Tag Archives: ballet fiction

Bunheads 101: How to be a ballet dancer…or just look like one

It’s easy to pick a dancer out of a crowd. You know what I mean: dancers have that certain je ne sais crois, key traits like grace and poise that separate them from everyone else.Whether you’re a ballet dancer-in-training or simply wish you were a dancer, here’s how to get the the look.

The posture: Imagine you have a metal rod running through the core of your body that keeps the spine ramrod-straight. Reach the crown of the head towards the sky to create length in the spine while keeping the chin high. Pay special attention to the area around the neck and shoulders: press the shoulders down away from the ears to create the illusion of a long, swan-like neck.

Photo © Alexey Yakovlev

Photo © Alexey Yakovlev

The walk: focus on maintaining an outward rotation in the hips, which will cause the feet to splay at a forty-five degree angle in the classic dancer duckwalk. Suck in the gut, tuck the buttocks under and cinch the shoulder blades together, broadening the chest. Swing the arms gracefully and move quickly—like there’s no time to waste as you hurry off to your next rehearsal.

The hairdo: Slick the hair back into a high ponytail, taking special care to tame any and all stray flyaway strands. It is imperative that every hair lies flat against the skull so use gel, mousse or pomade if necessary. Separate the ponytail into two sections and tug firmly to ratchet the ponytail into a high and tight position. Twist the ponytail until it begins to curl around itself; continue twisting as you coil the hair into a bun. Wrap the tail end under the bun and secure in place with bobby pins. To complete the look a hairnet is mandatory! Be sure to choose the shade that most closely matches your hair color. Cover bun and pin in place. Shellac the whole hairdo with a liberal shower of hairspray.

The outfit: All clothing must be chosen with movement in mind. Shoot for a cotton lycra blend or go for something feminine and flowing. Choose pants or leggings with a fit that accentuates those leg muscles. Tops should be gauzy, filmy, or ruffled, A-line, clingy, silky, or stretchy. Extra points for cut-outs, off-the-shoulder, elaborate embroidery, and yummy textures.

Alexandra Danilova 1948 ©Carl Van Vechten

Alexandra Danilova 1948 ©Carl Van Vechten

The bag: Find the largest bag you own. A tote or duffel bag is preferred if you are going for authenticity. Stuff the bag liberally with enough long-sleeve shirts, t-shirts, leotards and tights to last for several days. Additional mandatory items include: warm-up clothes, protein bars, water bottle, medical tape, band-aids, ace bandage(s), gel toe pads, hairbrush, hairspray, stray bobby pins, make up bag, mp3 player with headphones, sewing kit, emergency feminine hygiene kit, deodorant, pointe shoes, ballet slippers, TheraBand, wooden foot roller, tennis balls or other massage tool, tiger balm, lip balm, toothbrush and toothpaste. Extra points if you have pink toe-shoe ribbons dangling over the edge of your bag.

The accessories: This is your chance to go wild and add a bit of your unique personality to the look. Remember that sparkle and glitz is always better. Hair accessories with fake flowers and/or feathers and rhinestones add flair; be certain they are secured firmly so they don’t fly out during turns. Earrings are another way to add some sparkle; choose a pair that won’t catch on hair or clothing. During the colder months, add fingerless gloves or wrist warmers to add color and texture to what you are wearing.


Follow these simple rules and you are on your way to looking like a true bunhead.

Truth or Fiction in Writing: WISH countdown day #5

A lot of writers include details from their lives or use them as reference when they’re writing fiction. Haven’t you ever wondered where some ideas come from… or if some of the stuff was real? Here is a taste of some of the complex moments of WISH and the breakdown of whether or not I’m telling it like it really happened.


Indigo runs into a beautiful boy in the most embarrassing way. There were plenty of times I ran into a boy in an embarrassing way but never in this particular way. Like Indigo, I have had plenty of ridiculously clumsy encounters with boys, including the time a guy I liked turned around just in time to witness my dance partner knock my tiara off my head while simultaneously ruining my perfect hairdo. However, more often than not my clumsiness was the subtle, verbally tongue-tied variety.

Indigo fills in last minute for a performance due to another dancer’s freak injury. This did happen, much like the way it’s described in WISH. There were hours of learning the part while dodging the furniture in my friend’s living room. Sadly, unlike the book, there were no chocolate chip cookies involved. Many years later the situation was almost reversed when I became injured a couple of days before a performance. I was super upset because the performance was supposed to be my first ever professional appearance in New York and I had a solo. For several days it was touch and go and I was completely angst-ridden but I healed just in time.

Indigo intervenes when Mom lashes out in a life-threatening way. Sadly, yes, this did happen. Which is one of the biggest reasons I wrote the book. I know the difficulties of growing up in an alcoholic family firsthand: it isn’t easy and it isn’t pretty. This type of occurrence is very common and it’s easy to feel powerless when a parent is an addict or doing something dangerous. Some situations demand that we take action.

Bitchy rivalry with another dancer at the ballet studio. Luckily, this never happened, which doesn’t mean there wasn’t rivalry. It was just much more subtle and unspoken. Ballet is a competitive environment by nature because there are always so many people vying for the same thing, whether it’s a solo, a company contract, or a spot in the center of the floor. This subtle rivalry usually played out as palpable tension in the room during class or playful, snarky repartee in the dressing room. Although there once was this epic confrontation in the elevator one day…

The end-of-summer beach bbq flirtation. Indigo remembers this in flashback when she runs into the guy she was flirting with that night. This did happen… but not exactly like this. In my real-life case, this flirtation lead to more flirtations on numerous other occasions, which lead to deep and profound discussions afterwards with my friends about the meaning of the flirtations after which I was no closer to an answer, which lead to great confusion and angst, but never a date. But then again, it was junior high. Everyone’s confused.

Classical Music That Will Rock Your World


This WISH playlist doesn’t read like a typical YA playlist, but just like Indigo, the main character, I grew up submerged in classical music – it spoke to my heart. I had a few crushes over the years but Tchaikovsky was my first true love. Indigo listens to this type of music a lot, not just because she needs to know the music she’s dancing to intimately but because the music is achingly beautiful. It may not get any airtime on MTV or go viral on YouTube, but classical music has topped the charts for centuries. Why? Because it rocks. No one knew this better than George Balanchine, founder of New York City Ballet, and one of the world’s most famous choreographers. Balanchine had a true knack for choosing exquisite music for his ballets. Give them a listen. You might just find this music will change your tune.

art by xjaneax

art by xjaneax

Ballet: Serenade

Music: Serenade for Strings in C, Op. 48

Composer: Peter IlyitchTschaikovsky


George Balanchine used this music when he choreographed Serenade. The first performance of Serenade was on June 10, 1934, by students of the School of American Ballet, at Felix Warburg’s estate, White Plains, New York.

Serenade is a milestone in the history of dance. It is the first original ballet Balanchine created in America and is one of the signature works of New York City Ballet’s repertory. Balanchine had a special affinity for Tschaikovsky. “In everything that I did to Tschaikovsky’s music,” he told an interviewer, “I sensed his help. It wasn’t real conversation. But when I was working and saw that something was coming of it, I felt that it was Tschaikovsky who had helped me.”

Ballet: Concerto Barocco

Music: Concerto in D minor for Two Violins, B.W.V.

Composer: Johann Sebastian Bach

Premier: 1941

Balanchine said of this work: “If the dance designer sees in the development of classical dancing a counterpart in the development of music and has studied them both, he will derive continual inspiration from great scores.” This work began as an exercise by Balanchine for the School of American Ballet. In this ballet the dancers are dressed in practice clothes, probably the first appearance of what has come to be regarded as a signature Balanchine costume for contemporary works. On October 11, 1948, Concerto Barocco was one of three ballets on the program at New York City Ballet’s first performance.

Ballet: Chaconne

Music: Ballet music from the opera Orfeo ed Euridice

Composer: Christoph Willibald Gluck

Premier: 1976

A chaconne is a dance, built on a short phrase in the bass, that was often used by composers of the 17th and 18th centuries to end an opera in a festive mood. This choreography, first performed in the 1963 Hamburg State Opera production of Orfeo ed Euridice, was somewhat altered for presentation as the ballet Chaconne, particularly in the sections for the principal dancers.

This is one of a handful of ballets where the dancers wear their hair down, adding to the ethereal quality of the piece. I was lucky enough to perform this ballet with Pacific Northwest Ballet at the Brooklyn Academy of Music in New York City.

Ballet: Square Dance

Music: Concerto Grosso in B minor, Op. 3 no. 10; Concerto Grosso in E major, Op. 3, no. 12 (first movement), Sarabanda, Badinerie e Giga (second and third movements)

Composer(s): Antonio Vivaldi / Arcangelo Corelli

Premier: 1957

In Square Dance, Balanchine joined the traditions of American folk dance with classical ballet. He felt the two types of dance, though widely different in style, had common roots and a similar regard for order. He wrote: “The American style of classical dancing, its supple sharpness and richness of metrical invention, its superb preparation for risks, and its high spirits were some of the things I was trying to show in this ballet.” This ballet is known to be one of the most demanding for the corps, both in the complexity of the steps and the amount of stamina required to perform it.

Ballet: Robert Schumann’s “Davidsbündlertänze”

Music: Davidsbündlertänze, Op. 6

Composer: Robert Schumann,

Permier: 1976

Robert Schumann’s “Davidsbündlertänze” was one of Balanchine’s last major works. Against a setting inspired, in part, by the works of the 19th century German Romantic painter Caspar David Friedrich, a series of dances unfolds for four couples. While not literally a biographical narrative, the ballet draws on the life of Schumann, its alternating moods suggesting the episodes of joy and depression that marked the composer’s short career and difficult romance with Clara Wieck. Original dancers were Suzanne Farrell, Kay Mazzo, Heather Watts, Karin von Aroldingen, Jacques d’Amboise, Ib Andersen, Peter Martins and Adam Lüders.


How to become a professional ballet dancer

World Ballet Day

A day in the life of a professional ballet student

Naming Characters

Choosing a name for your characters isn’t always as easy, especially if you have a lot of names to come up with or one of the characters is from a specific place, like Iceland, for instance. At these times you have to dig down a little deeper into the well of creativity to come up with a name that works. In the past I’ve consulted old school directories, combed through my personal memory archives for people I’ve met in the past or (when I needed a Brazilian boy’s name) researched names online.

red name tag

So where did the name Indigo come from, you’re wondering. (Or maybe you aren’t, but I’m going to tell you anyway). It’s an unusual name, I’ll admit, and there’s a story behind it. Before I tell the story, humor me and guess which of the following is true:

a. Indigo’s mom is an interior designer who named her daughter after her favorite wall accent color.
b. The name is a secret identity.
c. It’s a family name.

If you guessed a or c then you failed this pop quiz (kidding). The real answer is b, the name Indigo is a secret identity. Specifically, it is my secret identity, but only for a few weeks each year when I am a summer camp counselor. Don’t ask me why the counselors all have alter egos – this mysterious practice has never been fully explained to me, even though I’ve been working at this camp for five years now. All I know is the first day I showed up for training I was told to pick a name – although there were certain rules: I couldn’t pick a name that was already being used by another counselor and the name had to fit on the special counselor name tag. These counselor name tags were standard-issue (to counselors and counselors only) yet highly coveted because they are leather. (The campers all dream of the day they will have their own fancy leather name tags; my daughter is already thinking she’ll either be “snowflake” or “pegasus”). Once I had chosen a name and been handed a name tag, I was hustled down to the leather craft table, the area of camp that is treated with the utmost reverence because of the extensive array of hand-tooling equipment (not to mention the cost and the coolness factor). Several tables are covered with row upon row of shiny metal embossing tools. I dampened my leather tag with a sponge, grabbed a rubber mallet and pounded each letter I-N-D-I-G-O in the fanciest lettering I could find, then pounded in a few decorative elements and butterflies for good measure.


The tag turned out pretty well; it’s legible, although the last few letters are a little cramped. It’s gotten more decorative (and heavier!) from the trinkets I’ve collected from campers over the years. I wear it every time I’m at camp and when I’m not at camp it swings from my rearview mirror. I guess you could say the name is very much a part of me even though it’s not my real name.

Mostly this secret identity thing works really well, except for a few random encounters with other counselors outside of camp. At that point I always feel a little awkward because I’ve worked elbow to elbow with these people and I still don’t know their names. It feels a little funny to say, “Hey, Bluebird, how’s it going?” anywhere outside of camp.

But then again, they’re stuck in the same awkward name conundrum that I am, and when they say, “Hey, Indigo, how are you?” I just smile.