I would like to share a book that I read a while ago, and am re-reading, as it seems relevant to the current situation, and may inspire dancers struggling with the loss of their classes (or careers). It is not a kids book, best for older teens, but if any of you parents want to read it, you can share the appropriate stories with your dancer. I think it would be fair to say that the more general events of the story, dancing and the war, would apply very well to the experiences of my own teacher, Miriam Williamson, who told us stories of how they were performing as the bombs were dropping, and no one ever left the theater. The show must go on! It is good to get some perspective.
Name: A Dancer in Wartime, by Gillian Lynne. Here are a few reviews:
A Dancer in Wartime: The Touching True Story of a Young Girl’s Journey from the Blitz to the Bright Lights
Penguin Random House, 2012 – Ballerinas – 292 pages
A unique memoir about ballet, World War II, and a peerless group of dancers, this is an irresistible read for all ballet lovers
Gillian Lynne is one of the world’s preeminent choreographers, but she started her career as a ballerina, learning to dance alongside Margot Fonteyn during World War II, and here is the story of her extraordinary childhood. From Miss Madeleine Sharp’s Ballet Class for Young Ladies in Bromley to being evacuated with her theater school to a crumbling pile in rural Leicestershire, and from performing in the West End with doodlebugs falling to touring a devastated Europe to entertain the troops, the early years were hard, exciting, and dramatic. And when the call came to join Sadler’s Wells–well, what ballerina hopeful could have asked for more? An irresistible mix of wartime nostalgia and the story of a leading ballerina’s hard-won path to success, this is the perfect read for all ballet lovers, and is illustrated throughout with exquisitely charming black-and-white photos, programs, and keepsakes.
And here is a very good write up from an amazon review by (S. Riaz)
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.