Books & Magazines
Reading Ballerina by Edward Stewart is like snacking on too many Girl Scout Cookies. There’s something sentimental about them, and it’s so hard to just have one. Chapter after juicy (and sometimes eye-roll-inducing) chapter, I couldn’t put this novel down.
Ballerina was originally published in 1979. The latest edition comes in e-book format from Open Road Publications. At 500 pages, it’s a quick read with plenty of theatrics. A few of the forty-nine chapters seem like separate episodes in the often scattered plot, and as a whole the book has the slightly dated feel of a yellowing Polaroid photo. If you’re looking for a good soap-opera-type travel read, though, this definitely fits the bill.
The plot follows dancers Stephanie Lang and Christine Avery from their audition for the country’s top ballet school at age sixteen into their early twenties as they navigate promising careers, romance, and friendship. Steph’s overbearing mother Anna and the manipulative artistic director Marius Volmar are in turns detestable and pitiable as secondary characters, twisting and prodding Steph and Chris for personal gain.
The world Stewart creates is one of catty backstabbing and sleeping around—think Dancers, The Turning Point, or Center Stage. Despite the book’s shortcomings, the intrigue of the insider-outsider dance world makes Ballerina a readable jaunt for dancers and non-dancers alike. I rate it three stars out of five for exciting drama but lack of depth, and PG-13 for some strong language and few graphic scenes—it’s not a novel for the Girl Scout-age set.
Judith Peterson knows dancers’ health. She served the Pennsylvania Ballet for ten years as attending physician and is currently a member of the International Association of Dance Medicine and Science, the American Medical Association, and the American Academy of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation.
Her book covers the whats, hows, and whys of anatomy that are most relevant to dancers. The functional descriptions of each body structure (spinal regions, cardiovascular system, hips, knees, ankles, feet, and toes) are thorough enough to be really useful but presented simply. Most importantly, each chapter includes a bulleted summary and practical exercises for each body region. Dance Medicine Head to Toe makes it easy to see why anatomical knowledge is important to dancers and how they can put that knowledge into practice.
An especially important feature of this book (aside from the high quality and effective presentation of the information, of course) is the emphasis Peterson places on getting help from a qualified dance medicine professional rather than trying to ignore pain or “tough it out,” such unfortunately common practices in the competitive fields of professional and pre-professional dance. Cultivating a dance culture where it’s understood to be OK to get help for injuries is critical to the advancement of our art and expansion of our field.
In addition to the valuable information provided in Peterson’s text, the book is peppered with diagrams and dance photographs. Some are quite helpful, but many could benefit from clearer labeling or simply be omitted.
Succinct, comprehensive, and conversational, Dance Medicine Head to Toe should be part of every dancer’s and teacher’s library.
Dance Medicine Head to Toe: A Dancer’s Guide to Health, Judith R Peterson, MD, Princeton Book Company, 2011
In the fifth graphic story in the Papercutz “Dance Class” series, we follow dance friends Alia, Lucie, and Julie to St Petersburg, where they and the rest of Miss Anne’s students perform The Nutcracker with a group of Russian dancers. This book is as colorful, funny, and sweet as the first four “Dance Class” graphic novels.
While the Russia trip is the focus of the story, there’s plenty of humor at home before the girls leave. The dance dads have their day in Dance Class 5: Lucie’s dad performs a brilliant sissone ouverte while trying to save a batch of crepes, and Julie’s dad snores his way through a family trip to the ballet, to Mom’s great embarrassment.
Abroad, flirtatious Alia becomes frustrated with the Russian boys’ insensitivity…or is it just the language barrier? “To Russia, With Love” closes with some casting surprises for Miss Anne before the curtain goes down and the students head home again.0
In Balanchine: Russian-American Ballet Master Emeritus, Reine Duell Bethany gives young adults (dancers and nondancers alike) a highly readable, thought-provoking, and inspiring biography of the twentieth-century choreographer. Over ten chapters, Bethany walks the reader thoughtfully through Balanchine’s early life in Russia, his work for Diaghilev, and his eventual establishment in the US as the head of New York City Ballet and the School of American Ballet. The author traces Balanchine’s personal history and relationships, his development as a choreographer, and his work and personality as a businessman and international cultural ambassador. Throughout, adequate yet succinct historical, cultural, and social context is provided, making Ballet Master Emeritus as useful and appealing to young people interested in history or politics as ballet. For creative types, Reine Duell Bethany’s poignant, inspiring writing reinforces the importance of such qualities as faith, sacrifice, integrity, courage, and dedication in the pursuit of artistic goals.
Balanchine: Russian-American Ballet Master Emeritus would make a valuable addition to the young dancer’s library. It captures the subject in a way that is both revealing and sensitive, while placing George Balanchine and New York City Ballet in a landscape beyond the self-contained.
Reine Duell Bethany, 193 pages0