This is a week for being thankful and I am especially thankful that I can count the talented Laurel Snyder among my friends. We’ve shared meals and woes and joys together and no matter how many months/years between meetings, we pick up right where we left off. Her warmth and grace shows through in her writing, and particularly in her newest book, which she’s writing about today.
Since SWAN came out, a lot of people have asked about my own dance background. I thought this might be a nice opportunity to write a little bit about that!
I danced before I wrote. I think everyone dances before they write, or speak, or eat solid food. I think we all dance. Just watch a baby respond to music for the first time—eyes suddenly alert, hands in the air, waving…
Dance has been a joy for me. I’ve done Irish-dancing and Contra-dancing and Line-dancing and Swing-dancing. I’ve moshed in pits and swirled around at Dead shows. Now in my forties, I Zumba, and adore it. Dancing makes me happy.
Ballet? That’s something else gain. Ballet made me… not always happy.
I loved it passionately. I took ballet as a wee girl, and then, starting at about third grade, I took it more seriously. Multiple classes a week, off and on through high school. I was obsessed with it at times, and to this day, the smell of sweat and rosin can bring tears to my eyes. The plinky sound of an upright piano transports me to Baltimore in 1985. But here’s the thing, I wasn’t going to be a ballerina. I was never going to be a ballerina. I think I always knew that.
It was enough, maybe, to be near the people who were going to “make it.” I loved the legwarmers and the seamed tights, the lambswool. I loved stitching my shoes. I loved shoving bobby pins into my hair so hard they poked me. I loved all the tools and the specialness of it. I felt special, just riding on the bus in my leotard, getting to be part of the club.
But I never felt secure on the floor. I was always watching the girl ahead of me. I was always one half beat behind. I wondered what it felt like to be the girl ahead of me, whether she really knew what she was doing, or whether she felt nervous too.
Then one day I was done. I don’t remember that day, but it must have happened. One day I was done with ballet, and I moved on. And I was fine. But writing SWAN, I felt it all again, the sense of love, and also the sense of sadness, melancholy, the knowledge of my own limits, and the awareness that it had to end.
I think those emotions entered this book, in an appropriate way. I think my own sadness filtered into these words and pages. And how lovely that is for me! That I was able to use my melancholy, the blueness of my own ballet memories, in writing this book.
As I wrote, I found myself stepping back, staring at my manuscript, and realizing that in this art form I am not the girl in the second row, following someone else’s steps. As a writer, I’m forever dashing forward, on my own. Imperfect, but unafraid.
It feels like a kind of magic, that SWAN brought those versions of Laurel together.
Laurel Snyder is the author of many books for young readers, from middle grade novels like Bigger than a Bread Box to picture books like, Baxter, the Pig Who Wanted to Be Kosher. SWAN, the Life and Dance of Anna Pavlova is her latest title. She lives (and dances) in Atlanta, and online at http://laurelsnyder.com. Follow her @laurelsnyder