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4.4 out of 5 stars
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4.4 out of 5 stars
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Gillian Lynne is a choreographer, who began her career as a ballerina. Her mother took her to the doctor as a child, feeling she was hyperactive. As the author says, if such a thing happened now she would undoubtedly be given a named condition, but, luckily for her, the doctor suggested dance class for all that excess energy. So, Jill (as she was then) headed for Miss Madeleine Sharp's class for young ladies at the Bell Hotel ballroom in Bromley. At ten, she won a scholarship to the Royal Academy of Dancing, but life was interrupted by the sad death of her mother in an accident (her supporter and greatest champion) in 1939 and then the outbreak of war, which led to her father being recalled to the army (he had also fought in WW1).

Without her mother, Jill could not attend the Royal Academy for classes and ran away when evacuated. However, with the help of family members and the support of her father, she auditioned for the Cone Ripman school. This was a theatre school, strong in dance, but weak in other ares of the curriculum. Bombing meant the school had to move at least twice. A chance concert in London, led to her working with Molly Lake at the Ballet Guild. At the end of 1942 she gave up academic education for ever and was asked to change her name. A professional career was beckoning.

This, then, is the story of one girl during wartime. A girl who dodged bombs to make her way across London from her aunts house to dance class. Who was often noticed and approached by those who recognised her talent - she was appalled when her aunt turned down an approach by Ninette de Valois to join her company (Sadler's Wells Ballet and Opera), but they agreed to wait until she was eighteen and ask again. In 1944 she did join Sadler's Wells and danced in the same company as Margot Fonteyn, where she went back to the bottom rung of the ladder and had to make her way up again.

The company suffered along with the rest of the country - bad housing, rationing, broken sleep and danger. Yet, the author claims that her love of dance was so great that she felt no fear as she sat in trains waiting for the bombs to pass. The company were dancing on stage when a doodlebug passed over them and they all stood, poised on stage and listening, until the explosion happened outside and they were able to breath again. There are also tours, to Belgium and France, and later to Germany, to entertain the British and American troops. The author was shocked at the devastation in Germany, despite having lived with bombing for so many years.

This is a story told with no self pity and in a very no nonsense way, much as you imagine the author herself to be. She copes with everything life throws at her and simply gets on with things. It is a fascinating account of those years and of the dedication involved in becoming a dancer. At the end of the book you feel how proud her mother would have been of how far her daughter had come from those early dance lessons to the great dancer, and very sensible young lady, she had become. I read the kindle version of this book which did contain illustrations, but they were quite small and hard to see. If you feel that might be an issue, then you might prefer to buy the book. However, I really enjoyed it, felt privileged to read about this remarkable woman's life and recommend it highly.
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on 28 November 2011
The memories of the legendary choreographer of the musical Cats and so much more, told clearly and honestly with the help of the detailed diaries she kept, conjure up the lost pre-war world as well as the perils and excitements of wartime with amazing clarity and detail. Following her life as she survives the tragic loss of her mother in a car crash and her father's call-up into the forces, the unwelcome attentions of a young girl dancer and the welcome ones of a distinguished officer, and graduates through dancing troupes to become part of the Royal Ballet, the volume ends on the day Covent Garden reopened after the war, her twentieth birthday, with her dancing on its stage along with Margot Fonteyn and other famous names. I can't wait to learn about the next 65 years.
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on 24 June 2013
What a wonderful story - and what a wonderful person - full of vitality and optimistic energy - should be an inspiration for budding dancers and a guide to understanding the hard work and dedication that is required to be successful if this is the chosen career.
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on 16 January 2012
A charming story of Gillian Lynne's early years as a dancer but unfortunately her writing isn't as mesmerising as her choreography and the editor should have been more ruthless. As the title suggests, the book covers a very limited period in time and there are a lot of Lynne's family memories, which although clearly very important to her, aren't as interesting as the stories about the dance world. There is nothing about Lynne's later career - is another volume planned for Cats? If this book could be condensed to three chapters of a longer biography it would be perfect.
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on 13 November 2011
This is such a moving and vivid account of how a dancer fought the war with courage, determination and discipline! Loved it.
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on 13 February 2013
I bought this book for my mother for a Christmas present because she joined the Royal Ballet at the same time as Gillian Lynne.
She thoroughly enjoyed the book as many of her friends and colleagues were mentioned in the book.
Apart from one glaring untruth in the book (perhaps the author thought that none of her fellow dancers would still be around to know the truth)! my mother loved reliving the times she spent at Coventry Garden.
Delivery was swift considering that I ordered close to Christmas.
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on 15 July 2014
A very simple review of one girl's rise from obscurity to fame as a ballet dancer.

No excitement in the book as each chapter of her training and advancement is told in a deadpan fashion. Even her wartime adventures are related in a matter of fact manner with no excitement as if from a diary.

This was a set book in our book club and I was glad when I had finished it.
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on 17 March 2013
This book was an easy read and I found it particularly good for picking up now and then and continuing the story, Suitable for a teenager who is into ballet. I shall definitely send it to my 12 year old grand daughter. Gillian Lynne is an amazing woman, but not the most gripping of authors.
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on 9 February 2014
A very poignant and delightful rendering of Gillian's life. So interesting from both the dance point of view and the War Time era.
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on 12 February 2012
They say all autobiography is fiction and all fiction is autobiography. Perhaps the author should have written a novel!

She may have skated round some of the finer points of her growing up in wartime but she was wonderful about Madam and Margot and I am glad of that.
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