When you write a book with ballet as the backdrop it seems a large number of people think you will be writing it from the perspective of an adult who has been emotionally arrested at the age of 12 years old, with all the hopes and dreams of a novice dancer intact and without any of the reality of the dance world, or life itself, seeping in. I cannot and will not ever be able to write a book like this for many reasons.
When I was a young dancer (as young as 7 or 8) the visions in my head of dancing as I drifted off to sleep were not of Sugar Plum Fairies or Barbie ballerinas. No, my convoluted brain was convoluted even back then. My vision, like that of many other little girls, was one in which I wore a beautiful pink tutu and danced my heart and soul out on the stage. But here is where my visions varied. Every night, it was the same: even though I gave my all, the audience didn’t appreciate me and, instead of that giant hook coming out from the wings to drag me off the side of the stage, a noose would come down from above and, well, you can picture the rest.
My visions did not scare me away from dance though. On the contrary, I pursued dance as an adult, for my career. While pursuing this career, I saw how men were in charge of a largely female-populated pool of young hopefuls. I saw how one of those hopefuls would invariably become the choreographer’s favorite. I saw the manipulation, the gaslighting, by those with the power to judge an audition, the power to cast a show.
And there was the sex. There was a lot of it. And it didn’t matter if you were male, female, or otherwise. All’s fair in that game.
Dance is a very personal and intimate profession. At any moment, a woman can have any number of people’s hands on her in any and all places—think a woman spread eagle being held aloft over the heads of five men, one of those men has his hands squarely in the middle. (I hesitate to relay this next part, it’s not for sensitive readers. But… There was an incident where I trained as a young adult wherein the spread-eagle woman had an unfortunate hole in her unitard out of which her tampon string hung.)
The space separating one person from another is very thin. You are covered in other dancers’ sweat, other dancers’ blood. You breath the same breath. You are always berated, you are never good enough. (I had a company director tell me once that I “had a weird body.” In front of a rehearsal room of people. And then I lived with that.) You stare at your flaws unceasingly in the mirror, you’re lucky to get a paycheck. And, at every moment, you are keenly aware that you are quickly approaching an expiration date. Seeing a 39-year-old dancer is as rare as seeing a zebra in the city.
Apparently, not for me, but for others, a book about ballet conjures the purity of Christmas morning, the innocence of youth, and the hopefulness of someone that hasn’t existed in the real world. A life in the performing arts is anything but. It’s cruel, it’s grueling, it’s intensely personal. Everyone brings with them their own issues from the lives they’d led before.
It’s also a place of acceptance, of great love. But in the dance world, as in the reality in which we all exist, it’s difficult to know the difference between another person’s true feelings and another person’s extrapolation onto you of their own inability to feel and express true love.
My first novel Delia Rising is about all of these things and more.