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Ballet Talk for Dancers

Books: Bunheads


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gavotteindmajor

It was a fun read, but as 123dancing said, there was a sense of bitterness (maybe because the author was let go from her company?). Flack managed to portray almost every dancer as obsessed, self-absorbed, isolated from the world or just plain mean. All the dancers seem to have some sort of dieting obsession and she mentioned some of the dancers being ultra bony or super thin, which was odd, because the average 21st century dancer may be thin, but still looks well-fed. She also made it seem like all the students had no Plan B for if they didn't get out of the company. Hanna has an almost comical ignorance of the college world, which is odd, because she would have been looking at colleges (just in case) before she received her company contract, and even besides that, one only needs to watch the average American sitcom to learn about the outside world. Or watch the news. Or own a computer.

 

I also found it strange that Hanna wouldn't keep in touch with any non-dancing friends from school. She does mentions a PCS-esque academic school that the MBS students go to, but those schools aren't exclusively for dancers. So there goes the clannish, isolated image of the ballet dancer again. She never even mentions friends from school before she moved to NYC before she was 14. And I'm not quite sure how well this company seems to pay, but doesn't Hanna seem to be a bit too well off for a dancer with her own apartment, no mention of a part-time job and a habit of eating out every day?

 

However, if I want to say something good about this book, it was that it did give some sort of peek into the life of a company dancer. The way the casting worked, the dancers' attitude towards the Nutcracker (I actually loved that bit), and even the principal dancer who wasn't perfect, but got her title due to her artistry and passion rather than technique.

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...and even besides that, one only needs to watch the average American sitcom to learn about the outside world...

Tehe, I would hope the outside world is slightly different than it is portrayed on most American sitcoms! :P
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gavotteindmajor

Well, yeah, it would be odd if life was a sitcom (but on the bright side, everyone would laugh at my jokes!). But even I understand (coming from a girl whose had ballet after school since she was ten) that there is a world where you go to school, then go to lacrosse/football/cheerleading/etc practice or newspaper club, or yearbook committee, get home by 5, do homework and chat online with your friends about what dress you are wearing to homecoming/prom/spring-fling/etc. And those are usually represented in sitcoms and even teen dramas (except with some dramatic situations and a laugh track thrown in).

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I agree with you there. It reminded me of the book Dancing Through Fire, which takes place in 1870 in Paris. I don't know how historically accurate it is, but I'm willing to bet that most of the petits rats couldn't read then, and knew little of the outside world. Hannah can read, obviously, but she's sheltered in the same way they are. I would hope that that is misrepresented! On the other hand, if she had known about the "outside world" in greater detail beforehand, do you think she'd have chosen to leave ballet? It almost reminds me of the contrary child--tell them they can't do something, and they'll immediately do anything they can to do it. Or the saying about the grass being greener on the other side of the fence.

 

(Is this making sense?)

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gavotteindmajor

In 1870, the petite rats could either be dancers or work in textile factories (am I correct?). Hanna's situation is more of a fair choice, because with a few scholarships and student loans, she could have gone to college if she wanted to. And as you mentioned, Hanna could read. One doesn't even need to watch the news properly to know about what's going on in the world. Absentmindedly reading the headlines on someone's newspaper on the train or bus, or even the newspapers that lie on the street or on top of trash cans can give you insight. One thing about metropolitan cities is that people have a tendency to speak loudly, so you can't help but overhear conversations. Of course, Hanna's choice was completely up to her, but I feel like the writer almost made the ballet world seem like a totalitarian government, with censorship and radical ideas drilled into your head for hours every day. When Hanna left it seemed more like she was making some sort of major defection from the USSR or 1960-70s China to the US (Mao's last dancer anyone?), with the ballet company seen as a terrible, terrible place, not just a retiring dancer who wants to go to college and write.

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It was an extremest presentation of the situation. As you point out, even reading headlines can help you get a sense of what's happening in the world. I agree with the totalitarian government comparison. The only person who I really admired in the book was that one corps dancer (what was her name?) with the yoga obsession. She knows she'll always be in the corps, and that doesn't bother her, because she loves to dance. Everyone else seems to get caught up in the pettiness and rumors and forget why they're even there: to dance.

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gavotteindmajor

Her name was Leni. And I really did like her...I kept wishing in the end that Otto magically promoted her to soloist :) . However, since I had to look at my copy to find the older dancers name, I did find Flack's attempt at the mainstream world: Blink-182 and Maroon 5. But then again, I don't know anyone who talks about Maroon 5 anymore, except for their older songs. But I guess it's the thought that counts...

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And as a teenager who has no idea what Blink-182 and Maroon 5 are (I don't listen to anything more recent than the 80s...), I'll point out that music is not just the issue here. It's almost like a basic understanding of how to do things we'd consider normal doesn't exist in Hannah. Like she has no contact with "real people" who exist outside her little company sphere. Even having a boyfriend (which I don't have, but many people my age do) is a foreign concept to her. I still feel like she made a hasty decision prompted by her desire for "another life".... :nixweiss: But this comes from a sworn researcher, so perhaps I'm not the best judge.

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gavotteindmajor

Yeah, I feel that part was too hasty. Less of "I'm rethinking my career choices right now" and more like "Heck, let's go to college!" What really got me was that when Hannah realized she wasn't doing ballet just for the love of it anymore, she didn't make an effort to get back into it. She didn't try to take open classes where no one was judging her and she could focus on her corrections by herself. She didn't try taking an odd jazz class at Steps just to dance for fun. Even when she went to the little girl's ballet performance, she didn't just coo at the pure cuteness of it all, and instead thought about how the ballet world would ruin the girl like it ruined her. She just...left.

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It felt more like a rebellion than anything--a rejection. I wonder if she'd regret it later....

 

I wonder if perhaps instead of being a bad story, it's an example of what can happen to a person whose self-worth is determined entirely externally, rather than internally. I'm not talking about an "I'm the best" attitude, but a healthy idea of who you are. I almost find a lack that in all of her reactions and relationships. Maybe that's really what I like about Leni....

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Excellent dissection of the book, Dancers!

Thank you.

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  • 1 year later...

Spoiler Alert!!

 

My personal analysis:

 

I did like the character of Leni a lot, particularly because the things she had to say seemed the most worthwhile and meaningful out of any of the characters. Hannah actually reminded me of myself in one aspect: the way she is easily pushed around by other people (Zoe, Matt, etc.). This is one of the things I dislike about myself the most; if someone is nice to me, I can't help but act the same to them, and then they can turn around and be a complete jerk. So I sympathized with Hannah on that part of the story, but did find some of her decisions odd, like when she left the company just as she was getting to where she wanted to be....

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