Where Snowflakes Dance and Swear: Inside the Land of Ballet

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The internationally acclaimed new book that takes you behind the scenes to reveal how ballet really happens:

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 ...

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Where Snowflakes Dance and Swear: Inside the Land of Ballet

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The internationally acclaimed new book that takes you behind the scenes to reveal how ballet really happens:

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.

Snowflakes 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."

Snowflakes 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.

Snowflakes 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 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 artists 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.

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Editorial Reviews

Ballet Scoop!
"Are you looking for the must-have dancer gift (or self-gift!) this year? Look no further! Hot off the presses, 'Where Snowflakes Dance and Swear: Inside the Land of Ballet' is possibly the most readable and informative non-fiction book on ballet company life available today – making it an absolute Must Read . . . This book is nothing short of everything a non-fiction ballet book should be."
Dancelines Au
"'Snowflakes' reveals all. . . . I can’t imagine any other dance company allowing a writer the same access as Manes was granted – to rehearsals, class, backstage areas, and staff meetings. . . . there is no other book that covers the same territory . . . I do recommend it for anyone with a passion about dance, the way it really is on the other side of the curtain.
Ballet-Dance Magazine
"For those who secretly wish for carte blanche access to shadow and observe all of the inner and outer workings of a major ballet company, then Stephen Manes' new volume is for you . . . this work is a unique contribution to the dance world . . . not to be missed . . ."
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
"Ballet is about as transparent as the federal government, which means that a very small percentage of its backstage business makes it into the public eye. Author Stephen Manes is about to change all of that with his new book."
Balletco UK
"An engrossing read . . . unparallelled . . . lively prose and an almost indecent amount of information about how the cogs in a ballet company all turn . . . I found it hard to tear myself away from the characters after the book had ended."
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780983562832
  • Publisher: Cadwallader and Stern
  • Publication date: 9/4/2012
  • Pages: 912
  • Sales rank: 950,092
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 2.03 (d)

Meet the Author

Bestselling author Stephen Manes has written more than thirty books and hundreds of articles in a long career of making arcane worlds accessible to the uninitiated. Four years in the making, his new book, "Where Snowflakes Dance and Swear: Inside the Land of Ballet," was born of his desire to discover how ballet really happens. Now the book has arrived--with an unprecedented amount of inside information about the world he calls the Land of Ballet, from intense rehearsals and lighting sessions to closed-door casting conferences and business meetings.

The book has already earned acclaim from around the globe. In the United States, BalletScoop and ExploreDance called it a "must-read," and Ballet-Dance Magazine deemed it "not to be missed." In Great Britain, a former dancer writing for Balletco found it "engrossing" and "unparalleled." In Australia, Dancelines said "'Snowflakes' reveals all. . . I can't imagine any other company allowing a writer the same access . . . " James Fayette, a former Principal Dancer with the New York City Ballet, calls the book "a truly in-depth exploration that should be recommended to anyone who craves insight into the very private world of professional ballet and the dancer subculture."

Manes co-wrote the bestselling and much-acclaimed biography "Gates: How Microsoft's Mogul Reinvented an Industry--and Made Himself the Richest Man in America." He wrote long-running columns on personal technology for The New York Times, Forbes, PC World, PC Magazine, and many other publications. He was a creator and co-host of the weekly public television series "Digital Duo."

Manes is also the author of dozens of books for children and young adults. His "Be a Perfect Person in Just Three Days!" won kid-voted awards in five states and is a curriculum staple in American and French schools. The sequel, "Make Four Million Dollars by Next Thursday!", quickly became a Publishers Weekly bestseller. His books have been adapted for stage and television productions.

Manes has a degree in cinema from the University of Southern California. His writing credits for the screen include programs for ABC Television and KCET/Los Angeles, as well as the 'seventies classic movie "Mother, Jugs & Speed." A native of Pittsburgh, he lives in Seattle.
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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 5
( 6 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 6 Customer Reviews
  • Posted September 20, 2011

    A Gift to the Land of Ballet

    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.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 7, 2011

    Fascinating in-depth look inside one of America's premier dance companies

    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.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted October 10, 2011

    A Ballet book no insider could write...rich in human drama & rare insights

    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.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 6, 2013


    Umm... it heals on its own... mom never takes cats to the vet.)))

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 5, 2013


    (Well cats dont kno how to fix it, so yea. In rp, it is.)

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  • Posted October 27, 2011

    Christmas present

    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.

    0 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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