Being a Ballerina: The Power and Perfection of a Dancing Life

Being a Ballerina: The Power and Perfection of a Dancing Life

by Gavin Larsen
Being a Ballerina: The Power and Perfection of a Dancing Life

Being a Ballerina: The Power and Perfection of a Dancing Life

by Gavin Larsen


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Finalist, the Arts Club of Washington Marfield Prize

A look inside a dancer’s world

Inspiring, revealing, and deeply relatable, Being a Ballerina is a firsthand look at the realities of life as a professional ballet dancer. Through episodes from her own career, Gavin Larsen describes the forces that drive a person to study dance; the daily balance that dancers navigate between hardship and joy; and the dancer’s continual quest to discover who they are as a person and as an artist.

Starting with her arrival as a young beginner at a class too advanced for her, Larsen tells how the embarrassing mistake ended up helping her learn quickly and advance rapidly. In other stories of her early teachers, training, and auditions, she explains how she gradually came to understand and achieve what she and her body were capable of.

Larsen then re-creates scenes from her experiences in dance companies, from unglamorous roles to exhilarating performances. Working as a ballerina was shocking and scary at first, she says, recalling unexpected injuries, leaps of faith, and her constant struggle to operate at the level she wanted—but full of enormously rewarding moments. Larsen also reflects candidly on her difficult decision to retire at age 35.

An ideal read for aspiring dancers, Larsen’s memoir will also delight experienced dance professionals and fascinate anyone who wonders what it takes to live a life dedicated to the perfection of the art form.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780813066899
Publisher: University Press of Florida
Publication date: 04/27/2021
Pages: 272
Sales rank: 663,931
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 8.90(h) x 0.70(d)

About the Author

Gavin Larsen was a professional ballet dancer for 18 years before retiring in 2010. A principal dancer with the Oregon Ballet Theatre, she also danced with the Suzanne Farrell Ballet and Alberta Ballet and as a guest artist with Ballet Victoria. She has written for Pointe, Dance Teacher, Dance Spirit, Dancing Times, Oregon ArtsWatch, Dance/USA’s From the Green Room, the Maine Review, and The Threepenny Review, among others. She writes and teaches in Asheville, North Carolina.

Table of Contents

Preface xi

Part 1

1 The Eight-Year-Old, Part 1: The New York School of Ballet 3

2 How to Be a Ballerina, Part 1 6

3 The Eight-Year-Old, Part 2: The Greek 8

4 How to Be a Ballerina, Part 2 12

5 The Triple 15

6 How to Be a Ballerina, Part 3 18

7 The Eleven-Year-Old, Part 1: The Audition 21

8 The Eleven-Year-Old, Part 2: Madame Dudin 24

9 How to Be a Ballerina, Part 4 27

10 The First Nutcracker 29

11 Waving Goodbye 35

12 Detective Work 39

13 Stretching 41

14 The Fifteen-Year-Old and Mr. Rapp 42

15 The Sixteen-Year-Old's Epiphany, Part 1 46

16 The Sixteen-Year-Old's Epiphany, Part 2 49

17 Tumey 51

18 Making Shapes 56

19 Crumpled 58

20 Turning Point 61

Part 2

21 The Summer of 1992 69

22 Chateau Ste. Michelle: My Big Break 76

23 Making a Living Being Tired 80

24 Ballerina Doll 82

25 Orange 84

26 Cinderella 89

27 Rejected 90

28 Glace Bay 99

29 Vertigo, Part 1 102

30 The Rib-Cracking Episode 111

31 "You Were the Music" 113

32 Boo Hoo, Jeremy Denk 118

33 Suzanne 123

34 Places 131

35 Quivering 134

36 I Think I Was Perfect, Once 136

37 Henry's Living Room 140

38 The Fourth Wall 145

39 Big Hair 149

40 Theaters Are Mysterious Places 154

41 Into the Night 157

42 A Prayer 159

43 Curtain In 161

44 Helena 165

45 "I've Never Heard You Make a Noise Like That" 169

46 The Human Monolith 174

47 A Conversation with My Feet 176

48 My Little Toe 179

49 The Millionth Nutcracker 182

50 No Tights 187

51 The Highest Note 190

52 Vertigo, Part 2 196

53 Scarred 200

54 A Boyfriend and a Cat 204

55 Precision, Perfection, and Mistakes 212

56 Final Curtain 218

57 The Drive Home 226

Afterword: The Time I Taught Someone Something 229

Acknowledgments 233

Appendix 1 Meeting My Maker 237

Appendix 2 How to … 241

Appendix 3 Places I've Performed 249

What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher

“This is the best book I’ve ever read about becoming and being a dancer. Every word rings true.”—Robert Gottlieb, editor and dance critic

“Larsen relates in great detail and remarkable prose how she became a ballerina. With her we enter a school. With her we enter a theater. With her we listen in the wings and rush out onto the stage, the destination of her desire, the music her guide. We read about the difficult training that must be mastered and the fragility of the body during the process of learning technique. We learn about the joy of performance. I loved reading it.”—Allegra Kent, former principal dancer, New York City Ballet

“Gentle, genuine, and honest, Larsen shares her experiences generously, offering a compelling glimpse into a ballerina’s world—one that beautifully illustrates not only what it takes to become a professional dancer but what it means to be a ballerina.”—Jennifer Carlynn Kronenberg, author of So, You Want to Be a Ballet Dancer?

“I laughed out loud, cringed, and teared up relating to the joys and trials that a career in ballet requires and that Larsen so vividly conveys. Her wit and humanity bring behind-the-scenes experiences to life with the candor of a good friend along with the invaluable insights of a real ballerina. If you want to be a ballerina or want to know what it takes to be one, this is a must-read.”—Elysia Dawn, arts consultant and former dancer

“This book has a lovely lilt to it. … [Larsen] describes her experiences with sensitivity and profuse detail.”—Wendy Perron, former editor-in-chief of Dance Magazine

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