run onto the stage, my head held high. I push off my left leg powerfully, and then stretch my legs out into a split.
“Harper McCoy! Harper McCoy!” someone calls out from the audience. I smile my best smile, secretly thrilled I have fans out there who would call my name.
I leap higher than I ever have before! I leap over my teammates, who are crouched down underneath me. I leap over Riley, over Trina—and even over Megan, who looks surprised that I made it.
“Harper’s leaping! She’s leaping!” my teammate Riley whispers loudly.
I am! I’m now leaping over Lily, my best friend on my dance team! And then my little sister, Hailey! And my dance teacher, Vanessa! Wait a minute. And then I leap over my dog, Mo!
Why are my dance teacher and my dog onstage with me? I lose my focus and land on the stage. I fall forward flat on my face. I’m facedown! Everyone is laughing at me!
“Ha!” my teammate Riley laughs really hard. “Ha-ha! Harper’s sleeping!”
Wait, sleeping? Not leaping? I opened my eyes and snapped out of it. I was facedown, all right—on my school desk. I lifted my head up to see my classmates looking at me and cracking up. Including Riley.
“Harper’s sleeping!” Riley whispers even louder this time, and more people turn to look at me. Including my teacher.
Oops. I hadn’t been leaping. I’d been sleeping. In my first-period English class.
“Harper McCoy. I apologize if my lesson isn’t stimulating enough to keep you awake,” Mrs. Elliott said. “Please see me after class.”
I slumped down in my chair. I could see Riley, a few desks over, cracking up with her friend. I’d been at my new school only a few weeks, and already I was embarrassing myself. Ugh. The rest of the class period I did my best to focus. However, I did yawn a few times when my teacher was looking the other way.
After class was over, I went up to my teacher’s desk.
“I’m sorry, Mrs. Elliott,” I mumbled. “I didn’t mean to fall asleep. I was up late last night.”
“I understand,” Mrs. Elliott answered and smiled at me. Whew! I was relieved she was being so nice about it. Then she continued, “I just wanted to check to see if everything is all right.”
“Yeeessss . . .” I hesitated. Mrs. Elliott smiled again, looking so kind and understanding that everything just spilled out of me. “It’s just that, well, I only moved here a month ago, so I’m still getting used to everything! Florida! It’s so much hotter, and my new house? It’s a nice house and my new bedroom is really cute, but it’s still weird, and starting a new school with all these new people? Plus . . .”
I paused to take a breath. I knew I was babbling, and I just couldn’t stop. My teacher just waited.
“I’m at a new studio—I mean, it’s fun and I love it, but there’s so much pressure on me at DanceStarz.”
My teacher’s eyebrows shot up.
“Dance?” she asked me.
“Yeah at DanceStarz Academy. I’m on the select team, called the Squad. Back in Connecticut, I’d been on the competition team, but here? It’s on a whole new level. I mean, I love it, but it’s intense.”
I was babbling.
“Basically, I’m tired. I’m really sorry I fell asleep,” I finished lamely.
“Harper. Do you, by chance, do musical theater?” Mrs. Elliott asked me.
“Musical theater? Sure.” I nodded. “And jazz, tap, ballet, contemporary, and lyrical. And tumbling, although I’m not the best at it.”
“Can you do pirouettes?”
“Oh, yeah,” I said, confidently. I thought that was a little bit of a random question, but hey, turns were my specialty. Plus, I was really happy to have the focus shift from me getting in trouble for sleeping in class! Maybe I could distract her. “Do you want to see me pirouette?”
When she nodded, before she could say anything, I went over to the front of the classroom. I took my prep and then held my plié for a second, making sure my technique was perfect. Then I pulled up, spotting six consecutive turns with a graceful landing. Nailed it! I posed and looked over at Mrs. Elliott, who looked equally surprised and happy.
“Fate works in mysterious ways,” Mrs. Elliott said. “I was really feeling the pressure.”
Wait, she was feeling the pressure?
“I’m sure you’ve heard that the middle school play will be The Little Mermaid,” she continued.
“I saw the posters for tryouts a couple weeks ago,” I said. “Of course, I’d be happy to go see it.”
That wasn’t a punishment for falling asleep. I love The Little Mermaid.
“Oh, I don’t want you to see it,” Mrs. Elliott said, laughing. “I want you to be in it.”
“In it?” I was totally confused.
“We have a dance number in the show that I believe is a highlight,” Mrs. Elliott explained. “And I say this modestly, well, because I choreographed it myself.”
She lowered her eyes dramatically.
“Uh,” I said. “Cool?”
“However, our dancer had to drop out of the play yesterday,” Mrs. Elliott said. “I need to replace her. And I think you would be perfect doing that featured dance solo she was supposed to do.”
A featured dance solo. A featured dance solo!
“I want to be clear that your answer is in no way related to you dozing off in class today or English class,” Mrs. Elliott said. “There’s no pressure to say yes. However, you’re not off the hook. I’d like to see a few extra paragraphs on the essay due next week to show effort.”
I already had so much going on, but . . . The Little Mermaid would be so fun! It was one of my favorite movies. And getting picked for a solo without really having to audition felt really good. A solo that wasn’t going to be part of a competition.
Plus, maybe it would be a chance to shine at my new school.
“Yes,” I said. I’ll do it.”
Mrs. Elliott’s face lit up.
With Mrs. Elliott thanking me profusely, I left the room to go to lunch.
“Ack!” I bumped right into Lily. She was waiting in the hallway. She usually met me after English so we could walk into lunch together. I’d met Lily the day of my DanceStarz audition, and I was happy she’d made the Squad too. And we went to the same school—so we were newbies there, too. We didn’t have any of the same classes, but at least we got to have lunch together.
“Oh, sorry you had to wait for me,” I apologized. “Mrs. Elliott wanted to talk to me.”
“I didn’t mean to spy, but that didn’t look like talking,” Lily said. “That looked like dancing!”
I lowered my voice into a whisper.
“It was,” I whispered. “That was so unexpected.”
I told her how Mrs. Elliot had asked me to be in the school musical. And how I’d said yes.
“Harper, it sounds fun, but aren’t you already crazy busy?” Lily asked.
“Yeah,” I said. “I probably should have said no, but . . . it actually sounds really cool. It’s just one dance. Plus, I’ll be a solo dancer! And I love The Little Mermaid!”
“I love The Little Mermaid too,” Lily agreed—and then I realized something. Maybe Lily would want the chance to be in the musical, herself.
“Oh my gosh, I’m so selfish,” I said. “Do you want to try to dance in the show? We can ask Mrs. Elliott.”
“Uh, no, thank you,” Lily said firmly. “I have enough with the Squad and helping at Sugar Plums. The store is getting so busy!”
I was happy the store was doing great. Lily moved here because her parents bought a really cute frozen yogurt store. It was right next to DanceStarz, which made it super convenient for us to go over after lessons. Lily’s parents even let me test out new flavors sometimes, like this berry hibiscus one I was now obsessing over.
“I’ll come watch you in the play, though,” Lily said. “A dance solo! Ooh, I wonder what you’re going to wear! Maybe you’re a mermaid!”
“Maybe!” I said. “Or maybe I’m something awful. Like an enormous clam.”
“Maybe that’s why the other dancer dropped out. She was like, I am not wearing an enormous clam,” Lily said. We both started laughing.
I was still smiling when I walked into the lunchroom. We sat with Riley, who was one of the other three girls on our dance team. Our other teammates, Megan and Trina, went to our rival school. The three of them had been dancing together since they were little, and their nickname was the Bunheads. If you think it was hard being new in that situation—you’re right.
Despite all that, at our first competition, we’d come together and come in third! I think we were getting along a little better outside of the studio too, which was nice.
Riley was sitting with her friend Naima, who also went to DanceStarz and was on a different dance team. I put my lunch on the table and Lily and I sat down across from them.
“Look who’s awake from her nap!” Riley laughed.
“Huh?” Lily looked back and forth at us, confused.
In the excitement of getting to do the solo dance in the play, I’d forgotten about the falling-asleep-in-class part. Ugh.
“Oh, you didn’t hear?” Riley said. “Harper fell asleep in English and she was, like, drooling all over her desk.”
“WHAT? I wasn’t drooling,” I protested as Riley and Naima were cracking up.
“And making little snoring noises,” Naima said cheerfully. “Our teacher was like, ‘Harper! You are embarrassing yourself! Wake yourself up!’?”
“That is not what happened,” I assured Lily while pouring my granola into the yogurt a little too aggressively. Granola spluttered over the side.
“How would you know that if you were asleep?” Riley asked.
She had a point, but I did not even want to think about it.
“And then Mrs. Elliott made her stay after class!” Naima said, like it was some hot take. “Harper, did you get in trouble? Did you get detention?
“Detention?” Riley asked. “Uh-oh, do you have to miss Squad rehearsal? Should I text Megan and Trina that you’re not coming?”
She pulled out her phone to text the other two Bunheads and waved it at me tauntingly.
“Ahem.” One of the lunch monitors appeared behind her. “Cell phones need to stay in your locker. If I see that again, I’ll have to give you detention.”
Lily and I glanced at each other, but then had to look away so we wouldn’t crack up.
“Sorry,” Riley muttered and shoved her phone back into her pocket.
“Karma!” Lily said. “You might be the one getting detention, not Harper.”
“Whatever,” Riley muttered.
“Harper, if you didn’t get detention, why did Elliott make you stay after? Ooh! Is she going to flunk you?” Naima said breathlessly. “If you flunk English, will your parents be like, Oh no, Harper is grounded from all extracurriculars, and then you’ll get kicked off the Squad, and no offense, that would be great because I could try out for your spot!”
“Gee, thanks, Naima, for your support. But I’m not flunking English,” I said, aggressively stirring my yogurt so hard it spilled over the edges. “And I’m not giving up my spot.”
“Yeah, nobody’s taking Harper’s spot,” Lily declared. “Harper is one of the very best dancers in the whole studio.”
“I’m not flunking English,” I said, slamming my yogurt down on the table. “And I’m not giving up my spot.”
“Yeah, nobody’s taking Harper’s spot,” Lily said. “Harper is one of the very best dancers in the whole studio.”
“Do you think you’re going to get the solo, Harper?” Naima asked me, totally putting me on the spot.
“I . . .” Before I could come up with an answer for that, Riley jumped in.
“Megan is getting the solo,” Riley said. “It’s totally going to be Megan.”
“I think it’s going to be Harper,” Lily said. “Have you seen her newest turn series? It’s epic.”
“All five of us are good competitors,” I said diplomatically. “We all might have a shot.”
“Uh, not Riley!” Naima said, a little too cheerfully.
Riley looked sadly at her hand. I did feel sorry for her. Her hand was definitely healing, but still not 100 percent.
At our first competition, things had gotten a little stressful. The Bunheads’ former best friends, nicknamed “The Bells,” had joined a rival team, Energii. Right before DanceStarz was about to go on, there was drama and Megan had accidentally stepped on Riley’s hand. We had to change up our whole routine at the last second. Riley had healed enough for her to dance, but only as long she didn’t put pressure on her hand, which meant she still couldn’t do any of her show-stopping tricks she was known for, like her hand-walking and handsprings. Not to mention her jazz hands.
“Riley is still a good dancer,” I pointed out. “So are Lily and Trina.”
“Oh, you know it’s pretty much going to be between you and Megan,” Naima said. “Everyone on our team is talking about it. Most people are betting on Megan.”
Vanessa was going to assign each of us a solo dance we would work on ourselves. After we learned it, she would have us “audition” for the solo part in the next competition.
“I’m going to try my best,” I said, and took a sip of my lemonade juice pack to calm down the butterflies in my stomach. “I’m sure we all will.”
Any solo you get to perform at a competition is a big deal. But this one felt even more special. Since the Squad was the first ever select team at DanceStarz, this would be the FIRST EVER solo in the entire history of the Squad. The person who got this solo would basically be making DanceStarz history!
And I wanted it.
I wanted the solo really badly.
Lily kicked me under the table, and then tilted her head toward the clock over the lunch table. 11:10! We had a tradition, ever since the first time we met. We both watched the clock until it turned. . . .
11:11—make a wish! I saw Lily close her eyes. I closed my eyes too and made a wish.
Madison Nicole Ziegler, born in Pittsburgh, is an award-winning professional dancer, actress, fashion designer, and New York Times bestselling author of The Maddie Diaries. She starred in Lifetime’s Dance Moms for six seasons and has starred in numerous music videos for pop singer/songwriter Sia, including the critically acclaimed “Chandelier” video. Maddie was also a judge on So You Think You Can Dance: The Next Generation, lent her voice to the animated feature Leap! (released internationally as Ballerina),and stars in Focus Feature’s The Book of Henry.