“A behind-the-scenes glimpse into the fascinating and challenging world of New York City Ballet under Balanchine. It is also a compelling portrait of a dancer’s career and a testament to the many places a love of dance can take you.”—Suzannah Friscia, former assistant editor, Dance Magazine and Pointe
“A gift to everyone who cares about the professional and educational dance world. Sills provides intimate and poignant reflections about her youthful career on Broadway followed by years as a corps de ballet and soloist dancer with New York City Ballet during renowned choreographer George Balanchine’s most prolific years.”—Myron Howard Nadel, coeditor of The Dance Experience: Insights into History, Culture, and Creativity
“A lively and valuable read for dance fans, particularly Balanchine enthusiasts. It provides not only a trajectory of Bettijane Sills’s career—from child actor to hardworking ballerina to dedicated teacher—but also a candid view of the talented, complicated Mr. B.”—Yaël Tamar Lewin, author of Night’s Dancer:The Life of Janet Collins
In this memoir of a roller-coaster career on the New York stage, former actor and dancer Bettijane Sills offers a highly personal look at the art and practice of George Balanchine, one of ballet’s greatest choreographers, and the inner workings of his world-renowned company during its golden years.
Sills recounts her years as a child actor in television and on Broadway, a career choice largely driven by her mother, and describes her transition into pursuing her true passion: dance. She was a student in Balanchine’s School of American Ballet throughout her childhood and teen years, until her dream was achieved. She was invited to join New York City Ballet in 1961 as a member of the corps de ballet and worked her way up to the level of soloist.
Winningly honest and intimate, Sills lets readers peek behind the curtains to see a world that most people have never experienced firsthand. She tells stories of taking classes with Balanchine, dancing in the original casts of some of his most iconic productions, working with a number of the company’s most famous dancers, and participating in the company’s first Soviet Union tour during the Cold War and Cuban Missile Crisis.
She walks us through her years in New York City Ballet first as a member of the corps de ballet, then a soloist dancing some principal roles, finally as one of the “older” dancers teaching her roles to newcomers while being encouraged to retire. She reveals the unglamorous parts of tour life, jealousy among company members, and Balanchine’s complex relationships with women. She talks about Balanchine’s insistence on thinness in his dancers and her own struggles with dieting. Her fluctuations in weight influenced her roles and Balanchine’s support for her—a cycle that contributed to the end of her dancing career.
Now a professor of dance who has educated hundreds of students on Balanchine’s style and legacy, Sills reflects on the highs and lows of a career indelibly influenced by fear of failure and fear of success—by the bright lights of theater and the man who shaped American ballet.
Bettijane Sills, is professor of dance at Purchase College, State University of New York. She danced with New York City Ballet from 1961 to 1972, first as a corps member and later as a soloist. Elizabeth McPherson is associate professor in the Department of Theatre and Dance and coordinator of the BA and MFA in dance at Montclair State University. She is the editor of The Bennington School of the Dance: A History in Writings and Interviews.
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