Raising the Barre: Big Dreams, False Starts, & My Midlife Quest to Dance The Nutcracker by Lauren Kessler

October 2018

This is another book I got from my ballet teacher, and really, I should have loved it - it’s about a “middle-aged” woman attempting to dance in the Nutcracker, for pity’s sake (my ballet class is currently deep in rehearsal for a Nutcracker performance in December). But there was something about the simultaneously self-deprecating and self-satisfied tone of the book that grated on me. Also, it’s halfway through the book before the author even steps foot in a ballet studio, and even then she starts skipping ballet classes in favor of Pilates and something called “Barre3”. I kind of thought: if you’re as in love with ballet as you claim to be, how are you not actually dancing every chance you get? The parts that did resonate with me were her body-image issues (yes, it’s hard to see yourself reflected in a wall of mirrors while wearing a leotard), her struggles with achieving the grace and transcendence of ballet instead of just stumbling over your own feet, and what it’s like to actually be a performer - namely, the repetition, the tedium, the cramped dressing rooms, the cold stages, the general, lengthy discomfort before the relatively short period of time you actually get to perform (I know it from ballet and especially from playing in a band. It’s not a glamorous life.).

Further reading…