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Ballet Talk for Dancers

Books: Off Balance


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Having never found a dancer's autobiography that wasn't written without a big dollop of self-pity and/or substance abuse, I've always said to myself that this is probably because all the emotionally healthy and happy dancers were too busy being healthy and happy to write their autobios! :rolleyes: I still cling to that hope.

 

But, to be fair to Gordon, as a journalist, I must say she clearly did a ton of research and spent a lot of time with her subjects. As a ballet mom, though, I must say -- couldn't she have found one ballet parent who was doing it right?! :o

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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?

 

Well, there's Merrill Ashley's Dancing for Balanchine which has a good deal of this going on, but for a particularly egregious example of the genre, try Winter Season by -- Toni Bentley!

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Dance_Scholar_London

Are both of them written during the same period?

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About 2 years apart. Bentley in '82, Ashley in '84.

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  • 1 month later...
Guest dancer04

This is fascinating. I am currently reading Off Balance and it really is opening my eyes to the ballet world in the 70s. I find it absolutely horrific, but it makes me want to work harder in class. Last year I ready Toni Bentley's book and loved it. I think I'll get Merrill Ashley's next!

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Having never found a dancer's autobiography that wasn't written without a big dollop of self-pity and/or substance abuse, I've always said to myself that this is probably because all the emotionally healthy and happy dancers were too busy being healthy and happy to write their autobios!  I still cling to that hope.

 

I think Toni Bentley says something along those lines in Winter Season, actually.

 

I'm not sure that all autobiographies of dancers are necessarily so self-pitying. Margot Fonteyn's autobiography, for instance was actually overly enthusiastic. She paints a rosy picture of many aspects of her life that were not so rosy. Similarly, Suzanne Farell's autobiography does not delve too much into self-pity, even when she is essentially exiled from Balanchine's company, etc... Certainly Gelsey Kirkland's was much more "let me give you excruciatingly specific accounts of my misery," but it's not always a trend before (Fonteyn) or since (Farell).

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  • 4 months later...

I haven't read Off Balance, but after reading your posts I already placed and order at Amazon.co.uk :P

 

I may be weird :wub: , but I actually have G. Kirkland's book both in English and in Finnish, I also found Bentley's book interesting.

 

I think it's always important to keep in mind the right context, but generally speaking I find all background and offstage information extremely fascinating!

 

Having that said; I can very well imagine that to the contemporaries some things in those books (for instance) may be annoying and some may feel that some things should have been left out...

 

I'm very glad about this tip on Off Balance, thanks! I'm already looking forward to reading it! :)

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Two dancer autobios that seem to give fairly balanced perspectives are "Theatre Street" by Tamara Karsavina (don't know if it's still in print) and "Choura" (pronounced "Shur-ah") by Alexandra Danilova.

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Don't know if I'm allowed to post this, so moderators please delete if necessary. And apologies if it appears that I'm tooting my own horn... no such intention!

 

That said, this link might be interesting to those of you interested in the book.

 

I've been running a dance-related book club over on ballet.co for about a year now, and one of the books we discussed a few months ago was Off Balance. The link is here:

Book Club Discussion - Off Balance

 

We also did Theatre Street this year, so have a look for that - I really liked it, and am now so itchy to go to St. Petersburg!!!

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