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Dancing Through It

The Four Seasons

Jenifer Ringer was a longtime principal dancer with New York City Ballet. She retired just this winter, andВ her memoir, Dancing Through It, came out a few weeks later.

I downloaded and finished it within a couple days. It’s a quick, engaging and fascinating read. ThoughВ Dancing Through It often feels like a long, personal essay—or a series of interconnected personal essays—I appreciated Ringer’s clear voice and honesty.В She comes off as very likable, humble and down-to-earth. At times, she’s also self-deprecating and very funny.

Dancing Through It traces Ringer’s journey from a talented kid in her local, South Carolina dance school, to the Washington School of Ballet, to the School of American Ballet and her acceptance into City Ballet. As she rose through the ranks there, she struggled with an eating disorder that took her out of the company for a year. Eventually, she worked her way back in, and became a principal a few years later.

As someone who’s only danced for the pure joy ofВ it, I’ve never experienced the struggles elite professional dancers go through. They may have what seems like the best job in the world (at least, in my book), but it takes an insane amount of hard work. Ringer describes long, grueling days in the studio taking class, learning ballets and performing others pieces that same night. And doing this day after day.

Plus, anyone who’s ever danced ballet—at any level—knows how difficult it is, and how it never gets easier, in our pursuit for perfection. Ringer captures that perfectly, here:

If something about our dancing is good, we ignore it because it will take care of itself. We fixate on the parts that are wrong. Ask a dancer what her weaknesses are, and she will be able to give you an immediate and very detailed list. Ask a dancer about her strengths, and she has to pause and think about it.

So true. (As I typed that, my own list of weaknesses started to run through my head: Tombe coupe jete turns, especially to the left. Fouette turns, especially to the left. Actually, all turns to the left…)В This pressure to appear perfect on so many levels was what led toВ Ringer’s eating disorder.

While I enjoyed Ringer’s personal story, I especially lovedВ herВ tales of dancing in NYCB’s ballets, especially since I’ve seen someВ of them, myself. Ringer tells of dancing until nearly passing out during Tschaikovsky Suite No. 3, slipping and falling on another dancer’s vomit as a snowflake in Nutcracker, and inhabiting the various female characters in Dances at a Gathering.

My very favorite description is actually the opening line of the book, in which Ringer describes Balanchine’s Serenade, the ballet that inspired her to become a ballerina. That piece carries particular meaning for me, as well, because it’s the one that motivated me to return to ballet, after several years off.

Here’s how Ringer describes it:

There is a ballet that is like an ocean; it seems to stretch beyond the horizons of the stage. No matter how many times I see or dance this ballet, George Balanchine’s Serenade, I always find something new to discover, something so beautiful that I wonder if the audience should laugh or cry.

I couldn’t have put it better, myself.

serenade

(Images by Paul Kolnik via New York City Ballet)

“After the Rain” in NYC

Christopher Wheeldon’s “After the Rain” is a piece I really want to see live.

I’ve watched several excerpts of the pas de deux via YouTube, and love the stripped-down quality of the movements and the tender interplay between the dancers. Simplicity is what makes the piece so stunning. It’s the kind of choreography I want to dance, myself.

This morning, at sunrise,В Maria Kowroski andВ Ask la Cour from New York City Ballet performed “After the Rain” on the 57th floor of 4 World Trade Center. This performance, billed as “New Beginnings” was in remembrance of 9/11, and a “testament to the resilience of the human spirit, and a tribute to the future of the city that New York City Ballet calls home.”

It’s just gorgeous, especially against the backdrop of the city waking up.

Watch it (a couple of times!) below:

(Video via New York City Ballet)В 

Sara Mearns on Ballet

sara mearns

I’ve been lucky to see three New York City Ballet performances this year (so far!), and in each, I’ve had the pleasure of watching Sara Mearns. The City Ballet principal is one of my favorites. Of course, she has the flawless technique that’s expected at her level. But Mearns has such a commanding presence that it’s hard to watch anyone else when she’s onstage. You can feel the passion and intensity she brings to each role.

That’s why I couldn’t help but smile when I read how she candidly described her relationship with ballet, in this NY Times article:

Not many people know what it feels like to be so in love with something—more than yourself, or more than anybody else. It’s very scary at times, but it’s just what it is. Sometimes I don’t even know why I’m so passionate about what I do…I really don’t. It’s kind of scary.

As a dancer (though obviously nowhere near her level!), I find her words so relatable. But I think they hold true, whether or not ballet is your passion. It is frightening to see what passion motivates us to do. But it’s also astounding to see what it can drive you to accomplish.

(Photo via undefined magazine)

Ballet, Cats and Other Things

First, Second and Fourth Positions

First, Second and Fourth Positions

Of all the things I came across on the internet this week, this was by far my fave: the Tumblr “Ballet, Cats and Other Things” from New York City Ballet principals Wendy Whelan and Janie Taylor. (Both, whom I’m a huge fan of.) It’s basically the dancers’ arty iPhone snapshots of, well, ballet, cats and some other things. And you know how I feel about ballet and cats. (Is required that if you’re a dancer, you also love small, furry animals?)

It’s cool to get a peek into Whelan and Taylor’s lives—especially the up-close looks at recent NYCB productions, like “Sleeping Beauty,”В “Diamonds”В and “Swan Lake.”

And, of course, the cat photos are pretty irresistible, too. I laughed out loud when I saw the one above with Whelan’s astute caption!

Have a wonderful weekend!

(Image via Ballet, Cats and Other Things)

An Up-Close Look at NYCB’s Nutcracker Costumes

As far as I’m concerned, the holiday season isn’t complete without seeing a performance of the Nutcracker. (Or, at least listening to the soundtrack a couple times in its entirety—something that’s driven my family mad over the years!)

Tonight, I’m seeing City Ballet’s production (with my mom :)). It’s been several years since I’ve seen their version, and I’m pretty excited—there’s nothing as inspiring as seeing the pros dance, live!

Recently, NYCB posted behind-the-scenes photos of their Nutcracker costumes on their Facebook page. I thought it was super-cool that they gave us normal folks (and professional dancer wannabes!) a little peek behind the curtains!

Reams of fabric at the NYCB Costume Shop

Reams of fabric at the NYCB Costume Shop

Waltz of the Flowers tutus

Waltz of the Flowers tutus

Marzipan costumes

Marzipan costumes

Sugarplum fairy costumes

Sugarplum fairy costumes

Sugarplum fairy costume

Sugarplum fairy costume

Are you a Nutcracker fan, too? What’s your favorite number? (Mine has always been the “Waltz of the Snowflakes”—which I was thrilled to perform earlier this season.)

(Photos via NYCB’s Facebook page)

A Ballet Dancer’s Feet

Speaking of ballet, how striking is this photo?

I came across it in this week’s NY Magazine and immediately had to stop and read the related item.

The image is part of Ballet, a new book and exhibit by photographer Henry Leutwyler. He spent last winter with New York City Ballet, capturing intimate moments with the dancers, both on and off-stage.

Here’s what Leutwyler says about the photo:

If I had to title the picture, I would call itВ Reality and Dreams.В The footВ en pointeВ is what every little girl dreams of. The other is the hard, hard work, and the reality.

So true—and I love how this simple shot depicts that perfectly. I only started pointe recently, as an adult, and was shocked at how difficult and scary it is—and I have pretty decent technique! The fact that professional dancers work through that pain and fear and make every move look effortless, weightless and graceful is truly amazing. When you’re watching a performance, it’s easy to forget all they went through to achieve that ability.

More of Leutwyler’s gorgeousВ Ballet photos are on NYMag.com and the Foley Gallery’s site; his exhibit runs through January 6. (I’m definitely going to check it out!)

Have you studied pointe, as well? What was your experience like?

(Photo by Henry Leutwyler via NYMag)

Video Love: Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros’ “Man on Fire”

Yesterday, a friend sent me a link and said, “You might like this video.” That was a total understatement because I absolutely love, love, love it. I’m a big fan of Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic ZerosВ and I’ve been listening to their new album, “Here.” But I didn’t know they’d created such a brilliant video to go along with their gorgeous song, “Man on Fire.”

The lyrics are about the desire to dance, and the video, filmed in NYC, celebrates movement in various forms: dance, stepping, cheerleading, tumbling. I love how they’re mostly everyday New Yorkers doing their thing in school gyms, small studios and local sports fields. And (spoiler alert) I really loved the end where a dressed down City Ballet dances in a vacant lot.

Check it out (and watch it over and over–I already have):