RAISING THE BARRE by Lauren Kessler


Big Dreams, False Starts, and My Midlife Quest to Dance the Nutcracker
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Kessler (Counterclockwise: My Year of Hypnosis, Hormones, Dark Chocolate, and Other Adventures in the World of Anti-aging, 2013, etc.) chronicles her obsession with dancing The Nutcracker.

When her husband set off on a three-week business trip to Paris, our narrator decided to go on a Nutcracker ballet binge. She attended performances in New York, Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, and her hometown of Eugene, Oregon. Kessler has always loved ballet. She trained with André Eglevsky of Balanchine’s American Ballet Theatre until she overheard the bad news the great dancer delivered to her mother: “ ‘She has the wrong body.’ I heard the words “bottom heavy’ and ‘thighs.’ And my throat closed.” Thus ended her girlish lack of self-consciousness about her body and began her uneasy relationship with mirrors. However, years later as an adult, watching all of those performances again inspired her—“I am drunk on dance. I am bewitched. I am on fire”—to embark on her “Nut Quest.” The dream, she writes, is full of the “stuff of life,” which includes “fear, angst, pride, self-doubt, arrogance, fragility, optimism, pessimism, discontent, happiness, restlessness.” To be sure, the author suffered plenty of doubt due to her age, but she also enjoyed the benefits of self-discipline and humility. Kessler has a wonderfully self-conscious mettle as well, not to mention a deft hand with the evocative expression of her inner feelings. She provides a useful vest-pocket history of ballet, and The Nutcracker in particular, and she ably captures the abundant physical punishment, including difficult experiences with yoga, Pilates, boxing, Gyrotonics, water jogging, and hours at the barre and on the floor. Ultimately, Kessler succeeded and was cast in “a named part,” an outcome readers will applaud.

An amusingly shrewd memoir of following a lifelong dream.

Pub Date: Dec. 1st, 2015
ISBN: 978-0-7382-1831-1
Page count: 272pp
Publisher: Da Capo
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15th, 2015


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