Throughout the 90s, my day job was actually an evenings-and-weekends job. I worked front of house at a performing arts theater in Toronto, which was a fantastic way to feed my ballet addiction, as it was the home venue for The National Ballet of Canada.
Yes, I'd also been a ballet student throughout my young life, and I'd also danced in performance in my late teens and early twenties, but I had never headed down the professional dancer track. I was already moving onto another storytelling path.
I was definitely privileged to see the working life of professional dancers from my ushering-days vantage point -- and it's an awful lot like the glamorous life of romance writing.
What is the first thing that people think of when the word 'ballerina' comes up? A ballerina is obviously a beautiful woman in a delicate tutu and sparkling tiara, floating gracefully across the stage.
What do many people think of when they think of romance writers? At this time of year, during the national RWA convention when so many writers converge together and dress formally for events, it's easier to find the image that the public may have about us.
Yet in both cases it's all about the sweaty work of learning the craft and constantly finding new ways to do our art form once we've found our voices.
Although ballet is a performing art, that's merely the public meeting of the artist and the audience. The main bulk of a dancer's life is played out in the studio, not onstage. Just as it is with writers, who may meet up with readers at a booksigning or at a genre industry event, the dancer's world is internal. He or she is constantly interacting not with the faces of audience members but with the mirror, constantly scrutinizing her line (which is the physical manner in which her body unfold the steps.) In time, the dancer no longer has to check line visually. It becomes something that is felt within the body itself.
The dancer is bouncing her work off of the person setting the newest piece of choreography on the company, just as writers are handing their first drafts off to critique partners and editors.
All of the work of dancers is an ironic quest to make the incredibly hard work seem effortless. The better they are at their art, the easier it appears to the outsider. For writers too -- the better we get at telling stories, the less our readers even remember they're reading words in a book or on a screen.
These two dancers from Ballet Idaho let us in on the dancer's life -- and writers may see themselves in this piece. Thanks to James Brougham and Phyllis Rothwell Affrunti for describing their dancer's days.
Julia Phillips Smith
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