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DON'T THINK, DEAR by Alice Robb


On Loving and Leaving Ballet

by Alice Robb

Pub Date: Feb. 28th, 2023
ISBN: 9780358653332
Publisher: Mariner Books

A freelance journalist and former ballet dancer reflects on her complex feelings about ballet, femininity, and the female body.

Robb, author of Why We Dream, wanted to be a ballerina from the time she was a small child. At age 9, after two rejections, she became a student at the prestigious School of American Ballet. She never joined the ranks of professional ballet dancers, but even as an adult, she found she could not “unlearn the values of ballet” that glorified—and exaggerated—feminine traits such as “thinness…stoicism…silence and submission.” The author examines her SAB experiences alongside those of famous ballerinas, many of whom worked with SAB founder and unofficial patron saint, George Balanchine. Famous for bringing athleticism to ballet, he also exercised strict control over every aspect of his dancers’ lives. Robb observes that this structure, though occasionally overbearing, has saved many women—including African American ballet star Misty Copeland—from their own dysfunctional backgrounds. At the same time, ballet’s (racist) equation of beauty with Whiteness has also forced female dancers of color to make humiliating compromises—e.g., painting their faces and arms White to just “blend in.” The discipline required to dance ballet also offers women “the perverse pleasure of abdicating responsibility,” as it inculcates passivity. For example, in the 1940s and ’50s, British dancer Margot Fonteyn, for example, allowed herself to be underpaid, and ballerinas like Gelsey Kirkland sacrificed their health to maintain the emaciated physique that ballet—and choreographers like Balanchine—demanded. Still others, including Copeland, sacrificed broken bones, torn ligaments, and other injuries to practice their art. At once a tribute to the art form that shaped her and an exploration of a “beautiful pain cult,” this engaging book will appeal to dance lovers and anyone interested in the entangled nature of patriarchy, race, and ballet.

An elegantly incisive, meditative work.