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Books: Off Balance

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Forgive me if this has been hashed out before. I did use the search but still could not find anything. Maybe I didn't use the right words? Anyway, reference to the book "Off Balance" has been made a couple of times so I got curious, looked it up in Amazon.com and noticed that it was written a while back. Would it still be a good read for today's world of ballet? Is it still relevant?

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I have not read the book, but I did read the reviews and summaries on Amazon.com. Based on the reviews (which may or may not represent the actual book), I'd have to say yes, it's still relevant today. I can cite RECENT, well-documented examples of every one of the ominous notes sounded in the reviews. A dancer who recently retired was quited in the press as calling ballet "brutal". The press said that this dancer was unusually restrained in her criticisms of the art upon retirement.


On the other hand, I am a professional dancer myself, I have chosen to pay the price required to dance. There are some really wonderful things about dancing. But for each of us, there is a limit to how much we are willing to pay in order to dance. Like many other dancers, I constantly question whether another year of a dance career is worth the price to me. You have to be kind of neurotic and driven to keep going on and on.


I think it just helps to keep things in perspective and try to be a whole person. Dance is wonderful, but it's just one small corner of life. When I remember how much is outside the studio walls, I get less uptight about my dancing and I enjoy it more.

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  • 9 months later...
Guest lurry

I probably should be discussing this on the book forum, however, I thought that this book should be read by parents.


I came across a couple of articles written in a magazine called Geo. Geo was magazine that was in publication in the early 80's, and similar to a national geographic format. Well, the magazine had a very interesting article written by Suzanne Gordon about the ballet world and ballet dancers. It was so wonderful, I have kept it for reference.


Back to the book, when I met werlkj, she was telling about this great book called "Off Balance" by Suzzane Gordon she was reading, which sounded very similar to the articles I had read. Well, low and behold, it was.


Since then, I had to obtained a copy through a used book store. (because Barns and Nobles said they couldn't get in, it was out of publication). This book is sooo wonderful, if you haven't read it, I suggest you get a copy. I just wish she would write a follow-up book to see if the ballet world has evolved since it was written. It probably has, but how much. It would be great to be able to contrast the eras. :P

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I hadn't heard of this book, so I read the reviews of it on amazon. Wow, it sounds pretty harsh and depressing. Any others who've read it? It talks about mandatory weigh-ins, for example, and I thought those weren't generally done anymore. In fact, I'd heard that the ballanchine-thin dancer is becoming less the standard and that you can find greater variety in dancers these days, at least in some companies.


I'm sure I'm not the only conflicted ballet mom out there. I've gotten lots of negative feedback just by allowing my daughter to study ballet. (But in general I find that people feel free to tell you when, in their unsolicited opinion, you are messing up at a parent.) But when you have a child with a passionate avocation, it seems almost worse to prevent her from following her heart, especially when it's HER decision to sacrifice social life and other things.


I read an old post on ballettalk when I first signed up that really helped me. Another ballet mom kept asking her daughter if she wanted to continue with ballet and her daughter finally told her that this line of questioning hurt her feelings. I, too, have been guilty of this. After reading that post I asked my daughter if it hurt her feelings when I asked that. She said no, but it annoyed her. I told her that I just wanted to be very clear that this pursuit is something she has chosen, and is not being forced on her. And that if she wanted to quit ballet, I'd be OK with that *but* I do think it's pretty cool that she has this gift, this passion, and such fierce determination to pursue it. She sat up straighter at that. I also told her I wouldn't continue to ask that question and she needs to let me know if the situation changes.


But I still have worries and concerns. :P And that's why it's nice to have this forum...



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The book is quite old, Sharon, and I think is speaking of things that used to be and not necessarily what takes place today. Hopefully :P

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Hopefully, you're right. And furthermore, it's good to remember that the book was written from one person's point of view and based on what the writer chose to see and write about.


On the other hand, I have read and heard much that would indicate that the ballet world hasn't changed as much as one would hope. And call me a cynic, but I think people have the same weaknesses and fatal tendencies as they always have. It doesn't do anybody any good to pretend some things don't exist.


The book is not very well edited (a bit redundant and circular at times), but it's a quick read. I think that those parents with older sons and daughters who hope to eventually dance professionally should read it and have their kids read it also. If nothing else, it's a very useful tool for opening the discussion about subjects that some people would rather avoid. Forewarned is forearmed....

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  • 6 months later...

I recently picked up a copy of Suzanne Gordon's 1983 book, "Off Balance: The Real World of Ballet" from our library. I'm not that far in, and already it's depressing the daylights out of me. My sense is that a lot has changed for the better in the dance world since this was written, but I'm wondering if anyone who knows the book and knows the dance world can tell me if it has.

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I read the book a long time ago, but I don't have any first hand knowledge of how accurately it portrays today's dance world.


However... when I read a book like that, I think of how I would describe my life to someone. If I wanted to paint a flattering picture of it, I could tell you about my wonderful family, their great accomplishments, the love that we share, and how blessed we are, blah, blah, blah. But if I wanted to tell you how hard life can be, I can come up with all kinds of weird family members, sad stories, and whine on endlessly about how stressed out my life is. Both descriptions would be technically true, and yet somehow false at the same time. Books with an agenda to prove usually ignore the other side. I would imagine that the ballet world has both good and bad, just like real life.

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No, the author interviewed a number of ballet students and professional dancers (Gelsey Kirkland among them) about the allegedly awful conditions they trained and worked under. There was a lot about the pressure to be thin and how a lot of dancers had eating disorders and how tyrannical the company managers were. There was also a section on the dancers' union -- I think there was a demonstration or strike that the author used to show how dancers were finally taking control of their destiny rather than being treated like terminal children. The book struck me as of its era -- ie, it was during that time (1970s?) that the veil was being lifted on any number of institutions and revealing sort of the ugly side of a beautiful thing.

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thanks for that link, Mrs. Stahlbaum. I didn't think to search that forum as well! I agree with the assessment that, even for its time, the writing seems to promote its agenda. I know some of the early descriptions of how "horrible" the corrections given in classes are struck me as much ado about nothing. In any art, sport or passionate undertaking, there will be practices that strike outsiders as weird, horrid or inhumane. But to an insider, there's nothing odd about it all. I think it's the case that Gordon is trying to make, though, about the insensitivity of professional training programs that worried me most. That's what I would like reassurance on -- that programs today care more about the whole student than they did then.

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There used to be the school of autobiography practiced by dancers which ran, "Oh, woe is me, I have such a tough life, it hurts, I might as well be a nun, woe, woe, woe, etc." Gelsey Kirkland broke this mold, mostly with Too Much Information, but she still went for the "poor little me" angle. Toni Bentley has definitely broken out of this, but to what good?

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There used to be the school of autobiography practiced by dancers which ran, "Oh, woe is me, I have such a tough life, it hurts, I might as well be a nun, woe, woe, woe, etc." 

I think it would interesting to read such books as a point of comparison for say, other dance autobiographies that are written in a more thoughtful tone of voice. Can you remember any of the titles, Mel?


Also, because I don't want to completely derail chauffeur's thread :) , I should add that I have read Gordon's "Off-Balance", and I did find it very disturbing. She wrote it during the "ballet boom" era (I think, I don't have my copy with me right now), so it's hard for me to tell how much of it she was portraying accurately, or perhaps sensationalizing for her audience. However, it must have done some good, at least, because most companies today offer more benefits. I think ABT has a clause in theirs that specifically states that every theatre they perform in must have one of those "sprung" type floors, rather than the cement kind that can wreak havoc on a dancer's joints. And NYCB has some kind of program with Fordham, I think, that encourages dancers to pursue a bachelor's degree without disrupting their dance schedule too much (i.e. I think Jenifer Ringer has a degree in English.)


But yes, Suzanne Gordon should definitely think about updating her book with a new foreword about how things have changed.

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