University Press of Florida
Being a Ballerina
2021 Marfield Prize National Award for Arts Writing Finalist
In a series of 57 essay-like chapters of Being a Ballerina: The Power and Perfection of a Dancing Life brings the reader inside the dancer’s world. Inspiring, revealing, and deeply relatable, these episodes, memories, and musings illustrate the realities of life as a dancer from earliest years through retirement from the stage. As you journey with Gavin through the arc of her dancing life, you stand next to her at the barre, look out through her eyes as she rehearses an emotional pas de deux, listen to her inner dialogue as she performs an exhilarating ballet— and as an ankle tendon tears in the middle of company class. The reader learns how to sew a pointe shoe and do a partnered pirouette, and will also examine the forces that drive a person to dance and the sometimes tormented relationship between a dancer and her body, her craft, her job, and ultimately, herself.
From the unglamorous grunt work in the ballet trenches to a moment on stage that she thinks may be the apex of her life, Gavin’s story shows that the drama of ballet lies in the countless routine moments that are far from mundane. This is the true story of all dancers, artists, athletes or any of those whose passion has compelled them forward through seemingly insurmountable challenges towards an elusive, amorphous goal.
Reviews of Being a Ballerina
—New York Times
“There is power and perfection in this captivating memoir—the power of personal experience and the perfection of writing that carefully captures the life of a dancer. . . . Dancing ‘full out’ means going all out during practice rather than saving energy for the performance. In this memoir Larsen is writing full out, and we are the lucky audience of her performance. Balletomanes, dance students, and aspiring dancers will applaud this absorbing account.”
—Library Journal, Starred Review
“A lovely debut that’s relatable, engaging, and unafraid to show vulnerability. A thorough, evocative, and deeply reverent remembrance.”
“Warm, insightful and enjoyable to read, Being a Ballerina helps cast the life of a professional ballet dancer in a new light.”
“[An] excellent memoir. . . her story is all the more engrossing for its vivid portrayal of the “everyday” ballerina, making it relevant and resonant for a multitude of dancers who aspire to a professional dancing life… Her deft writing portrays a sly wit and a refreshing lack of self-importance…”
“Her storytelling is as precise, intimate and beautiful as her dancing; and through her words, you become a part of her head and heart as she faces some of her most challenging circumstances in her profession and in life.If you’re a professional dancer, this book will bring you home. However, you don’t have to be a professional dancer to understand her story. It’s a story about someone finding their way through life, like all of us.”
“A beautifully written memoir with heart, warmth, passion, grace, intelligence, humor and articulation. You truly inhabit her world and that of all ballet dancers.”
“I read Being a Ballerina laughing, crying and holding my breath alongside every word. No need for me to write my own story; Gavin has done it for me. Her understanding of music and the dancer as one and the same hit home, never exaggerated, always beautifully balanced. Balanchine is smiling, I know.”
“Being a Ballerina is an easy and breathtaking must-read for anyone who has aspired to the world of dance or simply admired the world of dancers.”
—Barbara Quick, author of Vivaldi’s Virgins and the forthcoming, What Disappears
“You do not have to be a dancer to enjoy this wonderful book and identify with her life journey. It’s a book for humans. And the writing style draws you in like no other author’s has done for me.”
“A true story of being a ballerina. Written with grit and honesty. You won’t be able to put it down. The work, sweat, tears, pain and determination are felt to your very core. Written so dramatically that you feel yourself tense your muscles and work to make the correct stance. Amazing read!”
Excerpts from the Book
“Ever since I walked onstage at the start of the pas de deux, my thoughts have been a fast-moving, shifting stream of second-by-second calculations and adjustments. I hadn’t consciously told myself what step came next; my body knew the choreography on its own. Sensations like the heat of the stage lights, a glimpse of someone in the wings, and the roughness of the fabric of Artur’s tunic against my skin registered distantly, well below the current.
But suddenly, at the height of the lift and on that one magnificent note, everything was crystal clear: this is the apex of life. This is the happiest a person on earth can be. This is perfection.
I may never be this happy again. And that’s okay.”