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Girl Can’t Dance

Emma dreams of stardom. What will she give up to make her dream come true?

Art by Carolyn Ridsdale


    At first sight of me, I guarantee you’d want my autograph. Well, maybe not now—but there was a time when that was true.

    It’s not that I’m all that talented, smart, or beautiful. In fact, 

    I’m pretty ordinary. That’s why what happened was extraordinary. 

    My twin brother, Theo, said I should thank him. 

    “For what?” I asked. “For making my life miserable?”

    “You made your own life miserable,” he said. “I just happened to be there.”

    Maybe I should start at the beginning.


    My best friend, Aubree, and I were obsessed with celebrities. 

    You know—movie stars, singers, anyone on that show Immediate Access. We spent hours watching YouTube, especially videos by my favorite singer, Jackson Jax. Once, Aubree’s mom took us to one of his concerts. I swear, even though I was one of 15,000 screaming  fans, Jackson Jax pointed straight at me and whispered, “Girl, this song is for you.”

    A few months ago, Aubree and I were watching a music video when she asked, “Emma, what’s the most important thing to you?” 

    “Fame,” I replied. “What about you?”

    “Friends,” she said. “If you ever got famous, you’d still be my friend, right?” 

    Aubree and I had been friends since first grade.

    “Of course!” I answered. “And I’d also go on the Gary Larry Show and ride in a limo.” 

    As it turned out, I would do two out of three of those things. 

    It started with the karaoke machine Uncle Roger gave me for my 13th birthday. For a long time, it stayed in its box—and for good reason. I’m a terrible singer. 

    But one Saturday night, Aubree and I opened the box. 

    “Karaoke!” Theo exclaimed as he came into my room. 

    “Can I try?” 

    “Go away,” I ordered. 

    “Please . . . ” he begged.

    “Go away!” I shouted.

    “You’ll be sorry,” he warned.

    I started singing Jackson Jax’s megahit, “Girl, It’s Gotta B U.” Then I began to dance. I looked like a cat trying to cough up a hair ball. Aubree laughed so hard she couldn’t breathe. 

    “Emma,” she cried, “please promise you won’t ever do that in public!” 

    “Oh, right,” I said. “Like that would ever happen.”


    On Monday, Theo was eager to get to school. That should have been a clue that my world was about to turn inside out. 

    I have PE first period. We were lining up to play basketball when a bunch of boys started singing a horrible rendition of “Girl, It’s Gotta B U.” Everyone laughed, including me. But when they started dancing, I felt like I had been punched in the stomach. 

    I knew that dance. It was my dance. 

    “Hey, Emma,” Julian said as he dribbled the basketball. “You’re a star!”

    All through middle school, I had hoped that Julian would notice me. I even practiced speaking to him in front of the mirror. When I practiced, I always sounded mature and classy.

    Julian was waiting for me to speak.

    “Whaaa . . . whaaa . . . whaa?” I stammered.

    “Saw your video,” he said, grinning. “You know, ‘Girl Can’t Dance.’ ”

    Julian pretended to hack up a hair ball.

    Things only got worse after that. The whole school seemed to have seen my “Girl Can’t Dance” video. And then I knew: It had to be Theo. When I spotted him at lunchtime, he took off running. He was fast, but I was faster. “You creep!” I yelled, grabbing his T-shirt. “You’re going to pay for this.” 

    Just then I noticed queen-of-the-school Serena Malik and her friends laughing. A few of them did the hair ball dance while one sang off-key on purpose. I let go of Theo’s shirt and ran to the bathroom to hide.


    Mom and Dad grounded Theo. But it was too late. “Girl Can’t Dance” had gotten more than 500,000 hits—and we had only 600 students at our middle school. Even after Theo took the video off his YouTube account, it kept showing up on other people’s. 

    Then the strangest thing happened. Some kids started being nice to me. And one day someone I didn’t even know showed up in a “Girl Can’t Dance” T-shirt with my photo on it!

    My video had gone viral. 

    “Emma, you’re famous!” said Aubree. “Everyone knows who you are.”

    It seemed that she was right. The day “Girl Can’t Dance” surpassed 1 million views, Aubree and I jumped up and down and hugged each other. By the time it hit 14 million views, I had been on Wake Up A.M. and even Immediate Access. Next, I appeared on the Gary Larry Show—and I got there in a limo. 

    On the show, Gary Larry asked, “Emma, how many people have seen your video?”

    “Well, Gary,” I said, turning to wink at the camera, “I stopped keeping track when it passed 20 million.”

    Gary Larry grinned. “Emma, we have a surprise for you.”

    The curtains parted, and out came . . . Jackson Jax.

    He sauntered up to the microphone, looked straight at me, and whispered, “Girl, will you join me?”

    The crowd went wild as Jackson Jax sang “Girl, It’s Gotta B U” and I performed my famous moves from “Girl Can’t Dance.”

    I was a star.


    Everywhere I went, people asked for my autograph. Total strangers would do my dance when they saw me. Everyone wanted a photo. #GirlCantDance was trending on Twitter and Instagram. 

    I started wearing sunglasses to hide from my fans. 

    “Hey, Emma,” a boy said at lunch one day. He held out a piece of paper. “Can you sign this for my cousin?” 

    I took off my sunglasses and asked, “Do I know you?” 

    “It’s me, Julian,” he answered. “We have PE together.”

    I sighed loudly, then scrawled a giant “E” on the paper. 

    “Thanks, Emma!” he said. “You’re amazing.”

    “Whatever,” I said.

    “You’ve changed,” Aubree commented as she bit into her pizza.

    I looked at my fingernails. Maybe I’d try deep purple next. 

    “How so?” I tossed my head back and flashed a smile as someone took my picture.

    “Well, don’t take this the wrong way, but you’re kind of . . . stuck-up,” Aubree said softly. 

    I put my sunglasses back on. Aubree just didn’t get me. 

    “You’re jealous,” I told her. “Maybe I need a new best friend—someone who can deal with all of this.”

iStockPhoto/Getty Images

 “Maybe you’re right,” Aubree said, her voice cracking. I thought she might be crying, but it was hard to tell because my sunglasses were so dark.

    Theo walked past us and muttered, “I’ve created a monster.” 

    After that, I stopped eating lunch with Aubree. 

    I sat with Serena Malik and her group instead. A couple of weeks earlier, they had made fun of me. Now they wanted to hear about Jackson Jax and the limo and Gary Larry. 

    After a while, though, they got tired of hearing the same stories again and again. My YouTube hits began to dwindle to only a few thousand a day, then a few hundred, then a couple. Soon it seemed like no one was watching my video anymore. The new top trending video was called “Betty & Herman.” It showed a dog and a duck that had become best friends. 

    “Your 15 minutes of fame is up,” Theo said one night.

    I was alone in my room, watching YouTube. “Huh?”

    “Andy Warhol said that everyone will be famous for 15 minutes,” Theo explained.

    “Who’s Andy Warhol?” I asked. “Does he do karaoke?”

    “He was an artist,” my brother told me. “You’re hopeless.”


    As quickly as I had become a star, it was over.

    “Hi, Julian!” I said. He was standing at his locker. “Did your cousin like the autograph?”

    He looked like he didn’t know who I was. 

    “It’s me, Emma,” I said. “You know, ‘Girl Can’t Dance.’ ”

    Even though I still sat with Serena and her friends, I was pretty much ignored. After a few days of this, I picked up my tray and walked to where Aubree was eating with a bunch of kids from our English class.

    “Hey,” I said, motioning to an empty chair. “Mind if I join you?”

    Aubree shrugged, so I sat down. No one said a word. 

    After 10 minutes of silence, I got up and left.

    As I ate alone, I thought about how I wasn’t famous for something I could do. I was famous for something I couldn’t do—sing or dance. I was famous for not being talented. If that was my 15 minutes of fame, I had wasted it.

    It took three minutes for me to do “Girl Can’t Dance,” five minutes for Theo to upload it to YouTube, and 14 million views to make me a star. And what did that all add up to? I’d lost the one friend who really counted. 

    I owed Aubree an apology. Maybe even 14 million apologies. Fame wasn’t important to me anymore. Friends were. 

    I tossed my sunglasses in the trash and headed back to Aubree. I had something to tell her. 

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