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THE UNMAKING OF A DANCER

From Chris Wayan's journal, 1994/5/22-29


I've been reading "The Unmaking of a Dancer" by Joan Brady. She was a world-class ballerina in a world-class troupe, but she rebelled and quit, disgusted with the pressures and hypocrisies of ballet. Or at least of Balanchine and his demands, his patronizing, his pills...

It reminds me a lot of "Dancing on my Grave" by Gelsey Kirkland, an equally well-written (and scathing) insider exposé.

Though ballet gave Brady something. The night before she first went on, her debut, mind you, her mother broke into her only run-through with the music, and screamed "You're a slut and you're ugly and you can't dance and you're too shy and you'll FAIL..." The hints were there all along, but only real success in the dance world brought her family's hatred of success into the open where she could face it.

And she prefers to face things. During her professional years, she gives vivid, matter-of-fact, catty evaluations of bodies, dance abilities, characters. I see it as catty, that is! Because I condemn such raw perceptions as catty when they're MINE. Admitting women have flaws? But that's antifeminist! Malicious!

But Brady isn't malicious, she just lacks the slightest guilt. She sees what she sees, likes what she likes, and is open about styles, strengths, flaws, sexiness, competition, looks, pecking order, superstitions...

Oddly, what she reminds me of most is Robert Crumb. You'd think the high-culture world of ballet and Crumb's underground comix would be polar opposites, but there's the same sharp, intelligent eye, refusing to censor what it sees--and feels. Is this a trait contributing to greatness in the arts--ANY arts?

Well over a decade after she quit... she returned to dance! On her terms, this time. She expected little: it's so well known middle-aged ballerinas can't dance. But to her astonishment, her body rejuvenated! Not just her muscles that came back--despite injuries, even seemingly unrelated things like her eyesight improved. Took time, but the body she'd had at twenty, the body of a world-class artist/athlete... mostly came back!

It's not time. It's what you do with time.

So maybe I can change my illness, my behavior, right down to my body's structure. Just takes time, effort, and most of all, openness about what's possible.

So stretch your hamstrings, lower your shoulders, expand your ribs, loosen the tendons coming up from your pelvis through the collarbone.

Sculpt your body, sculpt your life, but slow, gentle, patient... and LISTEN. Like Brady. Like Crumb. And unlike Balanchine--this time around.



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