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Dancing Through It: My Journey in the Ballet [Hardcover]

Jenifer Ringer

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Amazon.com: 4.2 out of 5 stars  12 reviews
14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars From Apprentice to Principal Dancer 21 Feb 2014
By Eileen Pollock - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Jenifer Ringer has been my favorite principal at New York City Ballet for years. I first saw her as an apprentice 25 years ago, and have since followed her career avidly. She is not a pyrotechnic dancer, but she has it all - she has refinement, delicacy, beauty - she is joyous. This book is the appropriate culmination of her life as a dancer, and I hurried to read it and report on it. She has written it herself with editorial assistance, the perfect combination. (There has been at least one prominent biography by a dance legend that was overwritten and lacking editorial guidance.)

Jenny describes her early days as a student at School of American Ballet, being taught - and corrected - by the finest ballet teachers - Suki Schorer, Susan Pilarre, Stanley Williams, Alexandra Danilova. Jenny is from the post-Balanchine generation, so she coached with Balanchine stars like Karin von Aroldingen.

Poignantly she writes of her first experience dancing in the corps of Serenade - "It almost seemed that with every new step I learned, my heart had to grow bigger."

She writes of being chosen as Waltz Girl for the SAB Workshop, then suffering a broken bone in her foot and having to be sidelined for six weeks. She describes the training at SAB: "Even a moment of stillness couldn't be just a pretty, static pose; we needed to look and feel ready to move at all times, and there were supposed to be invisible lines of energy radiating from our extremities."

She vividly describes Serenade, a challenging writing assignment as it is so other-worldly. She clearly sets forth the roles she has danced in such great ballets as Dancing at a Gathering. She describes the backstage of hair and makeup and a tutu that fits - a maternity tutu?

There is a great detail here, but the narrative never flags. It is perfect for girls who love ballet, and their mothers, too, for it exposes the reader to the difficulties one must overcome to reach the top, the absolute desire combined with athleticism, musicality, poise - and is it destiny?

My only cavil is seeing Avery Fisher Hall misspelled - adding a "c" in Fisher. Oh, standards!

I hope this book inspires young dancers and gives insight into what it takes to go from apprentice to principal dancer at New York City Ballet.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "Washington Independent Review of Books" by dance expert and author, Nancy Reynolds 20 Mar 2014
By James Fayette - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Through the high and lows of professional ballet, a woman comes of age and discovers her true worth and focus.

Jenifer Ringer, recently retired from her long-time profession as principal with the New York City Ballet, was lovely and distinctive dancer, with an unusual warmth and graciousness. She had a strong classical ballet technique and an unshowy, unmannered presentational style. And her face was worthy of a beauty pageant. Now, having left the stage, she is faced with a major life transition. On the basis of this memoir, her first book, she just might have a second career as a writer.

What she has produced is both a coming of age story and a love story. Her book also deals with warm family relationships, with the dedication to an ideal that artistic pursuits require, and with failure and redemption. The common threads running through it all are dance and religious faith. In terms of dramatic narrative, the heart of the book is the emotional and spiritual crisis that overtook her as she emerged from late adolescence into womanhood. It nearly ruined her dance career and could well have left lasting scars. But she managed to pull out of it and to continue to perform. Indeed, she had a 25-year dance career.

Because dancers must start training so young and must make important life decisions when they are little more than children, they face a unique paradox: as performers they carry responsibility that makes them worldly wise beyond their years, while at the same time they embark on a sheltered and single-minded existence, living in something of a cocoon. Thus they are both young and mature at the same time. Many years later, Ringer told an interviewer: “I was sixteen when I became a professional. I wasn’t prepared to cope with being in an adult performing world so my coping mechanisms turned into eating disorders and body image issues.” (While many young women bemoan their imperfect body parts, dancers have a very special, sometimes fraught relationship with their bodies, as day after day they scrutinize every inch of themselves in the ever-present, unforgiving mirror.) At the time of the interview Ringer had long since come to terms with what she refers to as her “dark years,” but when she was living them she was filled with self-loathing, depression, and shame. And she did what for a dancer was unpardonable — due to compulsive overeating she gained so much weight she couldn’t fit into her costumes. After a very promising early career, during which she was given new roles year after year, she was fired from NYCB at the age of 24. She contemplated suicide.

Religion had always had an important place in her family life and indeed it is the lynchpin of this book. But by the time of her breakdown she had drifted from the church, and had also lost her trust in God. At her darkest, “I told Him I was worthless and repulsive. It didn’t occur to me to ask for help or forgiveness — I was too repellent even for God. . . . I didn’t think I could ever crawl out of the deep abyss in which I was trapped.” Throughout the book she expresses her feelings about her faith so openly that it may make some readers squeamish. She writes of “lean[ing] on God and invit[ing] Him ever deeper into my life” and refers to herself as a Daughter of the Lord.

Instead of killing herself, she managed to address her situation: “God was taking me on some kind of journey, not revealing the whole path but showing His love for me in tiny steps along the way.” She had already attended college part time and now obtained her degree. She got jobs as a church receptionist and a workout instructor and by chance bumped into a teacher who teased her back to dance class, which she had given up while hiding from the world. She began to accept herself for who she was, not how she looked. (“It was not my thought. It must have come from God.”) Her problems with food diminished, she lost the lethal extra weight, and within a year she had returned to the stage and was soon promoted to principal dancer: “I was dancing for God and I know He was pleased.”

Her dramatic story takes up less than a quarter of the book. The rest is devoted to clear-eyed, graceful descriptions of her initial attraction to the ballet, the life of a professional dancer, performance tips such as the preparation of toe shoes, touring, competition with other dancers, technical aspects of partnering, and all manner of “insider” details. This will be fascinating to balletomanes, but of even greater interest to aspiring ballet students. Her analyses of ballets she danced will provide food for thought to those who follow the ballet scene closely, especially the New York City Ballet. Of Balanchine’s eternal Serenade she writes, “There is a ballet that is like an ocean: it seems to stretch beyond the horizons of the stage. No matter how many times I see or dance this ballet . . . I always find something new to discover, something so beautiful that I wonder if the audience should laugh or cry.”

Last but hardly least she writes of falling in love and marrying a fellow dancer, James Fayette (“my hero”), who had offered a helping hand when it mattered most, by asking her to perform with him when she was overweight and had renounced all thoughts of the stage. Clearly he has been a figure of strength in her life ever since. Once she had regained her equilibrium she had sufficient confidence in her career to interrupt it to have two children, which meant undertaking the arduous process of getting back in shape — not once but twice. At the time of writing, life seems to have been worthwhile after all.

Nancy Reynolds, a former dancer with New York City Ballet, is presently director of the George Balanchine Foundation Video Archives. Her books include Repertory in Review: 40 Years of the New York City Ballet and No Fixed Points: Dance in the Twentieth Century.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars wonderful book 3 Mar 2014
By Beverly Britton - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
This book about Jenifer Ringer's struggles with an eating disorder was wonderfully written. I couldn't wait to finish it. I love books where people triumph over problems and especially liked the Christian influence on the author's life. It also gave me a great look into the daily life of a ballerina, so I learned a lot in the process. The next professional ballet I will get to see will help me fully appreciate the hard work and day to day struggles of those in the ballet world. I appreciate the honestly that went into writing this. It would be hard to reveal yourself so fully, but Jenifer did that much to the enhancement of the book. I highly recommend this book.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars New York Times Review- "Ms. Ringer is that rare double threat: a ballerina who can write." 17 Mar 2014
By James L. Fayette - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
March 16th review in NY Times By APOLLINAIRE SCHERR- (See Below)
[...]

When Jenifer Ringer, who retired last month from New York City Ballet after 24 years, watched Darren Aronofsky’s “Black Swan,” she laughed at this thriller on the forces of ballet darkness. But her memoir, “Dancing Through It: My Journey in the Ballet,” does not skimp on what she calls “the crazy side of ballet.” With quiet eloquence and self-deprecating humor, Ms. Ringer suggests how a profession as idealistic as it is hierarchical and competitive might drive a talented young woman to self-destruct.

“We were teenagers,” Ms. Ringer, now 40, writes of her cohort of 16-year-olds just admitted to City Ballet. “It would take a while for us to realize that the world we were entering might well prove impossible to survive.”

For the first few years, she was too exhilarated to care about the endless workdays, spent learning complex ballets at breakneck speed. She didn’t mind cramming for a coveted demi-soloist role on two hours’ notice, being pitted against friends for parts, or weathering directors and choreographers’ tempers. And she had no cause to notice the shroud of secrecy surrounding dancers’ “pain or exhaustion” or whatever vulnerability might compromise the ballets’ presentation.

But her body, outgrowing the willowy Balanchine ideal, soon gave her cause. Anxious that her new hips and thighs would doom her, she began to starve herself, then stuff herself more and more, devouring sci-fi novels and mounds of pasta each night in her apartment alone. By civilian standards, she counted as merely chubby. At City Ballet, though, the extra pounds would cost her roles and, after many warnings, her job (for a year, anyway).

“Dancing Through It” fashions itself as an addiction memoir. Ms. Ringer sinks to the depths of overeating before a power higher than City Ballet management pulls her up. Raised a Christian, she must recommit to her faith before, she writes, “I could allow myself to be in this body.” And the self-acceptance sticks. When, a few years ago, Alastair Macaulay wrote in The New York Times that she seemed to have eaten “one sugarplum too many,” she was, she says, “fine.” (Still the review prompted a storm of outrage — and an invitation for her to appear on “Oprah.”)

If recovery is this memoir’s organizing principle, its charm lies in its chronicle of a ballerina’s daily work. Ms. Ringer may have been living inside “a bubble of shame,” but, meanwhile, she was listening to her boss, the City Ballet’s artistic director, Peter Martins, explain his diet plan: Cut out the cheesecake. (She contemplated instead the dancer diet of the 1970s: cigarettes and cocaine. But she tried neither.)

As for this memoir’s grace, it lies in the luminous descriptions of the ballets, which did not save Ms. Ringer but did prove soul-enhancing. “There is a ballet that is like an ocean,” she writes of Balanchine’s “Serenade.” “It seems to stretch beyond the horizons of the stage.” The first time she danced it, she felt “a light taking up residence in my chest.”

The joy she communicates about dancing balances the account of suffering. It also illuminates the essential freedom that only performance affords in such a strict idiom as ballet. Ms. Ringer lays out a comical litany of her onstage gaffes: the blanking out, the falling down, the making stuff up to hide the gaping hole a dancer missing in action has left. She seems to have enjoyed it all. Onstage, the rule of ballet master and mirror — the usual dispensers of judgment — is suspended.

“It felt as if we were alone in another world,” she notes of a performance of “Dances at a Gathering,” the Robbins treasure with which she bid farewell on Feb. 9, her powers of gesture, sustained lyricism and vibrant attention to her fellow dancers fully roused. “It really didn’t matter if there was an audience.”

As a teenager, she “wanted to be perfect.” By the time she was “a free-standing adult” she wanted “there to be a reason why I was doing certain steps.” The dances gave her reasons.

Ms. Ringer is that rare double threat: a ballerina who can write.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Bought it for a dance book, recommend it for a book about life and finding a way to follow passion 16 Mar 2014
By Patsy M. Munden - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I'm a senior dancer that started late (27 years old), am still taking class and doing a bit of avocational performing. I thought Ringer's book would be interesting. Well, it is and so much more. She details backstage prep, rehearsals, performances (how did she remember all that?!) at one of the world's top ballet companies. But what this amazing person's memoir really drives home is following your bliss, even when it seems impossible, while growing as a human being. Lots here to recommend for any addict. Ringer's addiction was to food, she used Overeaters Anonymous as well as support from her church, including counseling and prayer during her recovery. Also highly recommended for a dance family. The triumphs, perils, pitfalls of being a serious young dancer are laid out unlike anywhere else I've seen. She is a brave and inspiring writer, but Jenifer Ringer has also written a real page turner of a great read. Brava! It would be wonderful to see another autobiography of life after dance as a mom of two and relocating from the East Coast to the West Coast with her husband, a former NYCB dancer and now managing director of the LA Dance Project. I think Ringer would have me laughing at loud and near tears at life in LA as I was at times reading this memoir of her life up to age 40.
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