“Everything is beautiful at the ballet.“
– “At The Ballet” from the musical, A Chorus Line
The Muse, my debut novel, is set in a professional ballet company.
I am not a professional ballerina, but from the the age of 5 until I was 17, I danced ballet. It started when my mom put me in dance class, against my will. I hated going to ballet. I hated the itchy polyester leotard I had to wear. I hated the way the bobby pins in my bun pinched my scalp. I hated the slow pace and monotony of ballet class. I begged my mom to let me quit, but she wouldn’t cave. In fact, according to legend, I once threw myself on the dance studio floor and refused to get up. I had to be dragged off to the sides so that the other girls in class could continue.
I always loved to perform, though. Despite my hatred of ballet and my misbehaviors in class, I must have exuded some kind of devilish charm that my teachers liked. In my dance school’s recital, we performed as a troupe of glittery pooh-bears, and the teacher cast me as the mischievous bear that needed to be dragged off stage by the ring-master. A lead role (for a precocious six-year-old at least), and type casting at its finest.
Eventually, something shifted, and I grew to develop a love-hate relationship with ballet. I still dreaded dance class. I still hated the leotards, pink tights, and too-taut buns. The monotony of those barre exercises still put me to sleep. But, I discovered I loved to dance. I loved when we got to move around the floor. I loved whipping my head around and stretching my arms to the sky after a sharp turn. I loved the soaring leaps in grande allegro. I loved that dizzy, crazed feeling after a series of turns across the floor. It was the ultimate adrenaline kick.
In my short dance career, I attended a performing arts middle school and high school, and even danced in several semi-professional productions of The Nutcracker, Giselle, and Swan Lake. I danced seven days a week, for up to ten hours a day. I lived and breathed dance.
Some of my best memories happened in dressing rooms and in the wings of a theater. I loved backstage life. I loved fake eyelashes and tutus and the jittery feeling of standing in blackness just before the curtain rose. The camaraderie and the energy that dancers share before a performance is something I haven’t since experienced.
For many years, I thought I wanted to become a professional ballerina, but I eventually quit. I’ve never regretted it. The dance is beautiful; it still makes me ache when I go see the ballet. But ballet is a brutal art. I’ll share some more real-life experiences that made it into The Muse in a later post.