The other day I was kinda staring down my copy of Ballerina, by Edward Stewart, and wondering if I could come up with an excuse to read it again, which would make it Time Number Three-
First time was before I started taking ballet. Just, you know, cruising the shelves at the thrift store, hoping for a vintage sewing book, and then Oh what’s this? Ballerina!
Was totally glamorized by all the exotic ballet words. Didn’t know what they meant but it didn’t matter.
Second time was after I’d started ballet. Wanted to see if the book was still as fun after some of the mystery had been taken out of words like plié and penché. And it was.
So I was staring it down the other day and thinking, “yeah, but it’s like 500-some pages, do I really have time to go down that rabbit hole right now…”
-and then BAM!
This email arrives in my inbox:
“I thought I would write to you because the publishing company I work for just released a novel that might be up your alley. Before such films as Center Stage and Black Swan, there was Ballerina: Edward Stewart’s acclaimed novel that follows two young women into the cutthroat world of professional dance. Today, for the first time, this classic novel is available as an ebook, bringing it to new generations of readers around the world.”
And I was like, Yes!!! I know that book!!!
Isn’t that crazy?
Anyway, so the nice lady writing the email included a link to a free review copy of the ebook, and in order to collect this copy I had to check off my occupation from a list of book publishing related occupations, which involved narrowing the options down to Book Reviewer or Media Professional. Which was like, whoa, Impostor Syndrome. Like, which one of these is less of an exaggeration/lie.
I went with Media Professional.
Anyway, the book!
Looking at other reviews on line, Ballerina is described as a delicious, bitchy romp through the (competitive!) (sexy!) (drama filled!) world of ballet. I saw it referred to as a beach read, and the closest I’ve come to reviewing it before was here, where I refer to it as a guilty pleasure.
But reading it again, I gotta say there is some really good stuff here.
And before I say about that good stuff, I just want to point out that this book was written in 1979, by a Harvard grad who worked as a composer in Paris and taught English in Helsinki before settling in New York City and writing. Mostly about cops. What I’m saying is, this dude was not a dancer. He wrote no other books about dance. But this book is amazingly insider-y. Like I would guess he followed a dancer around for a season, Richard Castle style, except that this book is more insider-y than Dance Is A Contact Sport, by Joseph H. Mazo, who actually did follow the dancers of NYCB around for their 1973 spring season.
How did Stewart do it?
Here’s a quote that has stuck in my mind ever since my first reading:
“It seemed to Steph that every dancer had to have an inner preserve of serenity, some private space to escape the world. In some dancers it took the form of stupidity; in others, a sense of humor or the ability to drop off to sleep anywhere, any time. Chris did not seem to have any sort if serenity at all, and it worried Steph.”
(Meet Stephanie, our protagonist, and Christine, our other main character.)
I pulled this out because I think it’s really interesting, the necessity of creating an inner retreat, and it reminds me of this idea of having a Work Self and a Home Self, or maybe a Social Me and a Real Me, you know like how you might say to a friend, “you sounded so serious on the phone the other day, was everything ok?” And then your friend might say, “oh yeah that was just Work Me, she’s a real hardass.”
Like how we kind of allow ourselves different roles in different situations, and that is very freeing, like, for example, I’m not a bossy perfectionist, but Work Self is. And that’s ok because she’s the one that gets the job done.
But when your work is your body, and all criticism and praise of your work is also of your self, it would be that much more impossible to partition yourself, like there’s nothing to protect you or distance you from Work You except for an inner preserve of serenity.
And then all this thinking about separate selves made me notice that this is a theme in a fair amount of the ballet stories I’ve read.
Two main characters who push each other and cling to each other and are basically two aspects of one person.
In Ballerina you’ve got Stephanie and Christine,
In Bunheads by Sophie Flack you’ve got Hannah and Zoe,
In Cranes Dance by Meg Howrey you’ve got Kate and Gwen,
And of course in the movie Black Swan you’ve got Nina and Lily.
Anyway so that’s just a sample of the Totally Deep Thoughts you might have while reading this book.
If you are interested, here’s a link to the page for Ballerina on Open Road Media.
Or just keep an eye out next time you’re thrift shopping.
And here’s a disclaimer:
Disclaimer: I received a free review copy of the ebook.
I was not asked to review the book, I was not paid to review the book, and I will not earn any kind of commission from sales of this book or link clicks or anything like that.
Disclaimer 2: Wooooo! I got to read a free ebook of a book I already own!!!!!!