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Where Snowflakes Dance and Swear: Inside the Land of Ballet

Where Snowflakes Dance and Swear: Inside the Land of Ballet

4.8 6
by Stephen Manes

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In a scuffed-up studio, a veteran dancer transmits the magic of an eighty-year-old ballet to a performer barely past drinking age. In a converted barn, an indomitable teacher creates ballerinas as she has for more than half a century. In a monastic mirrored room, dancers from as near as New Jersey and as far as Mongolia learn works as old as the nineteenth century


In a scuffed-up studio, a veteran dancer transmits the magic of an eighty-year-old ballet to a performer barely past drinking age. In a converted barn, an indomitable teacher creates ballerinas as she has for more than half a century. In a monastic mirrored room, dancers from as near as New Jersey and as far as Mongolia learn works as old as the nineteenth century and as new as this morning.

Where Snowflakes Dance and Swear zooms in on an intimate view of one full season in the life of one of America's top ballet companies and schools: Seattle's Pacific Northwest Ballet. But it also tracks the Land of Ballet to venues as celebrated as New York and Monte Carlo and as seemingly ordinary as Bellingham, Washington and small-town Pennsylvania. Never before has a book taken readers backstage for such a wide-ranging view of the ballet world from the wildly diverse perspectives of dancers, choreographers, stagers, teachers, conductors, musicians, rehearsal pianists, lighting directors, costumers, stage managers, scenic artists, marketers, fundraisers, students, and even pointe shoe fitters-often in their own remarkably candid words.

The book follows characters as colorful as they are talented. Versatile dancers from around the globe team up with novice choreographers and those as renowned as Susan Stroman, Christopher Wheeldon, and Twyla Tharp to create art on deadline. At the book's center is Peter Boal, a former New York City Ballet star in his third year as PNB's artistic director, as he manages conflicting constituencies with charm, tact, rationality and diplomacy. Readers look over Boal's shoulder as he makes tough decisions about programming, casting, scheduling and budgeting that eventually lead the calm, low-key leader to declare that in his job, "You have to be willing to be hated."

Where Snowflakes Dance and Swear shows how ballet is made, funded, and sold. It escorts you front and center to the kick zone of studio rehearsals. It takes you to the costume shop where elegant tutus and gowns are created from scratch. It brings you backstage to see sets and lighting come alive while stagehands get lovingly snarky and obscene on their headsets. It sits you down in meetings where budgets get slashed and dreams get funded-and axed. It shows you the inner workings of Nutcracker, from kids' charming auditions to no-nonsense marketing meetings, from snow bags in the flies to dancing snowflakes who curse salty flurries that land on their tongues. It follows the tempestuous assembly of a version of Romeo and Juliet that runs afoul of so much pressure, disease, injury, and blood that the dancers begin to call it cursed.

Where Snowflakes Dance and Swear uncovers the astounding way ballets, with no common form of written preservation, are handed down from generation to generation through the prodigious memories of brilliant athletes who also happen to be artists. It goes on tour with the company to Vail, Colorado, where dancers contend with altitude that makes their muscles cramp and their lungs ache. It visits cattle-call auditions and rigorous classes, tells the stories of dancers whose parents sacrificed for them and dancers whose parents refused to. It meets the resolute woman who created a dance school more than fifty years ago in a Carlisle, Pennsylvania barn and grew it into one of America's most reliable ballerina factories. It shows ballet's appeal to kids from low-income neighborhoods and board members who live in mansions.

Shattering longstanding die-for-your-art clichés, this book uncovers the real drama in the daily lives of fiercely dedicated union members in slippers and pointe shoes-and the musicians, stagehands, costumers, donors and administrators who support them. Where Snowflakes Dance and Swear: Inside the Land of Ballet brings readers the exciting truth of how ballet actually happens.

Product Details

Cadwallader and Stern
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 2.19(d)

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Where Snowflakes Dance and Swear: Inside the Land of Ballet 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 5 reviews.
SeattleBuster More than 1 year ago
Let me be clear, I am not a ballet fan, although after reading this book, I will surely go to see at least one. Mr. Manes' ability to tell a story combined with his apparently unlimited access to everyone involved in the Pacific Northwest Ballet company combined to keep me interested for all 900+ pages. His style of writing seems to flow effortlessly, mixing the mainstream narrative, as he takes the reader through an entire ballet season, with digressions into individual dancers' or staff biographies, or a bit of history of the PNB, other ballet companies, or possibly best of all the ballet schools that provide the dancers that make up the professional ranks. If you are a fan of ballet, but have never been involved in actually getting one onto the stage, reading this book will enhance your understanding of what you are seeing and why. If you are a parent of a child that wants to dance or is already in ballet classes, the insight into how one goes from being a flower in the Nutcracker to playing Romeo or Juliet in Monte Carlo is invaluable. The ungilded portraits Mr. Manes presents of not just the dancers, but everyone from those sitting on the company's board to the musicians, physical therapist and even the stagehands is delightful. These people are sometimes what you might expect, but usually are much, much more, and all contribute in ways I certainly didn't imagine was required to get each show up and running. The writing often reflects the tension of getting a ballet staged, dealing with problems with injured dancers, broken smoke machines, missing props, broken technology, and, of all things, intellectual property rights. The writing also reflects the humor and great generosity that is an everyday part of the individuals' and company's work. Snowflakes Dance and Swear is a gift to those that inhabit "The Land of Ballet" and to those that take the time to learn about it. Rarely does one get to learn so much while getting to enjoy such a book.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Stephen Manes loves his ballet, and his insatiable curiosity has brought him to explore the intricate inner workings of Pacific Northwest Ballet, one of America's premier dance companies. There's room for everyone's story here, from the promising young gymnast who tells his mom he'd really like to learn more about dancing, to the veteran technical director ready and willing to fix anything on a moment's notice, to the dressers, sewers, musicians, carpenters, lighting technicians, financial managers, members of the Board -- you get the picture. Manes has approached them all for their stories, which he recounts with warmth and humor. It all translates to a BIG book about dance, but one you'll be eager to get back to each time you're forced to set it down. More than just a book about dance, this is a story about people, people obsessed with the intricate creative possibilities of human bodies in motion.
Commander-Scott More than 1 year ago
Rather than just another stiff-as-a-starched tutu retelling of ballet history through "heroic figures" and "watershed events" by some pretentious insider, Where Snowflakes Dance and Swear is a charming and warm book that shares the human drama and professional lives of a leading contemporary ballet company. Stephen Manes shares the day to day lives, challenges and ambitions, not just of the dancers (from stars to spear-carriers), but delivers in-depth coverage of many previously unexamined or intentionally-ignored people & departments in a company, from costumes and sets to lighting and the orchestra, to marketers and ushers, all of whom are vital to the ballet experience. I think every young dancer should read Where Snowflakes Dance and Swear. Like baseball, ballet dancing has a remarkably competitive career path that winnows candidates. For every dancer who seems excellent at her or his own level, only a fraction make it at the next level up. As the book reveals, the commitment required to persist is enormous, the economic rewards pretty limited, the chance for personal satisfaction immense, the opportunities for ballet careers beyond dancing diverse and interesting. A young dancer will become both more realistic and more emotionally durable by reading the book. If you're thinking about being daunted by the length of this book -- don't be. It is rich with human drama, starring a cast of a hundred interesting people we get to follow through their various roles in the Pacific Northwest Ballet's season. Manes makes sure you get to see their individual personalities through vivid portraits he delivers by using their own words. The unfolding dramatic events and stories about people we care about make the book a page-turner. I didn't know a ton about ballet before I started reading Manes' book. I now believe I have the kind of knowledge one gets from a really good "plant tour". I feel like I really know a lot of the individuals I met through this insightful and fun book. I will be following their careers and attending ballets more than ever, even having been presented with the complex, sometimes sad realities of the art. A remarkably valuable guide book to the REAL Land of Ballet, unromanticized but Romantic nevertheless, the way no insider could ever have had either the guts or perspective to deliver.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
(Well cats dont kno how to fix it, so yea. In rp, it is.)
ss50ef97 More than 1 year ago
Purchased this for my daughter and granddaughter for Christmas. Stephen Manes is a brother in law to a very good friend and she told us about the book.