Wednesday, July 18, 2012

The Cranes Dance by Meg Howrey

Dance. One of, if not the MOST beautiful art form known to the human body. To dance is to be free within your own soul, allowing your body to move without a physicality that weighs one down in everyday life. We dance from the time we are born, bopping to the rhythm with our flat feet and diapered bottoms, and this continues in some form or fashion for our entire lives. Those that say they don't like to dance, most likely can't, and if they were really honest with themselves, absolutely WISH THEY COULD. I married a non-dancer, but he loves dance and pride aside, he'll dance with me.

But dance as a career is a completely different game. It is not always joyous and it is far from effortless. Most notably, being a member of a ballet company is quite possibly the most physically demanding civilian profession out there. This concept is the foundation for The Cranes Dance by Meg Howrey.

The novel explores predominantly the life of Kate Crane, ballerina extraordinaire. However, she is not a principal ballerina in the company. If this does not seem important to you, it is because you lack a basic knowledge of the foundations of both ballet and the ballet company. This is not an insult in anyway, but truthfully, I found my prior knowledge of ballet a necessary component to really be able to enjoy The Cranes Dance. This is a book for dancers, and specifically dancers that will identify and sympathize with Kate Crane. Dancers that know ballet.

From the beginning we are witness to the physical demands placed on the dancer. The opening line of the novel says, "I threw my neck out in the middle of Swan Lake last night." This is a huge deal - everything in ballet is about alignment and the smallest nuances makes the biggest differences. But for Kate Crane, this injury is not a path to a short season and a restful recovery, she doesn't have that luxury because Kate's little sister is Gwen, and folks Gwen is one pointe shoe away from the looney bin. In the midst of her sister's psychotic breakdown, Kate finds the courage to finally tell her parents what's really going on in the Big Apple and by doing this, takes a mental step out of her own life as an active participant in humanness. She is racked with guilt and worry all of the time for Gwen and blames herself for her sisters downward attitude to soutenu to glissade to demi-plie to grand-plie to courtesy and final bow. (If you're a dancer, you just did that little combination in your head - take the bow to the knee by the way).

While Gwen's receiving the "help" she needs, taking a leave of absence from the ballet company due to a "knee injury," the reader lives inside the mind of Kate Crane and her downward spiral of alcohol, drug addiction, and love/hate relationship with dance. While dance was once her savior, it becomes the devil she struggles with and through a series of failures and flourishes we journey with her to find the passion she once had for her love of movement.

The book wasn't a quick read for me, but is was intense. It is 386 pages and I've heard rumor it's been likened to The Black Swan, the ballet mind-thriller that splashed across the big screen. I disagree. Kate Crane is still a dancer, and she still has confidence about her that pops sarcastic comments and quirky descriptions of the ballets unlike the broken ballerina portrayed by Natalie Portman. In fact, there are a few digs at dance shoes and dance movies in this book and it is my sneaking suspicion that ballet companies everywhere regularly make fun of cheeky media portrayals of dance.

My only complaint about the novel was that it does draw in a limited audience. The author, Meg Howrey, was a professional dancer and she writes with very personal knowledge of dance. As I said earlier, if you do not have a good understanding of dance, this book might not be your cup of tea. As a dancer, I loved that as I was reading I was doing ballet warm-ups with the classes in my head and often adagio across the floor. It was good for my mind and my memory of a craft I once called my own.

This is a picture of a ballerina's foot outside those beautiful pointe shoes.
This is far from the worst one I found, but it gives you an idea.
Consider how much it bothers you to even have a tiny blister - now multiply that times 1,000
- and they still DANCE!

1 comment:

  1. WOW, my sister is a ballerina, she has been since she is 3 years old till now (she's 18 now), she almost quite when she was 13 because is exhausting and she had a lot of pressure, and she still does, she quite university to be a full time ballerina, and she is the best of the company, she dances so beautiful, so pretty, even when she felt sore and pain, she didn't stop, sometimes she hesitates about if she can keep going like this.
    I do boxing wich is a really tiring and demanding sport too (is hard for me since i'm a woman, 16 years old) my hands hurt like hell after training, and fights, but I never though my sister had it even rougher than I do.
    I always thought "Ah... she is a ballerina, what about it? is not really a sport, she just jumps around with a smile, and it's not painful... I guess".
    She just kept saying, okay you are right, and let me think whatever I wanted to... Now that I see this, I know how dumb I am.
    I never ever thought about ballet like this... it seems to be such a beautiful dance, so tranquil, so easy going, but it's not!!
    I recently I apologize to her because of being such an idiot, while she healed my wounds after every fight and training, I didn't even think about if she was having a bad I know about all the things she has to deal with, weight, the feet, the apparel, the perfect smile and posture, the perfect dancing.
    She used to love it so much... and now it seems to me that she is struggling to remember why she loved to dance.
    I am so sorry, I love you, and I support your every choice.
    And i'm here for you.