I am sifting through a very rough draft of a book I’ve been kicking around in my head for years—a book about ballet. This is from the introduction. It doesn’t fit anymore but it deserves to have a home. So here it is. A little nugget from March of 2011.
Dear Gentle Reader, (Aren’t readers are always gentle when referred to by their authors?)
I imagine you curled up on your sofa, drink on the coffee table. Maybe it’s hot chocolate (I myself am partial to hot chocolate) or maybe it’s a hot toddy (perhaps you are partial to those). Or maybe you are sitting on the bus reading during your commute or maybe you are too young for a job and you are instead a budding ballerina, reading this book at night in secret because you are afraid that your mother would never let you read a book that occasionally makes use of the “F” word, which—and you may not be aware of this—is a very handy word when you work in the theatre.
Perhaps you picked up this book because you wanted to know the inside story on ballet—if it is like the movie Black Swan: all sex, drugs, Rachmaninov, and I can assure you that it is. The inside story on ballet, that is. Not necessarily the stories inside this book. There isn’t much sex inside this book. The drugs are limited to over-the-counter narcotics such as nicotine and Dexatrim and the occasional extra-strength laxative. And ibuprofen. Oh, how there ever were ballet dancers before Motrin, I’ll never know. But that’s the extent of the drugs and as for Rachmanianov, really, the only thing he has in common with Tchaikovsky is the fact that they are both Russian.
But it is the inside story of ballet, the real inside story. Of hope and ambition. Of leaping and falling. Of little girls and grown women. There are shattered dreams just as there are shattered metatarsals. It is the quest for identity—artistic identity, personal identity. It is negotiation between dancing for oneself and dancing for others. After all, if all you do is run around trying to please others, you will never cultivate that one thing that people don’t even know that they want to see—that thing that constitutes your inner you. And yet, if your inner you doesn’t please at least somebody, nobody will offer you a job.
There is something very strange about the ten-year-old who can see the next twenty years of her life with perfect clarity and feels that there isn’t a moment to lose. It’s probably even stranger when she is right. And there’s something very exotic about teenagers on tour away from home, especially when they grow into long-limbed dancers who wear scarves and soak their feet and agonize over the varying slippage factors of different ribbons. But the real beauty of the stories, just like the real beauty of the dancer (or anyone, really) is what’s within. The real beauty isn’t in the shiny stuff; it’s in the grit and not because dirty is the new shiny, but because the dirt represents the humanness—the vulnerabilities. The falling down, the occasional humiliation.
A broken spirit isn’t inherently beautiful. But you know it what it’s like. You’ve been there. You have been to the place where you dance between what is expected of you and what you expect of yourself and how the universe actually operates. Sometimes the universe isn’t fair and sometimes things don’t happen for a reason. Life events do not have to have a meaning in order to be meaningful. In fact, the mantra “Be in the moment” (which I believe is the new “Just do it”) tries to illicit just that.
Maybe this book is like fog. Fog always looks like it’s somewhere else. Even when you’re deep in it. You can’t hug it. You can’t touch it. But you feel it. It embraces you. It wraps around you. And sometimes it’s heavy and sometimes it’s light. But it’s not something to take; it’s just something to experience.
I hope you enjoy the experience of this book.