Today we have an unusual interview–with writer/former dancer, Miriam Landis. She is the author of a book about ballet…but I don’t want to give everything away so…read on!
1. How did you wind up in dance?
My mom noticed early on that I was walking around the kitchen on my tippy-toes, so she put me in dance classes before I was even three. As I grew up I enjoyed ballet more and more and discovered I was good at it. When I was thirteen I started going away for six weeks to ballet summer programs in San Francisco, Philadelphia, and eventually New York. When I was sixteen, I attended the summer program at the School of American Ballet and they invited me to return for the full school year. I moved away from my family in Salt Lake City and lived in a dorm at Lincoln Center to attend SAB for my last two years of high school. After the annual workshop performances at the end of my senior year, Edward Villella invited me to join the Miami City Ballet.
2. What was your career like?
It was a whirlwind. I joined Miami City Ballet when I was eighteen and started dancing soloist and principal roles within a year. My first big part was the Flower Festival in Genzano pas de deux. I worked hard and the big parts came quickly. I danced leading roles Scotch Girl in Scotch Symphony, the ballerina doll in The Steadfast Tin Soldier, and even Liberty Bell in Stars and Stripes. By the time I was twenty-two I felt like I had accomplished what I wanted in ballet and was ready for a change of direction. Ballet was such a core part of my identity that it was difficult to move on. It’s still a huge part of who I am today and I’ve been able to apply the discipline and other skills in many other aspects of my life. I also made lifelong friends who I’ll feel connected with forever. I was fortunate to have the experience of dancing with such a prestigious company and felt so close to the people I trained and performed with every day for four years. My whole world revolved around dance during that time in my life.
3. What have you done since you retired from dance?
I branched out my interests when I left. I traveled through Europe and did two different study abroad programs in France. In fact, much of the book was written while I was living in France at a time in my life when i could reflect in a meaningful way. I completed all of the pre-med courses in college but eventually decided I didn’t want to become a doctor. l found it hard to go from working with bodies in perfect form to bodies with disease without becoming emotionally overcome. I switched my major to English instead and pursued a career in publishing. I started writing “Girl in Motion” during my junior year of college. After I graduated from Stanford I moved back to New York and worked as an assistant editor at a major publishing house in New York. Three years later I had a great opportunity to move to Seattle and work at Amazon in book merchandising. I’ve been in Seattle for three years and met my husband here.
There were two reasons. One was that I read a lot of ballet books as I grew up and never found one that fully reflected what my experience was like. I felt a real need to share what I learned with younger ballet students. Second, the writing was also for myself. I was trying to come to terms with leaving the ballet world, and writing was a good way to process my experience.
5. What audience is the novel aimed at?
It’s for ballet students and their parents, and anyone who is interested in ballet.
6. How did you draw on your personal experience with dance in terms of your writing?
I wrote about the emotions I felt and the struggles I watched my friends go through. The feelings remain vivid in my mind ten years later. It was easier to examine how we became professionals through the lives of fictional characters because so many of the themes are universal to every young dancer.
7. What was the experience of writing a novel like?
It was so challenging. There was too much I wanted to say and didn’t know how to express in words. Dancing is all about saying things without words, and writing is completely the opposite. I wrote so many drafts of “Girl in Motion.” At certain times it was in third person, had different titles, and focused on different characters. I tried so many different ways of expressing the story.
The publishing industry is difficult and a unique business world, which makes getting published through traditional routes a real challenge, especially if you don’t already have a persuasive way to market the book. Publishers want to see that. I’d say to worry about that later though, and first try to write the book. I always felt the challenge was to refrain from over-dramatizing ballet the way you often see it in done in films. It wasn’t easy to make the dancers seem like real characters that normal people can relate to, and that’s really important in a novel. Most people don’t go through the specific intense competition involved in a dancer’s life, and dancers’ experiences aren’t universal. Fiction needs to have more universal themes.
9. Can you share a favorite memory from when you were dancing?
One of my favorite memories was my very first performance with Miami City Ballet. We were dancing Western Symphony at the Olympics in Atlanta. I remember standing in the wings and watching all the dancers creating the ballet together, and there was just this incredible feeling of teamwork and love for what we were doing. I could see every person pushing themselves, concentrating, and striving for something larger than we could have done alone. The energy was just incredible.
I was so excited to be a part of it.
10. Where can people purchase your book?
The easiest place to find “Girl in Motion” is on Amazon.com.
You can also join the “Girl in Motion” Facebook page.
I’d love to know what people think of “Girl in Motion,” so don’t hesitate to post a review on Amazon or make comments on the Facebook page.
I hope people enjoy the book!
BIO: Miriam Wenger-Landis was a student at the School of American Ballet and a professional ballerina with the Miami City Ballet. She graduated from Stanford University and lives in Seattle.