THE UNMAKING OF A DANCER: An Unconventional Life by Joan Brady
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THE UNMAKING OF A DANCER: An Unconventional Life

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It doesn't all quite add up--but this memoir, which interweaves the rigors of Brady's almost-successful ballet career with a sad, odd, somewhat creepy personal life, is mesmerizing reading all the way. Joan grew up in California in the '40s and '50s, bastard daughter of a gray-listed Berkeley economics prof and a consumer-advocate mother who practiced ""Open Door Policy"" child-rearing. . . on sex, nudity, politics, but not on their immense marital problems. So Joan escaped from parental gloom into dance classes, eventually with pal/rival Suki (Mark Schorer's daughter) at the San Francisco Ballet School. And Brady does a superb job--with a rueful, understated vigor reminiscent of Agnes de Mille--at capturing the petty, obsessive, ritualized world of ballet-school/company jealousies, agonies, tactics. But though Joan did rise to the top class-rank, dancing small roles with the company (her impromptu debut in Aids is a fear/fun gem), her career was stymied--partly because of her visible emotional problems (she quickly trained herself to appear impassive), mostly because of her mother's unclearly motivated sabotage. So, with SF a dead end, young Joan headed for N.Y.--followed by mother and father (now a near-vegetable from a stroke). But this time the barrier to success-at Balanchine's City Ballet-was clearly internal: Joan was put off by the singleminded, dancers-should-be-stupid City ethos; she was still an emotional wreck inside. And the most important thing in her life was soon Dexter Masters-Consumer Reports founder, her mother's old lover (and hoped-for new husband). Virgin Joan deliberately set out to seduce him, wound up loving and marrying him. Thus, after a disastrous City debut, she moved to England for motherhood and writing--till age 37, when she slaved to get back in shape, won a ballet job in Europe. . . and turned it down, free of the old urge at last. Ultimately, motives and relationships are blurry here--so one doesn't end up sharing Brady's sense of release. But, page by page, this is raw, funny, surely crafted storytelling (Brady's first novel, The Impostor, 1979, was enormously promising)--and not just for ballet fans. . . who will devour every onstage/backstage word.

Pub Date: May 1st, 1982
Publisher: Harper & Row