En pointe: Chatting with ELLE Canada contrib Deirdre Kelly on her latest book, Ballerina: Sex, Scandal and Suffering Behind the Symbol of Perfection
Much like the mesmerizing figures that inhabit the world of ballet, the beauty of the art form attracts us but the unknown allure what goes on backstage forever holds our intrigue. It’s this vast and often dark history that Canadian arts writer Deirdre Kelly delves into and brings to the surface in her latest book,
Ballerina: Sex, Scandal and Suffering Behind the Symbol of Perfection. The dance critic and ELLE Canada contributor signed copies at the book launch this weekend at Yorkville’s Teatro Verde, while her nine-year-old daughter Isadora – the image of a tiny dancer complete with
pink tutu – snapped pictures the whole time we were there Sunday afternoon. Here, Kelly chats about the salacious underbelly of this world, dispels common misconceptions about the ballerina, and affirms why
Hollywood, much like the rest of us, is fascinated by this dark and beautiful world.
What’s the energy here been like this weekend? "My first customer was a former soloist with the National Ballet of Canada. And she came from far afield and bought two copies, one for herself and the other former principal dancer, Gizella Witkowsky. And this was hugely gratifying for me because I wrote this book for and because of the dancers. So I’m really gratified to be getting the support of the dancers."
What are some common misconceptions about this world that you hope the book brings to light? "I think very few people know that behind the scenes this delicate being that we usually associate with the ballet actually has a very troubled and troubling life and lifestyle and has had many obstacles to leap over throughout her history, going all the way back to the 17th century. So I think people are really intrigued by the fact that I’ve ripped the veil from the myth of the ballerina so to speak."
Read on to find out what shocked this dance critic most about the world of ballet!
Anything shock you about this world during the research process of this book? "I would say that I knew there was the factor of sexual innuendo, but I didn’t know how deeply rooted and entrenched in the art of ballet sex is— it actually wasn’t just a frill, it was an integral part of ballet’s evolution. Ballerinas were courtesans, they weren’t necessarily kept ladies – this was an aristocratic world, it was an aristocratic practice – but they were kept ladies in a way, the best sense of the word: they were promoted from the ranks of the poor to the highest position in their own societies and I have to say they did it with a combination of skill and great
sexuality and charm."
How do you feel about having your daughter in ballet, now knowing its inner and outer workings? "I want to encourage her in ballet because even though I know the darkness behind the scenes, I think that its important for the female artist in ballet to know that she comes from a striking heritage and lineage of very strong women who up until the modern era weren’t able to hold their own weight within ballet and dominate their own art form, and I want to encourage her just to be an individual within an art form that values conformity. What I’ve discovered with ballerinas of the past is that even though ballet is an art of uniformity and conformity, it’s always that one ballerina who steps outside the ranks, who becomes a trailblazer and pushes the art of ballet in a whole new direction."
What’s next for the book tour? "I’m doing a reading at Princeton University in November. I actually profiled quite a few American ballerinas and my profile on George Balanchine who is the co-founder on the New York City Ballet, is going to be quite explosive for them because he’s a bit of sacred cow; I adore him as an artist but his institutionalizing of a thin aesthetic in ballet has and continues to
damage the well-being of ballerinas today. But there are signs that that is changing and in fact I use examples of modern-day ballerinas, I call them the new generation of ballerinas, who are going against some of these
negative past practices and are helping push ballet forward into the 21st century in a positive direction." Ballerina: Sex, Scandal and Suffering Behind the Symbol of Perfection,