‣ Being a Ballerina is written in such fine detail. Did you refer to journals that you’ve kept over the years, source anecdotes by others, or do you simply have an incredible memory?!
No, I really did not refer back to any journals or anything like that. It’s all from memory. Sometimes I’d see an old photograph from some ballet I’d done, or see a performance of a ballet I’d done, or something like that which would spark a memory.
‣ Although you candidly speak of your emotions related to events from childhood through the present, there are only a few moments in the book where you directly reflect on how your personal life – meaning that beyond the studio or stage – has influenced your professional one. Was this a designed effort on your part?
Yes, it was. As I mentioned earlier, several editors read early versions of the book and one main critique/suggestion was that I needed to show more of the non-dancer Gavin.
That was something I had deliberately avoided, because also as I mentioned, I wanted this book to be something of a distillation of the essence of being a dancer, and I thought that adding details unrelated to that would distract from the clarity of that message.
Plus, I am a very private, introverted and shy person (many performers are, ironically), and simply could not stomach sharing details about myself with the world.
That’s a big part of how and why I wrote many chapters in voices other than my own: it was a tactic that made me feel brave enough to express completely openly what I felt. It was sort of like being onstage, actually— as shy as I am, I’m absolutely uninhibited onstage, because I can “hide” behind a costume, a character, or the simple buffer of theatricality. Here, I was hiding behind another voice.
‣ There seems to have been an intentional decision to mention some of your teachers by name and others by descriptive title. What is the reasoning behind this distinction?
Again, it was a strategy to allow myself to be completely honest without worrying about hurting someone— in this case, my former teachers— and to tell it in a fictional style, while it was of course completely factual.
And then I enjoyed the veil of mystery around the descriptive ‘names’ I gave to certain teachers, as if it helped the reader carve out a picture in their own head of what they looked like and what their aura was like.
‣ As your dancer colleagues can attest to, and what others can safely assume, is that there are many ups and downs in a dancer’s career. Which of your characteristics do you feel have been your best friends throughout the journey and which your challenging enemies?
I definitely have the advantage of trust in the future. I never questioned my career choices, because I had this bizarre feeling of ‘it’ll all work out’, along with comforting myself with the self-talk about how no choice is forever.
That’s one neat thing about the dance life – it’s transient, mostly, so even a bad situation is relatively easy to get out of. I did often tell myself that during difficult times throughout my career: I always have an exit. I can always bow out, go somewhere else.
I also have a pretty extreme ability to push myself, both physically and mentally. That has definitely gotten me through some very hard ballets and very hard moments.
A characteristic that has been my ‘enemy,’ though, is a significant tendency towards self-deprecation. I have always had a hard time accepting and believing the validity of compliments. I wish I’d been able to internalize those positive motivators more, while acknowledging my flaws, without letting them pull me down emotionally. That’s a hard balance to strike!