So my new EBook 'The 33 Worst Mistakes Writers Make About Ballet Dancers' is supposed to help writers who want to write a story that includes a ballet dancer (or two or more) get it right - and it will.
I love ballet and wanted more than anything to be a dancer for most of my growing up years. Although I knew due to my height (lack of, that is), my less than ideal hip sockets that didn't allow me to execute the ideal 180 degree flat turn out and my propensity for bulking up in the muscle department too easily ("you have the ideal body for a body builder" is NOT what a dancer wants to hear) wouldn't allow me into the professional ballet arena I was still determined to dance - which I did. I was lucky to do as much as I did in professional circles. Ballet class was something I couldn't NOT do regularly and so I kept in touch with my first love and met many wonderful dancers who did have the goods (lucky, lucky... no - I'm not jealous - much - anymore...!)
So I know what I'm talking about. My book is full of great material - from living it, from observation and research - and will be one of the best resources people can find for writing about classical ballet dancers.
So what's my big confession? It never occurred to me to write about dancers myself! Not fiction anyway. My dance-related writing is limited to workshop notes for adult beginners, children's dance programs, a few short articles, vague scribblings for a screenplay and a couple of poems. No short story. No novel.
Not yet anyway.
But I have some ideas - now... after all this thinking about ballet and writing down the stuff that I know, that I've seen, that I've felt and that I've discovered. It's fascinating!
And now I'm also confused.
Why do novels with ballet and ballet dancers tend to be so trashy? There's so much to work with.... but perhaps I'm answering my own question. If you don't really know the world your writing in then you're bound to write something with far less potential than if you really knew your subjects - even when that means you're putting them into a novel and making it all up. (Well, OK - not ALL - that's what leads to mediocre writing and having readers drop their books out of their sleeping hands, never to be picked up again.)
The ballet (and ballet-lovers) community seem to have quite a difficult time recommending books to each other on this beloved subject. Apart from a few exceptions (which I will be researching in the near future and posting results on, on my website in the 'Writing About Ballet Dancers' section) the general advice is 'stick with the biographies'. They're accurate (as far as ballet goes anyway) and the stories are usually far more compelling than any novel.
It seems, as far as ballet stories go, that truth is stranger - and more entertaining - than fiction.
That doesn't help me though. I, admittedly, am not a huge biography reader. I've probably read more dancer biographies than any other but even so it's not my first choice. I like fiction - fantasy fiction in particular - and the number of fantasy novels I'm aware of that have ballet dancers in them are.... drumroll.... ONE. I can only think of one!
Again, I don't really understand why.
Writing this EBook forced me to look at the specifics of a dancers life from a writers point of view - for the first time. Till then ballet was it's own form of communication and storytelling through movement and novels were a separate thing. For the first time I've put the two forms together very specifically and realized yet another reason I love ballet - the stories. And not just the straightforward 'program-notes' versions either. I'm talking about the subtle language of gesture, music interpretation and character that dancers work so hard at communicating through movement. It's rich ground to explore.
So why is it that barely anyone has done it?
The Red Shoes - the movie - is credited with inspiring a whole generation of girls to dance but I don't think it was just the prettiness of Moira Shearer or her glamorous clothes that captured the imagination. The underlying story of the Red Shoes fairytale underpins and echoes the main character's story. The ballet piece in the movie is a reflection of what's happening in their lives and it's haunting.
And ballet is FULL of stories like that! Each one holds it's own today precisely because it relates to the human experience. Talk about tailor made material!
So I have ideas. Two specifically. One is a novelette at least and the other is begging for a poetic approach. I'm intrigued.
I guess, in a way, you could say I've inspired myself. Who'd have thunk?