The Lure of the Tutu

Get out your ballet shoes and dust off childhood dreams of dancing, ballet is back in fashion.

Black Swan, a psychological horror movie  starring Natalie Portman as a technically talented but passionless ballet performer, is hitting the cinemas on Thursday. The movie has attracted a lot of attention, including picking up a Golden Globe for Portman’s performance and re-ignited a lot of interest in the art of dance. All things ballet are tipped to be “on trend” and “fashion forward” and a whole bunch of other terms that I am unsure of the meaning of but I suspect translate to “will look terrible on you”. So we can look forward to a year of ballet flats, overly severe buns and people who should know better insisting leotards and leg-warmers can look good in night clubs (Madonna, I’m looking at you).

I’m not anti-ballet – I’ve seen more than a few performed and, back in my pre-teen years, I had a truly impressive collection of books on the subject. I’m blaming Noel Streatfeild’s Ballet Shoes for starting my childhood mania and but I’m told that Angelina Ballerina is a more likely culprit these days for getting tomboys into tutus.

I harboured dreams that I would one day dance The Nutcracker as opposed to using one to rip the heads off my Barbies. Much like Dawn French, whose autobiography Dear Fatty has a photo of her all leotard-ed up and ready to dance despite clearly having a physique better designed for rugby, I wanted to be a ballet dancer. It took a while for me to accept the fact that they were unlikely to change Swan Lake to Rhino Pond, and that my dancing attentions were better turned to less ethereal pursuits.

(It wasn’t that bad, I also wanted to be a nun on roller skates, jockey, fighter pilot, both the princess and the knight in shining armour, a teacher, vet, writer and artist. I think I may also – after seeing The Last Unicorn – have wanted to be a unicorn as well. So, let’s face it, something had to go.)

For those of you who’d like to stay “on trend” without squeezing yourself into a pink tutu, there’s plenty of ballet reading out there. If you’re not sure you can take a whole book of pirouetting, try Bloomsbury Ballerina, the biography of Lydia Lopokova which links her dancing and wild life with war, revolution and the economic policies of the super-powers via her marriage to John Maynard Keynes. Or read about the fiery Nureyev, “ballet’s first rock star”.

Another excellent ballet biography is the justly celebrated Mao’s Last Dancer, Li Cunxin’s story of his childhood at Madame Mao’s Beijing Dance Academy, his subsequent stellar career and his defection from China. (For that additional local “you couldn’t make this up” angle, Li is now a senior manager at one of the biggest stockbroking firms in Australia and was named the 2009 Australian Father of the Year.)

Fancy reading about things further afield, or looking for a gift for someone you suspect already owns every ballet book? Cuban Ballet by Octavio Roca is due to be released later this month, and is a lushly illustrated tome exploring the unique history and spirit of Cuban ballet by focusing on the life and career of Alicia Alonso.

There’s plenty of reading for people inspired by the movie but make sure you don’t pick up the book called The Black Swan. While it is an excellent read, it’s a non-fiction tome on probability, forecasting and random real-life events, with narry a tutu – nor Natalie Portman – to be found.

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Sadhbh Warren

Sadhbh Warren is a freelance writer and proud booklover. Her name is pronounced Sive - like five – an Irish name, easier to say than spell! She lives in Sydney, writing travel and humour articles, and is always on the lookout for a great new book.

4 thoughts on “The Lure of the Tutu”

  1. Great post!

    There’s also Apollo’s Angels, which is a non-fiction recommended by New York Times- looks absolutely fabulous, and P.S. didn’t Nat Portman look glorious at the Go Glos?

  2. I haven’t had a squiz at Apollo’s Angels but it does look good, thanks for the reminder.

    Natalie Portman always looks fab, but she was glowing even more than normal at the Globes – pregnancy (and a skilled make-up artist) obviously suits her!

  3. Nice Article.

    I actually was a professionally trained ballerina through my early 20’s, and after spending about 15 years of beating my body into shape. That was before I caught Mono (I think you call it glandular fever here) and gained 18 Kilos because I had to stop dancing. Basically, my body’s metabolism said “if you’re not doing 150 fuettes and at least 3 hours of dancing a day I’m going to make you fat!!!”

    But the thinness they wanted was almost impossible. In 2002 I was a size 2-4 (6 on a bad day) and not thin enough to make callbacks. Don’t believe me? I have those sizes in suits and tops back in the states – and pictures of me in them.

    Dance was a hard dream to give up – but I loved ballet because of the fluidity and the music. I’ve found the same thing in film editing and I really hope it feeds my soul the same way ballet did.

    Of course I may try to go back to ballet for exercise and fun. God knows there are probably thousands of people rushing to try ballet because of this film right now and I’m sure I’m not going to dance half as bad as they will. Who knows – by the time the trend is over, I might be at a strong enough level to do adagios for 10 minutes straight (which is what I loved doing anyway). : )

    Oh – and I always wanted to be a magical transfiguring unicorn girl too. : ).

  4. There was a novel I had when I was younger, titled Listen To The Nightingale. It was an interesting treatment of the subject of ballet, because it’s all about the sacrifices necessary to pursue a career in the art, and the protagonist is a little girl of about 11. It’s really interesting, and sweet, and sad.


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