Dance, Thoughts
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{Winter Season} Review

Since the season has finished two weeks ago, I have been far from a vacation as I have been teaching almost everyday. Last week alone, I taught 23 classes within the Raleigh area! Luckily, in addition, I have been able to catch up on some reading (as I mentioned in my last post). Here is my first post and book review.

The documentary novel {Winter Season: A Dancer’s Journal} (1982), written by Toni Bentley,  is “story of a season, not a career; of a phase, not an entirety” (P. 138). Below is its summary :

Toni Bentley's "Winter Season"

Toni Bentley’s “Winter Season”

Bentley’s association with the New York City Ballet began when she was accepted by the affiliated School of American Ballet at the age of eleven. Seven years later, she became a member of the company. In the fall of 1980, as the winter season opened, she found herself facing an emotional crisis: her dancing was not going well. At 22 she felt that her life had lost direction. To try to make something of her experience, on paper if not on stage, she began to keep a journal, describing her day-to-day activities and looking back on her past. The result is perhaps the closest that most of us will ever come to knowing what it feels like to be a dancer, on stage and off. It also offers memorable glimpses of some notable members of the City ballet, with, at the center, the man whose vision they all served – George Balanchine.

Both an inside look at the corps de ballet of NYC and at the development of a woman dedicated to her art.

I truly enjoyed reading this narrative. Bentley took me back in time to when Balanchine was alive and under the direction of New York City Ballet. Present-day dancers often hear stories about Balanchine, but she truly brings to life one particular season in her career when she struggles between choosing to continue through the hardships of being a ballerina or transition into the inevitable end to her career.

Bentley and I are the same age in the book, so I can relate to numerous points she mentions, particularly to a dancer’s dedication and focus. In the passages below, she puts a dancer’s life into words so eloquently.

{Pointe Shoes}

“Very expensive footwear. We take them out of their plastic bags, pour Fabulon in the toes (to harden them), sew on ribbons and elastics, cut out the satin tow (it’s slippery), pull out the insole (it’s excess), soak the toes in water or alcohol (they’re too hard and too small), step on them (they’re too round), ben the shank in half (it’s too straight), shave the leather off the bottoms with a rasp (it’s too slippery), and bang them on the wall (they’re too noisy). We then put them on for a fifteen ballet and as soon as it is over throw them out (there is no more life left in them).” P. 38 

{Rehearsal Clothing}

“There are some basic rules for rehearsal cloths… Only new company members wear anything that actually fits, a sure giveaway of their youth.We go through fads: big sweat shirts, Capezio’s latest leg warmers, or triple layers of leg warmers. New articles are very suspicious; they contain no personal identity, so the scissors are instantly applied to the neckline. The basic premise is to cover up and stay warm. Layer upon layer is essential so that we can peel off at appropriate intervals when sufficient warmth and confidence for self-exposure if reached.” P. 40


“‘What are you waiting for? What are you saving for? Now is all there is’… ‘If you rehearse sloppy, you will dance sloppy. You rehearse how you will do it.'” P. 60

“It’s a pity he [Balanchine] needs a hundred individuals as his tools rather than paintbrushes. What would have happened if Van Gogh’s brushes one day refused to be manipulated because they wanted better living conditions?” P. 89

“Dancers have a direct connection to the heavens and the gods — Balanchine and Stravinsky receive their talents and visions from God, and we as their instruments interpret those visions for mortal men. We are their servants. We are creative in the same way that the paint in the pot is creative.” P. 141 

{A Dancer’s Choice}

“And so the choice is to stand up for ourselves, our security, our financial security, or to give second place to such values and act on respect, devotion, love and deep belief in one man. I opt for the second without hesitation. Balanchine is more important and valuable than we are individually. If personal security is our primary aim, dancing is not the career for us. It flourishes and feeds off all the qualities created by a lack of security.” P. 88


{An Outside Life}

“I am starved for people, life, thoughts, conversation, alternatives to my NYCB world. I need only a few hours out in the real world to return joyful and by choice to my tendus.” P. 118

“So now I know it was not dancing that was hurting me, but the lack of something else. I am not the first nor will I be the last who wishes to stop dancing because of the loneliness.” P. 137



All fabulous food for thought.

Next, Jennifer Ringer’s {Dancing Through It}.


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