That Just Finished Feeling

The euphoria of a finished draft! Today, a short story, tomorrow, who knows?  Most writers get that love-dovey, I-just-finished feeling.  No worries that tomorrow the thing will the be the bastard spawn of your imagination, a thing to be nuked in revision. 

So what I'm saying is I finished a story today, and that in and of itself feels like the first day in the springtime where I don't have to wear a coat.



Guilty Pleasure

Oh, Don Draper!


Coming Soon 

I was excited to see a clip of Gnossiene No. 1 included; see dancer in red and fabric falling around her.  A  demi-character piece performed by my student, Olivia Davis.


Much Ado About a Book Review

The recently published a review of a novel set in the world of ballet titled Various Positions. Ironically, I’d put this exact novel on my wishlist on at one point, and like many wishlist items, forgot to go back and purchase it later. 

This review, however, caught my attention because it reminded me how peculiar the ballet world is, and how difficult it is to write about.

 I was first struck by the reviewer’s comment, “Schabas’s protagonist, the lovely yet tentative Georgia, is only fourteen years old when she is accepted into the royal Toronto Ballet Academy[most likely based on National Ballet of Canada's School].” It’s the “is only fourteen" that I found curious, because my experience says fourteen is not all that young for this sort of thing. I first went away to a competitive ballet school at age fourteen, and my students have done the same, or even started earlier. Much past fourteen, and the prime training years would be past—by sixteen, most schools already have the students that will move into the ranks of trainee positions, apprenticeships, and studio companies in their later teens. And while I know exceptions to this, they are few, and exceptions indeed. The trend towards this—the infamous “baby” ballerinas of the Balanchine era—actually started with the early 20th century impresario Diaghilev and his Ballet Russe (Alicia Markova, anyone?).

But, perhaps if the reviewer weren’t as familiar with the ballet training world as I am (both as a former dancer and now as a teacher), fourteen would seem very young. An “only” situation.  Still, I think it could have been addressed as such. That may be my hang up, knowing this world as I do.

Later in the same paragraph, the reviewer comments, “…as her instructor, Roderick, sets his students against each other, they conduct full-on psychological warfare with comments on each other’s bodies.” I found this to be true of many teachers and schools, and know it still continues. 

In my Advanced Ballet class this morning, I asked if anyone had read the book, as I commented to the dancers in my class about the review.  It’s quite difficult to put the act of dancing into words.  Having spent the first half of my life trying to perfect my own ballet technique, and the second part trying to become a writer, and a writer of dance in the last ten years or so, I have never felt that my writing has ever fully achieved true articulation of what it is to dance.  Likewise, there were places in this review that I felt showed the problems of trying to translate the act of dance into words. 

“Schabas gets the details of that world just right: the bruised and battered feet; carefully arched arms, ribcages, and hipbones; and the attention to each hair that slips from a tight bun.” I found myself wondering if Schabas did get the details spot on, because, I’m not sure that in classical ballet you would have “carefully arched arms, ribcages, and hipbones.” 

First, arms.  How would one arch their arms?  I asked this of my ballet class this morning.  It was fun—the dancer’s faces screwed up in concentration, trying to literally arch the arms.  One very bright student suggested that perhaps the reviewer meant “the arch of the arms.”  So we tried that, and to make an arch with one’s arms means raising the shoulders in a way that would never replicate the line in ballet.  In the classical positions, the arms often curve--which I'd argue is a much different look and sensation than arching--as well as lengthen, or open, as in Balanchine style.

Ribcages and hipbones never arch, as such, in ballet. The bones align in ballet so that there is the leas muscular effort to be upright. The ribcage should be aligned over the hipbones, and the waist is held to engage what is often referred to as the “muscular corset of the midsection of the torso. This strengthens the postural muscles of the pelvis, stomach and upper torso. And yes, now I’ve gotten very technical about ballet.  But case in point—to arch this area is to be out of classical alignment. It gives the would-be dancer a swayed back, which is completely antithetical to ballet’s strict posture requirements.

There is, of course, some arch to the back in arabesque, but only in relation to the height of the leg, and the body moving forward and up.  In teaching arabesque, I would never ask the dancers to think of arching their back, but to maintain the line of the body. And there is a back bend in ballet, but it's accomplished through the muscles of the back, which is different than ribcages and hipbones.

Why no talk of the arch of the foot? Certainly ballet's most iconic arch is the pointed foot,or the foot sur la pointe.

I know—it seems unfair for me to pick and parse the language of a book review.  Yes, guilty as charged.  But what I’m driving at here is that dance, itself, is really hard to write about, to capture in the right words and language. And I will say the review did make me revisit a book I'd thought about reading. Now, I want to decide for myself, which, perhaps, is the real point.

On first read, the review made me wonder if the book was as spot on about the ballet world as the review claimed. And for the average reader, this might not be an issue. It reminded me that whenever we write about a specific world, we have to get it right. The hardest part of writing about dance is making the language work for both the non-dancer and the dancer.

Although, for me, the compliments about my own writing on ballet that have stuck with me most are when other dancers read my writing and say, “Yes. That’s right.  That’s exactly how it was.”


Writers in the Schools

Once a week, for a semester, I rise early and drive about an hour to a school where I teach middle school kids about creative writing.  I'm purposefully being vague about the details, as to protect the kids, etc.  And the point of my post is less about the particulars of what I'm doing than the idea of having a writer in a school.

In this day and age of budget cuts and reduced funding for the arts in particular, what I'm doing seems, well, nearly decadent.  As decadent as one fifty minute class period once a week gets.

On my way to the school, on a long, angular slope, is a cemetary.  Today as I passed it, I felt sad, and perhaps its because I'm working on poems with my group of kids, and I feel like poetry suffers little deaths in our culture, relegated to a few outtakes in New Yorkers or as an idea more than a vocation.

The headstones in the cemetary came in all shaped and sizes, and the slanted field made me think of bodies laid to rest off-kilter for all eternity, which isn't unlike my feelings to writing a poem.

Today, we talked about how and where and why to find subjects.  On young man, who seems to want to be interested in writing poems without looking like he's interested said he wanted to write a poem about playing guitar.  I think it is an excellent idea and told him so.

I passed out postcards as prompts, but no one wanted to read their poems about the postcards.  It is only my second fifty minute class, and the students are still shy of me.  I'm shy of them, but fake outgoing-ness.

The sleet and wintry mix predicted by the weather-guessers held off this morning, and traveled to my class and back without peril.  In my bag is a poem start that I wrote with the class, with hopefully something to execavate and work on.

It, too, was about a graveyard.