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Ballet Talk for Dancers

Books: Autobiographies of Dancers

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woops! - just discovered this page 2, so my post (above) is now irrelevant. however, i am pleased to see that alexandra agrees with me - and touched by the story, alexandra.

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Perhaps teenagers in America are very protected:) but I read 'Dancing on my Grave' when I was about 15 or 16 and I didn't find it as disturbing as some of you did. I think most intelligent and literate teenagers realise that Kirkland is not coming from a very stable mental place.

In fact, in some ways I found 'Once a Dancer' more disturbing than 'Dancing on my Grave' because Kent was much more accepting of the way she had been manipulated as a young girl and woman.

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Guest dancingfan

i read dancing on my grave when i was very young, probably about 11 or 12. it did not turn me off from gelsey or ballet in any way. in fact, i thought it was extremely well written and that she tried to be as honest as possible with her audience and herself, though some may disagree with a great deal of what was written. i also thought she was very brave in doing so. every few years i re-read the book because i love it so much. however, i do agree that not all young dancers should read this book, but i also believe that some will benefit greatly and that it is a worthwhile read for a mature teenage dancer.

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Grace, you and I must move in entirely different circles. I regularly work with many articulate, intelligent, sensible teens on a daily basis. I marvel at how much more mature and responsible they are than I was at the same age.


But getting back to the Kirkland autobiography, I do think that there are a fair number of teens so enamored with Ms. Kirkland that they're not yet able to read her autobiography objectively. There are certainly many who CAN (my own daughter among them) but that's not the group I'm concerned with. But judging from the many gushing, admiring posts I've read on ballet boards over the years, it seems that an awful lot of young dancers think that she was writing that book from a position of health. That's what bothers me.

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Guest Watermill

Yikes, Grace...I feel I need to respond to your comment because it sounds like your evaluation of a few bad apples is spoiling the whole bunch. I also happen to know that a lot of teens read this forum, and want to throw my vote in with vagansmom's.

With all due respect, there are many ballet parents who frequent this forum who are carefully guiding their intelligent literate teenagers through the trashy cultural wasteland Modern America is becoming. I'm sure there are many in Australia doing the same. Sorry you haven't met them. Try not to let some negative experiences you must have had stain your perception of all teens. And please try to remember that if parents don't parent, and schools don't teach, it's hardly the teen's fault.

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It can be difficult to find books on ballet and dancers for the general market. Is it because the topic is so specialized? Could it also be that many dancers, being in a tough and competitive world, are reluctant to write about themselves and their companies? There are some fantastic dancers out there today who have almost nothing written on them beyond a resume of their experience. A google search on dancers who have been with ballet companies for 10 or 15 years often only results in a few hits that again recite their resumes. It concerns me, from a historical point, that many stories of dancers and companies may be lost as it seems there isn't a lot of writing and publishing going on in the field, especially when it comes to biographies.


Speaking of Edward Villella's Prodigal Son, that book is a great script for a major movie. I did not want to put it down. It would be wonderful to see Villella's story on the screen, which would intersect with the lives of Ballanchine and many others, while telling the human story of Villella himself--his family struggles, his near-death, his feelings of being an outsider coming from a working-class world. Great stuff for a screenwriter to work with.

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just to clarify: i don't regard any of the teens i have taught as 'bad apples', or, as unusual, at all (except unusual in their level of dedication to a discipline like ballet) - but it is extremely rare or almost nonexistent, in my experience today, to meet one who knows anything about ballet history, apart from the name of fonteyn, and similar items of trivia. (to explain THAT phrase: not having seen her, or been alive in her lifetime, or read her autobiography, or even seen film of her, they have merely heard of the legend, and accept it as gospel - a fact of trivia, rather than something they actually know anything about, or have an opinion about.)


as (amongst other things) a teacher of ballet history, to some of the countries most talented dancers and young ballet teachers, this has stunned me - and yet i know that my experience is not unique among my peers in australia. not at all. it is common.


this doesn't mean there is anything wrong with them as people - or that they have bad parents - or bad ballet teachers - they DON'T! but life today just doesn't seem conducive to the kind of rapt focused concentrated LOVE of an artform, in one's childhood and teen years, as was the case when i was growing up - but then again, i was 'wierd' even then!


i am happily accepting that my 'wierdness' had a purpose - but i miss coming across such love today - even though the teens i speak of are far better dancers than i ever was.


the one example i can think of, of a teen who was so darned clever and in love with with the artform that i felt a great kinship, was the famed/notorious intuviel (long time balletalert members will know who i speak of).


i completely accept that you, as parents, or teachers, may well have a different experience in america - but this is my experience. not a 'bad' one, but a disappointing one, nevertheless.



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Guest Watermill

Thanks for the clarification, Grace. It's difficult to make a point (and yours is very well taken) without generalizing, but therein lies the danger of stereotyping (in this case) an entire age group based on anecdotal evidence. Your "IMO" was respectfully noted.


While studies have shown that literacy is on the upswing, no one has conducted a similar study on being "literate". I refer you to Allan Bloom's The Closing of the American Mind for a brilliant evaluation of the decline of American intellect and consequently culture. He lays much of the blame at the feet of high school and university educators.


In terms of intelligence, it comes in all forms. That scowling teenager grunting through a class on Shakespeare might be able to take apart the engine of your car. He just leads with another part of his brain. And what about the 10 year old tutoring her/his college educated parents in computer usage? And then there is "Dance Intelligence". Truly a rare wonder to behold: a soulful "thinking with the body" that confounds and defies any rational explanation. But astounding to witness at work. And definitely a form of intelligence.


All that being said, I must admit that I, as a teacher (of Dramatic Arts) share your disappointment. All we can do, I suspect, is focus on what gifts we can pass on to the dwindling numbers of those willing to receive them.


Remember: the Renaissance came after the Dark Ages!



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I'm beginning to feel nostalgic for the Dark Ages actually. There was something honest about them. The 1% of the population who cared about art and thought lived together studying and making illuminated manuscripts, while the other 99% went about pillaging or having wild parties with lots of dancing and beer :)


I can sympathize with grace's perceptions. Of course there are exceptions, and we have many of those exceptions on these boards. But there are also those stories of the 14 year old who stormed out of Suzanne Farrell's class when she was teaching at SAB, so that is now some time ago, muttering, "Did she ever, like, dance?" -- genuinely not realizing that Farrell had been a ballerina with the company.


To be fair, we can't know what we aren't taught, and if anyone is teaching dance history, or even arts awareness, to teens in general education, I'd love to know about it. It might be a good idea for ballet teachers to mention dancers of the past when they teach. They do in the old academies; combinations are given nicknames of the dancers who were noted for those particular combinations, for example, or old teachers might shout out, "Good grief, not another Kant-turnova!!" during class, which would prompt the bright student to find out whether this was a good or a bad thing.

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watermill - not to derail this thread topic, but just to explain: i actually read the phrase about 'intelligent and literate' teens, in this context, as meaning teen dance students being intelligent and literate ABOUT DANCE. i may have misinterpreted, in that way, as i can see it the original post doesn't actually say that, and you read it differently. ...just to explain. :cool:

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  • 2 weeks later...

This may be a little of the subject, Alexandra, but if someone can respond me, it will be helpful for me. Why are you speaking of the Dark Ages instead of the Middle Ages ? When you're refering to that expression, are you speaking of the whole period of the Middle Ages or just about the 10th, 11th and 12 th centuries ?

Thank you very much in advance :P

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