Being a Ballerina
The Power and Perfection of a Dancing Life
Finalist, the Arts Club of Washington Marfield Prize
A look inside a dancer’s world
“A luminous new memoir. . . . Poignant . . . Both a personal account and a universal take on the life of a professional ballet dancer.”—New York Times
“A personal chronicle of a professional dancing life that is as accessible as it is engaging.”—Christian Science Monitor
“Excellent. . . . [Larsen’s] 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. As she documents the discipline, dedication, and sheer stamina that life in the ballet world requires, she traces a journey of transforming craft into art.”—Pointe Magazine
“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
“Larsen’s memoir oftentimes reads more like a novel than an autobiography. . . . Interstitial chapters walking through an average day in the life of a professional dancer go a step further, dropping the reader . . . directly into the everyday agonies and ecstasies of a life in dance.”—Dance Magazine
“A lovely debut that’s relatable, engaging, and unafraid to show vulnerability. A thorough, evocative, and deeply reverent remembrance.”—Kirkus Reviews
“Warm, insightful and enjoyable to read, Being a Ballerina helps cast the life of a professional ballet dancer in a new light.”—Dancing Times
“Being a Ballerina floats along like a lovely adagio solo; we both feel a dancer’s constant pain and share the magical soar of a perfect lift. Reading it is a reminder that words can dance too.”—Seattle Times
“One has to be grateful to Larsen for taking the time to write so well about the thoughts and the emotions that she revealed—and passing on the art form and those experiences to the next generation of ballet students and professional dancers.”—Mark Kappel, NewsNotes Dance Blog
“A lush memoir that spans Larsen’s 18-year career. . . . It’s a vivid insider’s perspective on the rigors of professional ballet, as well as what a dancer’s life is like beyond the footlights.”—Oregonian
“A memoir to sweep you off your feet. . . . Vividly engaging. . . . A pleasure to read not just for the backstage stories it tells but also for the line-by-line, sentence-by-sentence reward of [Larsen’s] way with words. Like a good dance, it’s swift, taut, and abundant.”—Oregon ArtsWatch
“Revealing and relatable, Being a Ballerina is one of the most readable dance books I’ve picked up for a long time.”—David Mead, Seeing Dance
“It is a vulnerable window into the inner life of a ballerina, and a true story of longevity and endurance.”—Dance Teacher
"Few if any books have ever taken us so acutely into multiple facets of the dancer’s art. . . . It’s an important addition to the dance bookshelf – and an important, sensitive, intelligent case study in ballet as psychological odyssey."—Alastair Macaulay, former chief dance critic, New York Times
“This is the best book I’ve ever read about becoming and being a dancer. Every word rings true.”—Robert Gottlieb, editor and dance critic
“Larsen relates in great detail and remarkable prose how she became a ballerina. With her we enter a school. With her we enter a theater. With her we listen in the wings and rush out onto the stage, the destination of her desire, the music her guide. We read about the difficult training that must be mastered and the fragility of the body during the process of learning technique. We learn about the joy of performance. I loved reading it.”—Allegra Kent, former principal dancer, New York City Ballet
“Gentle, genuine, and honest, Larsen shares her experiences generously, offering a compelling glimpse into a ballerina’s world—one that beautifully illustrates not only what it takes to become a professional dancer but what it means to be a ballerina.”—Jennifer Carlynn Kronenberg, author of So, You Want to Be a Ballet Dancer?
“I laughed out loud, cringed, and teared up relating to the joys and trials that a career in ballet requires and that Larsen so vividly conveys. Her wit and humanity bring behind-the-scenes experiences to life with the candor of a good friend along with the invaluable insights of a real ballerina. If you want to be a ballerina or want to know what it takes to be one, this is a must-read.”—Elysia Dawn, arts consultant and former dancer
“This book has a lovely lilt to it. … [Larsen] describes her experiences with sensitivity and profuse detail.”—Wendy Perron, former editor-in-chief of Dance Magazine
Inspiring, revealing, and deeply relatable, Being a Ballerina is a firsthand look at the realities of life as a professional ballet dancer. Through episodes from her own career, Gavin Larsen describes the forces that drive a person to study dance; the daily balance that dancers navigate between hardship and joy; and the dancer’s continual quest to discover who they are as a person and as an artist.
Starting with her arrival as a young beginner at a class too advanced for her, Larsen tells how the embarrassing mistake ended up helping her learn quickly and advance rapidly. In other stories of her early teachers, training, and auditions, she explains how she gradually came to understand and achieve what she and her body were capable of.
Larsen then re-creates scenes from her experiences in dance companies, from unglamorous roles to exhilarating performances. Working as a ballerina was shocking and scary at first, she says, recalling unexpected injuries, leaps of faith, and her constant struggle to operate at the level she wanted—but full of enormously rewarding moments. Larsen also reflects candidly on her difficult decision to retire at age 35.
An ideal read for aspiring dancers, Larsen’s memoir will also delight experienced dance professionals and fascinate anyone who wonders what it takes to live a life dedicated to the perfection of the art form.
Gavin Larsen was a professional ballet dancer for 18 years before retiring in 2010. A principal dancer with the Oregon Ballet Theatre, she also danced with the Suzanne Farrell Ballet and Alberta Ballet and as a guest artist with Ballet Victoria. She has written for Pointe, Dance Teacher, Dance Spirit, Dancing Times, Oregon ArtsWatch, Dance/USA’s From the Green Room, the Maine Review, and The Threepenny Review, among others. She writes and teaches in Asheville, North Carolina.
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