“Normally it would be pervy for a middle-aged man to touch a teenager’s rear. But there hasn’t been anything normal about my life ever since I moved to Arizona this fall.”
Those are the opening lines to the second book in my Dani Spevak Mystery Series, Pointe of No Return. The middle-aged man in question is my heroine’s dance teacher, a Soviet-era soloist with the Kirov who defected during a US tour.
I didn’t go to a performing arts boarding school like Dani, and there was a distinct lack of mystery-solving going on, but my tween and teen years were definitely shaped by countless hours at the studio. Between classes, private lessons, and rehearsals, I spent around 30-ish hours dancing every week in addition to the regular academic workload of, well, middle school and high school. Needless to say, my life revolved around dance.
So when Carey told me that this month’s topic was all about teachers, I knew I had to write about dance teachers. One specific dance teacher, actually – the director of the studio I attended. We’ll call him Mr. K.
Like Grigor Dmilov, Dani’s intimidating teacher in Pointe of No Return, most of us were scared of Mr. K. No, I take that back. We weren’t exactly scared of him, but we respected his authority and didn’t want to risk his wrath. He wasn’t a former Soviet soloist, but he’d worked with some of the top names in the biz during his own performance career. And he had a very impressive track record for turning out dancers who went on to dance on Broadway or in ballet companies.
I’m very grateful to Mr. K for instilling a strong work ethic in me, which to this today continues in my non-dance pursuits such as writing. I also love the memories I have of performing. Some of the best times of my life.
But even though I didn’t realize it at the time, I was also engaged in some very risky behavior. Mr. K was notorious for holding weekly weigh-ins. Dancers had been moved to the back of a routine – or worse, out of the piece entirely – for such minor infractions as being even a pound above what he felt they should be. (Which had nothing to do with actual medically-recommended body mass charts, of course.)
When I was 13, I was cast as an understudy in Gaité Parisienne, this fabulous 1890’s can-can ballet (which is probably why I wrote my as-yet-unpublished 2008 Golden Heart finalist, Party Like It’s 1899). I didn’t think I’d get to perform, but at the last minute, one of the older girls got hospitalized for bulimia.
I was thrilled. Pretty morbid, huh? But it seemed like fabulous luck at the time. Looking back, I realize just how warped that was, and also realize how disordered my own eating really was – even if I was never officially diagnosed. But it just seemed normal to me. We didn’t want to get Mr. K upset with us, so we did what we had to do.
Codename: Dancer and Pointe of No Return are lighthearted and fun, but they also tackle the very serious issue of eating disorders in the dance world.
My new fave fictional dance teachers these days are this pair, Fanny – played by Gilmore Girls alumna Kelly Bishop – and Michelle, Broadway darling Sutton Foster. (Although I regret to say there’s been a distinct lack of singing and dancing coming from Ms. Foster. Why cast a Tony Award-winner if you’re not going to use her talents?)
Anyone else watching Bunheads? If so, then you know that teenage character Boo is an excellent dancer despite not having the stereotypical ballet body.
Although Fanny’s tactics to keep Boo alive in the auditions during this week’s episode bordered on the ridiculous, it showed that she believes in her and wants her to succeed without having to resort to starvation diets. Although you’d never call her “fat,” Boo will never have a long, lithe body because she’s short. But that doesn’t mean she should give up her dream. I do hope the show will continue to portray a healthy body image and use the pulpit they’ve created to tackle eating disorders head on.
YOUR TURN: Tell us about a teacher who encouraged you to follow your dreams.
Amanda Brice lives a double life. During the day she’s an intellectual property attorney for a large federal government agency. At night she writes young adult mystery novels with a touch of romance. A two-time Golden Heart finalist, she’s the president of Washington Romance Writers. Barnes & Noble called her newest release, Pointe of No Return, a “compelling read from an author you need to know.” You can learn more at www.amandabrice.net.