Nancy Lorenz’ new book, The Strength of Ballerinas was released this month, and I’m excited to share an interview I had with her about her book and writing about dance!
Your book, “The Strength of Ballerinas” was just released Sept. 9th. Is this your first book?
Yes. It is my first book, and, like The Nutcracker, I am still envisioning sugarplums dancing in my head! It’s almost like seeing a baby grow from birth to that important first birthday. You go through the different stages, and it is all new to you. All of the years and hours spent in imagining and shaping the story comes to fruition when you hold it in your hand in finished form, or see it on the bookshelf at Barnes and Noble. It is a dream come true about my favorite subject.
What inspired you to write about a ballet dancer?
Well, much of it was born out of my own experience – attending ballet classes, dreaming, aspiring, but some of it really taps into the idea of art itself, and the passion for it. I published an academic paper in June, 2013, called The Philosophy of the Red Shoes, in which I wrote about artistic passion, and how it drives people. Ballet, as well as music, art, opera, acting and painting is an extension of one’s identity, personality, and ability, and is expressed through a person’s individual perspective. No two people will express a dance the same way.
I wanted to write about a ballet dancer, because so many women have taken ballet, and can identify with this common experience. Whether or not, they took class for a year, a few, or even became elite, most women have touched ballet at some point in their lives, or, wanted to. There is something about that tulle that makes even the busiest executive reflect back and smile, as she remembers that recital she did when she was five.
In my book I say that ballet dancers look like “heavenly beings” as they dance onstage. That draw to the tulle and ethereal movement creates a dramatic fairy world that captures our imaginations. It moves our souls to joy or tears as the music crescendos for the corps. It floats on the strings of a sweet violin drawing us to the woman in tulle, who tragically dies, or demonstrates a broken heart. It makes us soar when we watch a grand pas, or a bravura performance. Ballet uses music, and like all arts it demonstrates the height of civilization. Mankind creates this art, a meta-reality that exists only for a few hours onstage. It disappears until the next performance, but remains in the hearts and minds of those who view it.
I had to write about ballet.
Are events in the book based on someone you know, or experiences from your own life?
Yes, many of the events are based on my own life. I was not an elite level dancer, like my character, Kendra, although I longed to be. I had some obstacles, such as having to start too late, but there are other obstacles that girls face as well, such as injury, geographical proximity to a good school, money, ability, parental support, whether financial or emotional. I gave my character, Kendra, the obstacles of a cross-country move, away from New York, and also one of illness. How much would that artistic passion drive her, and, would her strength as a ballerina, both physical and emotional serve her well to overcome those obstacles?
I made a cross-country move with my husband years ago from New York to California, just like Kendra. It was difficult to get resources together after a move. Everything was new. Where was the best supermarket, a good doctor, E.R., job, classes? A move is one of the top ten stresses on the stress scale, they say. Kendra has more than one. She moves away, starts a new school, and becomes seriously ill – all stressful. Will her ballet training kick in?
I didn’t have an illness, or a little brother with special needs, but Kendra and I share similar philosophies about ballet. Many of her thoughts are mine as well.
What were the challenges in creating the story? (Did you travel, interview dancers, do research, etc.)
I didn’t travel, but I did some research into geographical locations. I knew New York already having lived in midtown Manhattan for over ten years. I did some research on California’s central and northern regions, and discovered more about vineyards than I knew before. I kept doing research into Multiple Sclerosis, as I wanted to ensure that I had the latest information about diagnosis, treatments, etc., as medicine changes quickly. Even now, there could be breakthroughs that are new! It was fun though, as I really love research, and find so many things interesting. I don’t; mind sitting in front of a computer, learning new things, and adding more to my knowledge base.
Do you write full time and what are your current projects?
I wish that I could write full time! No, I am a college adjunct in my day job. I love to teach though, and find a lot of reward in teaching, not only reading but also especially writing. I like to impart the latest writing techniques to my students to help them be the best writers they can be. And, now, I can offer them even better credentials than a Masters degree; I am an author as well. Since that fact, I feel even more qualified to teach them to write. I do, however, write every day to practice, as I always aim to do better and better myself as well.
What part of writing this book was the hardest?
The ending. I struggled with the ending greatly. Should I make this a happy ending, or a sad one? Should I make it vague. I threw out the vague ending, because I hate vague endings myself. When I read a book, I want to know in black or white, what happens to the character, or what he/she wants to do. So, I threw out the vague ending, as I didn’t want to do that to my readers. Happy, or sad? Well, you’ll have to read it to find out!
Did you learn anything from writing your book (and what was it?)
I learned that it was hard to not only tell a story, but to give it depth of character. Protagonists usually have the most depth, but I wanted my secondary character, Petey, Kendra’s little brother to have depth as well, I think that I achieved that. I love Petey. He doesn’t say much, but I think he stands out in his little way.
Writing fleshed-out characters requires much thought. Peripheral characters need to be memorable as well. Charles Dickens was a master of describing a character in a sentence or two. You could see him or her plainly. That was talent!
I always think of that proverbial “maid” part in comic plays. The maid usually has only a line or two, but you remember that maid long after the performance is over. What was it about that performance or that line, the costume, or the personality that made the maid a standout? That is the challenge in writing characters.
Do you have advice for other writers?
Don’t give up! I knew you’ve read this before, but it’s true. So many talented people give up before really trying. This also applies to all of the arts. Keep going! Determination and perseverance can move mountains! Don’t worry about the rejections. Many writers, ballet dancers, artists, musicians and actors face them every day. It goes with the territory! Keep your eye on the goal, and keep going!
Is there anything in particular you’d like to say to your readers?
Well, I think I said it earlier. Ballet is a common experience that many girls and women share. We’ve all dreamed to be the ballerina in tulle, whether we danced at Lincoln Center, became a patron of the arts, or ended up as a Management Consultant in a corporation. The point is that art is out there and many of us reach for it. Some reach for the costume; others for the fame; most reach for the goal because they have to dance.
I love the end credits for the film, The Turning Point, in which ballerina, Leslie Browne, dances. She portrays Emilia, who seems to dance now, almost as if just for herself – for the sheer joy. Even though we may want to dance those tragic ballets, there is no tragedy at the end of this film – only joy.
And, isn’t that what we all dance for – the joy?