by Emily Kate Long
Being the daughter of a librarian has its advantages. My mother was head of collection development—in layman’s terms, the book buyer—at Saint Mary’s College in Notre Dame, Indiana, for over twenty years before she retired last May. She is also a closet bunhead. I have her to thank for the bulk of my personal dance library: Jock Soto’s memoir, Stephen Manes’ Where Snowflakes Dance and Swear, Kavanaugh’s Nureyev biography, the anthology Reading Dance, Homans’ Apollo’s Angels, No Fixed Points by Reynolds and McCormick, and several volumes by Gretchen Ward Warren. She showers me with books faster than I can plow through them, and most of these treasures are at least the thickness and weight of a brick. As a result, I have become a literary grazer. This installment of Finding Balance is my “Recommended Reading List: Works for Enrichment and Escape.” Enjoy, and please comment with your personal favorites!
Where Snowflakes Dance and Swear: Inside the Land of Ballet by Stephen Manes was waiting in a package at my doorstep one January evening when I got home from rehearsal. Delight! Manes spent a season as a fly on the wall at Pacific Northwest Ballet. Reading inside details of the dance world from an outsider’s perspective is both amusing and informative. Manes is a thorough storyteller, examining each aspect of the ballet—organizational machine, community institution, and artistic creature. I wish there could be a new book every season.
I was less than halfway done with Manes’ stellar work when Mom brought me Jock Soto’s Every Step You Take. Of course I couldn’t help but peek inside. Anecdotes, reflections, and recipes fill this easy-to-read, yet profound, memoir. Now forty pages in, I’m having a hard time setting this one aside. It’s like sitting and having a conversation with a living legend.
I can’t get enough nonfiction. Contrasting with the relatively narrow scope of one dancer or one company, Apollo’s Angels: A History of Ballet by Jennifer Homans is just that—detailed history and commentary beginning at the beginning and continuing into the twentieth century. I found it to be extremely heavy reading, but I’m also embarrassingly under-qualified. My knowledge of Western history in general and ballet history in particular extends barely later than the end of the nineteenth century. I found myself repeatedly flipping back to the endnotes and bemoaning my lack of a good, solid liberal arts college education. This thing is so thorough it could be a textbook.
Another broad-scope work I love is Robert Greskovic’s Ballet 101: A complete Guide to Learning and Loving the Ballet. No university degree required for this one. It answers the when, who, how, and what of ballet in four succinct sections and is a truly useful ballet-lover’s handbook. Notably, it contains over 150 pages of resources—videography and bibliography—at the end.
Last but not least on my list is Ballet Across Borders by anthropologist Helena Wulff. It, like Snowflakes, is an inside look by a relative outsider (relative in that Wulff trained seriously in ballet but did not pursue a career), but rather than tackling the particulars of any one company, it looks at ballet as a transnational entity. It is a social and cultural study of dancers as a population.
What I love most about all these books is their sense of context. It’s so easy to get caught up in the cycles of class, rehearsals, teaching, and performing and forget what we are all actually a part of. Ballet is antique and current, universal and personal.
Those are my top five, at least until next time my mother visits! I now put it you, readers: What are your favorite dance resources? I would love to know about them!
BIO: Contributor Emily Kate Long began her dance education in South Bend, Indiana, with Kimmary Williams and Jacob Rice and graduated in 2007 from Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre School’s Schenley Program. Ms Long attended Milwaukee Ballet School’s Summer Intensive on scholarship before being invited to join Milwaukee Ballet II in 2007. She also has spent summers studying at Saratoga Summer Dance Intensive, Miami City Ballet, Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre School, Pittsburgh Youth Ballet, and Ballet Chicago.
Ms Long has been a member of Ballet Quad Cities since 2009. She has danced featured roles in Deanna Carter’s Ash to Glass and Dracula, participated in the company’s 2010 tour to New York City, and most recently performed the title role in Courtney Lyon’s Cinderella and the role of Clara in The Nutcracker. Prior to joining Ballet Quad Cities Ms Long performed with Milwaukee Ballet and MBII in Michael Pink’s The Nutcracker and Candide Overture, Petipa’s The Sleeping Beauty and La Bayadére, Balanchine’s Who Cares?, Bournonville’s Flower Festival in Genzano and Napoli, and original contemporary and neoclassical works by Tom Teague, Denis Malinkine, Rolando Yanes, and Petr Zaharadnicek.