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Books: Gelsey Kirkland

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spingirl

I just finished reading both of her books in the last couple of weeks. The picture I come away with was of a very young woman with absolutely no self-esteem or self-knowledge. In fact, I really get a feeling of emotional abuse underlying much of her story. She absolutely couldn't seem to function without male approval--whether from her father, Balanchine, or her current boyfriend. The strangest part to me was that as soon as she agreed to dance with Baryshnikov if he defected, she began sleeping with him too. And she hardly knew him! It was as if it were part of the bargain to be dancing with him.

 

It's not a pretty book, and I'm sure she regrets writing some of the more sordid parts of it, but I suspect that things were more difficult for her than even the book can get across. I think there must have been a lot of problems within her family--her sister is not mentioned after the first couple of chapters of the first book, and never spoken of at all in the second.

 

Whatever--we can never know what really goes on inside someone, especially in such a pressure-cooker system as ballet was at that time.

I wonder how her career would have been if she were in her prime now instead of thirty years ago. We know so much more about emotions and how to deal with them, and I get the impression that the whole ballet world nw is much more seriously concerned about the issue of weight and health. Who knows what she might have been now!

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Guest adancingartistforlife

I remember meeting Gelsey in 1975. She and Ivan Nagy guested with our compnay. They did Don Q. I had NO IDEA the stuff that was going on with her was going on. She was a total professional

 

I just read the book this past summer. It really put 2 & 2 together for me, and the 2's were separated by 30 years.

 

I'll tell you though, she was an AMAZING dancer.

 

The 70's were an interesting period for a lot of dancers.

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LEB50
I just started it!!what does every1 else think of it???

 

I just finished the book yesterday. I am wondering how Ms Kirkland would feel if Mikhail Baryshnikov had told all manner of confidential and unflattering details about her via a "tell-all" book. One cannot help but wonder that some of what she published (e.g. his feelings about his mother) was shared with her in confidence. There was great deal written in this book which presents others in a very unflattering light without said persons ever having the opportunity to respond or defend themselves. There is a definite air of victimization about this story which (sometimes not too subtlely) suggests that others (Balanchine, Baryshnikov, a variety of callous lovers, acquaintences, or family members) are somehow responsible for her fate.

 

We are ever responsible for our own fates. Others cannot hold power over us - we can only abdicate our responsibility for ourselves over to them. In her defense, Ms Kirkland did later apologize to Baryshikov and others who she might have been hurt in writing this book and that is about all she can reasonably do at this point. She certainly cannot "unpublish" the book but I believe the whole issue is a word to the wise. One must be careful about blaming others for one's own actions. More importantly, one must be very careful about what is put in writing, esp in this era of electronic data. This is a good lesson to anyone, particularly as it applies to sending out email or posting to the internet. Once posted or emailed, it goes out there for all eternity and is not something which can easily be later retracted. Forwarded email has a way of turning up in the darnest places.

 

When I first considered the impact of this book on the young and hopeful dancers out there, I did shutter at what they would be exposed to amidst the pages of this book. I have since reconsidered, however. We cannot shield our our children forever and this writing just may be as good an entry as any to expose and introduce them to some of the inevitable pitfalls in life. Certainly, she was not in anyway pornographic and always she was tasteful in how she presented the intimate details of her story. It may well be a good introduction to a young girl about the need to be cautious in matters of the heart and, much more importantly, the need to stay away from all manner of illegal drugs, including the use of prescription drugs without authorization from a healthcare provider. Kirkland graphically depicts the evils of drug addiction and how insidiously it can overtake one's life. Sharing this aspect of her life is much to her credit and, hopefully, her having done so will make an impression on some of her young fans. Perhaps someone or someones will avoid drugs after reading this account. There is never any valid reason to use cocaine and nothing good will ever come of it regardless of how much one would like to delude oneself into thinking otherwise.

 

Finally, on a positive note, I very much enjoyed watching Kirkland perform in Baryshikov's Nutcracker. It was utterly elegant and nothing short of inspiring. As a healthcare provider, what I absolutely cannot fathom is how she managed to perform in that manner while under the grip of cocaine and anorexia. Such a feat must be due to enormous underlying talent and/or discipline. One can only imagine what she would have done without the burden of drug addiction and anorexia. Whatever she is or is not, she will always deserve credit for providing such an awe-inspiring performance to so many who viewed the VHS/DVD of this performance. If her story helps even one young person to avoid the perils of drug addiction, then it was worth the telling. I think we all need to be careful, however, of "tell all" revelations where the other persons are not there to defend themselves.

 

Lois E Brenneman, MSN, APN

Edited by Mel Johnson

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Mel Johnson

In 1976-77, Gelsey was a long way from rock bottom. That came in 1984-85. She was dancing on youth, beside any artificial additives she may have taken. She is a "light that failed", one of the sad cases of theater life that people point to, and say to their children, "See, that's what happens to show business people." :innocent:

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LEB50
In 1976-77, Gelsey was a long way from rock bottom. That came in 1984-85. She was dancing on youth, beside any artificial additives she may have taken. She is a "light that failed", one of the sad cases of theater life that people point to, and say to their children, "See, that's what happens to show business people." :innocent:

 

Mr. Johnson,

 

Indeed, such is the case - I do not recall the time sequence of the Nutcracker Ballet which she so exquisitely performed but it may well have been before her descent into hard core drugs. If so, such would explain the otherwise puzzeling phenomenon of how she did so well while under the grip of cocaine.

 

That she exposed her plight to the world is good for it may warn others of the perils of indulging in cocaine and other illicit drugs. For that part, I commend her. Where I take exception to her work, is in the "telling it all" involving the various men in her life. She portrays them in a very negative light esp where some of what she reveals about them is rather private and falls in the realm of the bedroom and other relatively confidential places.

 

It is well known that men and woman think quite differently. This phenomenon is well documented and has roots in hormonal influences as early as in-utero. I feel that Kirkland's trials and tribulations with Baryshikov (and to some extent to Balenchine) are nothing more than a varient of what we (women) all experience in our dealings with the various men in our lives. Men simply do not think as we do but that does not necessitate that we should hold them out to be villains. Nor should we reveal to the entire world that which is shared with us in confidence such that the particular man might be held up to scorn or, at very least to ridicule. Such is precisely what she has done to Barysnikov as well as many of the lovers and other men in her life.

 

Here, I feel Kirkland has done a great disservice and stooped to a level which should not be indulged - likely in the interest of soothing one's hurt feelings. It is the stuff which should be poured over with one's female friends and confidents (including, if she so wished, her then husband, Greg Laurence). It should not, however, be fodder for the voyaristic eyes of all of humanity who might later read the book. She does a great disservice to Baryshikov and the other men regarding whom she "kissed and told." We, as women, revile men who do that very thing to us - i.e. "kiss and tell." We need to afford the men in our lives the same respect as we demand of them. More importantly, however, she needed to accept responsibility for her plight and not put the blame on the various men with whom she interacted. It is easy to hold others accountable for that which should be addressed within ourselves. No one "made" a victim of this woman. If she played the role of victim then it was one of her own choosing

 

Again, Ms Kirland cannot "unpublish" the book so one would suppose her 30-year-later apology will have to suffice and, on one level, it does. While I do think this book is a bit racey for the young ballarina hopefuls who might pick up it up in hopes of getting closer to an idol, it just might be a good introduction for them into growing up. They will learn all too soon the heartaches (and also the joys) which come from our relationships with men. Hopefully, however, they will not learn first hand about the devestation which comes from experimenting with drugs. If she spares even one soul that lesson, it will be worthwhile. I trust she may have impressed many of her (young) readers with the dangers of the drug culture. Sometimes people will heed one of their peers (in this case, a fellow ballarina) far better then they will anyone else.

 

As a primary care provider, I can assure you than the stranglehood of drug addiction grips every facet of society. My addicted patients come from the very wealthy to the very indigent and in every manner and walk of life. I will acknowlege, however, as you have so aptly pointed out, that those who dwell in the arts - be it the fine/cultured arts as ballet or the else nitty gritty grass roots and heavy metals bands - seem to have more than their share of this problem. Artists, and especially the performing artists, do seem to fall prey more commonly then others. I would hope, then, that none of the young women on your (wonderful) site who are striving so hard to achieve perfection in their chosen field will fall prey to this ugly monster within their midst.

 

Lois E. Brenneman, MSN, APN

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Mel Johnson

I think Baryshnikov said it best, "It's one thing to kiss and tell, but something else entirely to **** and publish." Hardcopy media are quite mischievous. Once they're out there, they can't be called back successfully.

 

When she was writing this book, Gelsey still wasn't out of the smoking hole that was her dancing career. All of the natural defense mechanisms that the mind makes to protect itself were in place, and nothing Greg Lawrence could do could filter out the displacement and dissociation that she felt. We all knew early on that Gelsey was going to be a wonderful dancer, but we never expected the crash that she was going to suffer.

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LEB50
I think Baryshnikov said it best, "It's one thing to kiss and tell, but something else entirely to **** and publish." Hardcopy media are quite mischievous. Once they're out there, they can't be called back successfully.

 

When she was writing this book, Gelsey still wasn't out of the smoking hole that was her dancing career. All of the natural defense mechanisms that the mind makes to protect itself were in place, and nothing Greg Lawrence could do could filter out the displacement and dissociation that she felt. We all knew early on that Gelsey was going to be a wonderful dancer, but we never expected the crash that she was going to suffer.

 

 

How very well put, Mr. Johnson. I think you summed up the issues quite nicely. It has occurred to me that would be ballarinas are young women, many of whom have a very strong dedication to their chosen pursuit and probably spend a good deal of their free time practicing and immersing themselves in the culture. I think the biggest protections anyone can afford these girls against the pitfalls inherent in this book is to help them develop self-esteem and assertiveness skills.

 

I was most impressed with what I read about the dance school philosophy which the cohost of this website advocates (I am sorry, I can't remember her name). She speaks to a philosophy of training which requires total committment and tolerates no compromise. It seems to me that with all the time and energy these girls must devote to meeting such expectations, they may have little time to devote to the more mundane or social aspects of life and culture as compared to others their own age. For sure, this sitation applies to many of our star figure skaters.

 

I am thinking, then, that one good thing a school (any school) might do is have brief sessions - maybe 15 minutes or so after long formal training sessions wherein the students can talk about issues of self esteem, self-assertion, avoidance of drugs, etc., under the guidance of experienced ballet masters who run the school. I would wonder if such might go a long way to prevent tragedies such as we have witnessed on reading the book in question. I don't think the ballet masters need to be psychologists. Just experienced, older persons - the "been there and done that" folks - who can accordingly guide discussions on these very important issues.

 

Lois E Brenneman, MSN, APN

Edited by LEB50

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LEB50

I think Baryshnikov said it best, "It's one thing to kiss and tell, but something else entirely to **** and publish." Hardcopy media are quite mischievous. Once they're out there, they can't be called back successfully.

 

Mr. Johnson, your comments are very insightful. One aspect of this book which I find quite curious is its editor. For years, prior to reading the book, I was aware that Jacqueline Kennedy Onasis edited the book. I became aware of that fact around the time of her death, as this fact was mentioned in the various articles which had been written about her. I had been intending to acquire the book at some future time, in any event. It cam to my attention when my husband, a ballet afficionado, told me of it after we watched a recording of the Nutcracker sometime early in our marriage. As some may be aware, Mrs Onasis became an editor during the later years of her life, working for one of the major NY publishing houses. I just assumed that because she was the editor, the quality of this book would be of the highest standard.

 

I was surprised, then, to learn that Ms Onasis would participate in a "tell-all" book since she, of all people, was a very private person. She shunned all the prying into her life and that of her children which occurred as a result of her celebrity. It would seem totally out of character for her to edit this book! In fact, I came upon this website and this ballet forum after doing a google search to see what had been written about the book. I had some rather strong feelings after completing it which I mentioned in an earlier post. One of the comments I read somewhere was from someone who pointed out the editor (Mrs Onasis) and commented that we may well have underestimated her talents as an editor based on the putative quality of this work. My reaction was precisely the opposite. I had just assumed that she was an excellent editor and then my estimation of her talents came down considerably after reading this work. It seemed more of a "Kitty Kelly" type of book or something for the tabloids then a book of high editorial merit. I am wondering why she, who valued privacy so, would agree to edit a gossipy book of this nature.

 

Mr. Johnson, your comments here on this board have helped me understand the goings on surrounding this work considerably. I find you comments, in general, tend to shed a great deal of insight on a variety of topics as I peruse this forum. Could you comment specifically on this aspect - namely why a reputable editor would participate in this process of revealing confidential and unflattering data about prominent persons? Could it be that in the end, the only thing which matters is selling books i.e. the almighty dollar? If so, how sad? Where is there room for integrity, compassion and professionalism in all of this?

Edited by LEB50

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Mel Johnson

Once a publisher has accepted a book, it is the editor's job to get it into reasonably readable form, and to make sure that the author's work is clearly conveyed to the reader. Mrs. Onassis was, remember, a journalist before she was what she became, and although I have no direct knowledge of the editing of Dancing on my Grave, I would imagine that her reporter's nose would have been enticed by this inside scoop of what goes on the the ballet world. The 70s and 80s were a particularly drug-raddled period in American ballet, and eating disorders were far more frequent than occur now. After the deaths of such prominent dancers as Patrick Bissell, and the wreckage of Gelsey's dancing career, dancers and dance companies made wellness a whole item of high priority on the agenda. This is not to say that every dancer who passed through that period had those problems, or that ballet today is squeaky-clean, but instead is to point out that there are now mechanisms in place to address these difficult issues far more easily than was possible in those earlier times. In their own way, Kirkland's writings and interviews served a valuable purpose of being a patient presenting for diagnosis and therapy, the outfall of which was the greater awareness and willingness to treat on the part of their readers. On the whole, a good thing, what what a terrible way to have to get to a good thing! Mrs. Onassis was in the interesting position of being a muckraker like Ida Tarbell, Lincoln Steffens, Jacob Riis, and Upton Sinclair. By exposing the seamy, she helped to alleviate it.

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fandango

Read both books.

 

"Dancing on my Grave" was about sliding to the depths and coming back. "The Shape of Love" was uplifting.

 

I took the book with me when I saw R&J at Royal Ballet this spring and read about her analysis of the steps--they seemed the same to me and it was so exciting to get to understand more about her as well as about the steps.

 

Is she still married to Greg Lawrence?

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pat

I read Dancing on My Grave when it first came out, and I must admit at the time while I thought it was quite sad, I also felt it was slightly "whiny" I pulled it out again last week after reading these posts. I'm left to wonder what she would of accomplished had her choices been slightly different and to reflect on how much she was a product of the time. The 60's and 70's were an interesting period of time.

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Marga
Is she still married to Greg Lawrence?
No, she isn't. Her second husband is Michael Chernov, a theater director and former actor and dancer.

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little_dancer123

I heard there was one, and am really interested in reading it. Does anyone if there is one and if anyone has read it please tell me what it is like. Thank you very much! :P From little_dancer123 x

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Mel Johnson

Ms. Kirkland's autobiographies are a cautionary tale of "how I destroyed my career, and very nearly killed myself." Not reading for the faint of heart. (Rated for mature audiences) The first book is called Dancing on my Grave, and the second, less downbeat, is The Shape of Love.

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little_dancer123

Oh! I had no idea. It sounds interesting, I feel so sorry for her, I really didn't know any of that :P Thank you for your information Mr. Johnson. :P From little_dancer123 x :)

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