Faith buoys one dancer’s life.
At the age of 14, studying dance in Washington, D.C., Ringer was chosen to fill in at the Washington Ballet. The piece was George Balanchine’s lyrical, elegant Serenade, and performing, Ringer recalls, felt “like a light taking up residence in my chest.” She decided then that she must become a professional ballerina. When her family moved to New York, she was accepted into the prestigious School of American Ballet, the feeder for the New York City Ballet. There, she undertook a grueling schedule of classes, as well as finishing high school. She was also faced with Balanchine’s ideal of the perfect ballerina: “small head, long neck and limbs, slim hips, arched feet, tall and very thin.” When Ringer reached puberty, however, her new curves generated anxiety that her body was out of her control. At the same time, she was accepted into the New York City Ballet as an apprentice, which intensified her training and also her feelings of vulnerability about her body and her talent. Dancers, she realized, never admit pain, exhaustion or weakness but instead sacrifice their bodies “for the approval of whoever happened to be watching, whether it be a ballet master or the audience.” Desperate to exert control over her life, Ringer became obsessed with her body image and spent the next few years alternating between anorexia and bingeing. Finally, she gained so much weight that ballet master Peter Martins fired her. The author reclaimed her life and her career through a renewal of her religious faith: prayer and a belief in God’s watchful care. Married now, with two children, she is a principal ballerina with the NYCB.
Told with modesty and humility, Ringer’s memoir exposes the unrelenting rigor of a dancer’s life and the passion and exhilaration of dance itself.