by Grier Cooper
(Indigo Dreams #1)
Publication date: December 2nd 2014
Genres: Contemporary, Young Adult
For Indigo Stevens, ballet classes at Miss Roberta’s ballet studio offer the stability and structure that are missing from her crazy home life. At almost 16, she hopes this is the year she will be accepted into the New York School of Ballet. First she must prove she’s ready, and that means ignoring Jesse Sanders – the cute boy with dimples who is definitely at the top of Miss Roberta’s List of Forbidden Things for Dancers.
But Jesse is the least of Indigo’s concerns. When she discovers her mom is an alcoholic, it simultaneously explains everything and heaps more worry on Indigo’s shoulders. As her mom’s behavior becomes increasingly erratic, Indigo fights to maintain balance, protect her younger brothers from abuse, and keep her mother from going over the edge. When the violence at home escalates, Indigo realizes she can no longer dance around the issue. At the risk of losing everything, she must take matters into her own hands before it’s too late.
A Day in The Life of Professional Ballet Student Indigo Stevens
Like all dancers at the New York School of Ballet, Indigo has a lot of work to do. Like any dancer at the top ballet school in the country her days are filled with ballet classes, rehearsals, and other add-ons like Pilates or yoga class. But she's also a high school student, with all the same school requirements as anyone else. Add all of these things together and every day is a very long day.
Indigo is one of the lucky ones; the ballet studio and her home and school are all within walking distance so she doesn't have to factor in (or deal with) public transportation (which is often unreliable at best). However, life still gets complicated with all the back and forth between NYSB and her school. She has to change back and forth from street clothes to ballet clothes each time, which adds to the complication (plus it's not easy yanking off sweaty tights quickly).
Finding time to eat is also a challenge, but Indigo has learned to carry light snacks she can munch on the fly. Some of her favorites include energy bars (only if they are low in sugar and have a short list of ingredients), mixed nuts, dried fruit, and yogurt.
It's only possible for her to attend school for two periods each day due to her heavy ballet schedule. Her school offers a work-around: home study courses. While this may seem like a great solution it means Indigo often has hours of homework after she gets home from a long day at the ballet studio.
It's a good thing she loves what she does, otherwise she might not be able to keep up with her life. On her toughest days she turns to her favorite guilty pleasure: a frozen yogurt topped with carob chips and coconut.
Here is a typical day for Indigo:
6am: wake up. Sew ribbons on multiple pairs of pointe shoes while munching on health-conscious breakfast.
6:30am: contrast bath right foot to help heal tendonitis flare-up.
6:45am: pack dance bag, make sure to bring snacks, multiple sets of practice clothes, Tiger Balm to put on sore muscles.
6:55 am: finish English essay, half-written before falling asleep mid-sentence.
7:30 am: get dressed
7:40 am: put hair up in bun
8:10 am: load school back pack, walk ½ mile to school.
8:30-9:30 am: attend first period, hand in English essay.
9:35 am: walk ½ mile to NYSB.
10-11:30 am: morning class, studio A.
11:35 am: change back to street clothes
11:40 am: lunch on the fly while walking ½ mile back to school.
12:10-1:15 pm: Pre-Calculus with Dr. Phelps. Struggle to keep eyes open.
1:20 pm: walk ½ mile back to NYSB.
2:30-4 pm: Variations class with Madame Glinka
4:15-5:15pm: Pilates strength training
5:15pm: power snack
5:30-6:30 pm: Serenade rehearsal
6:35pm: change back to street clothes
6:45pm: walk ½ mile home
7:15-9:15pm: eat deli sushi while reading & completing assignment for History correspondence course
9:15-10:45pm: complete homework for pre-calculus, biology, French
total hours danced: 5 hours
total hours of school: 5 1/2 hours
total miles walked: 2 miles
As you can see, each day is jam-packed. Keep in mind dance classes are mandatory six days per week, with Sundays as the only day off, so there's not much free time. But when this is the life you've chosen it's a tough but thrilling ride.
The Rules of Ballet: A Manifesto
Indigo's ballet teacher, Miss Roberta, is very outspoken about a lot of things, including personal hygiene and what dancers should and shouldn't do outside of ballet classes. Ssince she was a professional ballet dancer herself, she knows what it takes to be a ballet dancer and how hard it is to make it. This is the manifesto she shares her manifesto with all of her ballet students to help guide them:
Humans are naturally lazy and dancers have to work hard to overcome this tendency.
Take a moment to look at the average person's posture and you'll see the truth in this statement. Most of us shuffle through life in the default setting: with our shoulders hunched over and our heads down.
There is always room for improvement. If you think you are a good enough dancer, you’re wrong!
Ballet is all about reaching perfection–your own version of perfection. There is always something to fine-tune or something new to learn.
There will always be someone who is a better dancer than you.
This is a difficult reality to face but sooner or later this is true for all dancers, whether it's due to skill or age. My first ballet teacher used to tell us to never get comfortable or cocky because there would always be better dancers out there. You have to stay sharp and constantly push yourself if you want to reach the top. The good news is hard work and persistence pay off. Work to the best of your abilities and you will forge forward.
It takes hard work and discipline to get ahead.
It also takes ironclad willpower, indestructible courage and ridiculous levels of confidence. But hey, no one ever said it was going to be easy. If it were, everyone would be doing it.
If you can’t take constructive criticism, you are in the wrong place.
By the time you reach the professional level of ballet, you are not only able to handle criticism, you live for it. Ballet dancers eat up “corrections” like most kids chow on candy because they know if someone takes time to make a comment, they think you're worth it.
If you are too tall, too fat or too lazy, pick a different career.
As stated before, this is not a career for anyone not prepared to work their butts off. Although the physical ideal in ballet is slowly changing it's still a much tougher road if your body type doesn't match what ballet companies are looking for.
The love of dance brought you here and it will carry you through your career.
Every dancer you see on stage today started with love of ballet in their heart and the dream to become part of the magic onstage. That love is what keeps dancers going day after day, sometimes working through pain in various forms. But ask any dancer if they love what they do and you'll get the same answer: Yesssssss!
Ballet is equal parts dedication, inspiration, and perspiration.
It's definitely not for the faint of heart, either... or for anyone who minds getting sweaty.
The human body is a dancer’s most important tool and our biggest challenge (see Rule #1).
As mentioned above, the human body is naturally lazy. Dancers have to fight hard to overcome this tendency. Since top fitness is part of the job description, most ballet dancers spend every waking minute keeping their tools in prime shape, either taking classes, doing supplemental training like Pilates, stretching or going for a massage (although this last activity is far less likely).
Ballet involves sacrifice (of certain dangerous activities…including and most especially boys).
If you do the math you'll immediately see why this is true. If x, the dancer, spends almost every waking moment in a ballet studio that leaves y hours left to do anything else. In this case y=0. But all kidding aside, there are certain activities most dancers don't do because of the risk of injury or because they will develop the wrong muscles: skiing, horseback riding, and circus arts, just to name a few.
Whether you are a ballet dancer or not, you probably have your own manifesto for life. May it guide you well. Even if you don't resonate with Miss Roberta's manifesto, do take her advice and wear deodorant.
“An extremely touching, heartfelt, and often humorous account of a young woman’s journey to live her passion. WISH reminds us, that despite our obstacles, we can live the life we dream. You won’t be able to put it down.” – Zippora Karz, Former Soloist, New York City Ballet Author of The Sugarless Plum/ Ballerina Dreams
“Grier Cooper expertly weaves her insider knowledge into this compelling read. Even if you’ve never danced en pointe, you may find yourself reaching for ballet slippers after reading Wish.” –Charity Tahmaseb, co-author of The Geek Girl’s Guide to Cheerleading
Grier began ballet lessons at age five and left home at fourteen to study at the School of American Ballet in New York. She has performed on three out of seven continents with companies such as San Francisco Ballet, Miami City Ballet, and Pacific Northwest Ballet, totaling more than thirty years of experience as a dancer, teacher and performer.
Her work has been praised as “poignant and honest” with “emotional hooks that penetrate deeply.” She writes and blogs about dance in the San Francisco Bay Area and has interviewed and photographed a diverse collection dancers and performers including Clive Owen, Nicole Kidman, Glen Allen Sims and Jessica Sutta. She is the author of Build a Ballerina Body and The Daily Book of Photography.
Contact: Grier Cooper@gmail.com
Author links:Q & A with Grier Cooper, Author of WISH
Why did you write WISH?
There were several factors at play when I wrote WISH. I knew I wanted to set the book in the ballet world because dance has shaped who I am and has been one of the few constants in my life. Many people don’t get to experience this world firsthand and I wanted to give readers an insider’s perspective.
I also feel strongly about the difficulties of growing up in a dysfunctional family. I know the longterm implications from personal experience: my mother was an alcoholic. You learn to distrust your instincts and feelings, to play small, and to stay quiet when you know you should speak up.
Even if your family dynamics are healthy young adulthood is a time of huge transition and change. It’s a time to find your voice, to clarify who you are and who you want to be in the future. It’s not an easy road to navigate. I wrote WISH to give readers hope, to show them a path to self-empowerment, and to help them understand they can create change in their lives.
Describe your writing process.
I'm a very visual person so I always begin a project by creating a vision board. I cut out pictures from magazines that resemble the characters and settings I've envisioned and put them together in a giant collage. The vision boards hang right next to my desk so I can look at the characters whenever I need to. I also write character sketches for all of my characters before I begin writing. It's important to know your character before you put them in action.
Next I outline the whole novel, scene by scene. I'm one of those people who likes to plan ahead – my family and friends sometimes give me a hard time about it and call me the cruise ship director. But seriously, it pays to plan ahead...especially when you're writing a novel. Once I have a complete outline I look at the big picture: I make sure transitions between scenes and chapters work seamlessly and that there's a good balance and pace throughout. Figuring all of this out before I write anything saves a lot of time and headache.
The first draft took me a little over a year to write because I wrote in very short bursts, in between writing a bunch of other things. A first draft often needs a lot of editing and I spent quite a while combing through my novel and polishing it. I also worked with a group of other YA writers to get feedback and take it to the next level. My critique partners asked a lot of questions, often about things that I hadn't thought about.
Even after the work I'd done revising and implementing some of their suggestions my novel still wasn't quite there. That was a little hard to sit with but I wanted the book to be as good as it could possibly be. I tinkered some more, focusing on the parts I felt needed more work. I also read it out loud, word by word, a technique that I've found to be really effective because errors or clumsy language are much more obvious when spoken out loud. This really gave it a final polish.
How did you make the transition from dancer to writer?
I've written since I was a kid; back then I had a diary with a lock on it, which was necessary growing up in a big family. After I stopped dancing professionally I went back to college and took some writing classes where I started playing around with poetry and short stories. I kept writing throughout the years but once I became a mom I started to think more about writing for kids. Eventually I began to transition into freelance writing and wrote about dance and fitness. I also re-immersed myself in the Bay Area dance scene and wrote a regular dance column where I interviewed top Bay Area dancers, choreographers and directors. I started writing WISH at that time. Along the way I also put a lot of time into educating myself about the craft and business of children's books by attending conferences, workshops and webinars. Learning to be a writer has definitely been a process; luckily it's a process I enjoy. I'm still learning now; there's always something to improve.
What role does dance play in your life today?
I've been a dancer since I was five and I don't see that changing, although my relationship with dance has changed over time. When I was young, dance was something I did for fun. Later it became my profession and now I look at it as a sanctuary, a home, a place to move beyond my small self and connect to something bigger.
The things I've learned as a dancer – discipline, dedication and persistence– still serve me now. Without this foundation I couldn't do what I do. Writing is self-paced and self-driven. No one is telling me what to do or looking over my shoulder to make sure it gets done. It's all on me.
Today dance is something I do for fun. Sometimes during the workday I'll take a break, put on some music, and dance to counteract all the sitting and staring at a computer. Dance keeps me happy.
Why did you choose to self-publish?
The publishing industry is changing so much and independent publishing is really growing. In today's market it's the author's name that sells a book. All writers are their own brand and must grow that brand through marketing and promotion, whether they are traditionally published or self-published. That is the reality. I realized if I'm doing the work anyway, why not do it on my terms?
I also didn't want to wait years to see my book on shelf. I have many other books in the pipeline and I wanted to keep moving forward. I've enjoyed maintaining my creative freedom and having the ultimate say on things like cover design. I also like knowing that after all I've put into it my book won't expire or go out of print.
I've found the world of indie publishing to be incredibly giving and supportive, which has been a nice surprise. I'm really grateful to the other indie writers out there who share their knowledge and expertise so willingly.
What advice would you give to other young dancers and writers?
My advice is really the same for both.
First of all: dream big! Clarify your vision and make it as real as possible in your mind., using all of your senses. Keep your thoughts focused on that vision as often as you can. Believe it is possible.
In the meantime, work at your craft. Strive to perfect all aspects of what you do and ask for help and support when you need it.
When you feel ready to find work develop a solid plan. Make a list of all potential places or companies you want to work with. Cast your net wide and see what comes through. Follow up with everyone you talk to. Even if it takes longer than you would hope keep going no matter what. The difference between those who succeed and those who don't is persistence.
Which of your characters is the most like you?
I'm a bit like of many of my characters. I have aspects of Indigo's emotional sensitivity, Miss Roberta's work ethic and perfectionist tendencies, and Becky's supportive nature. I wish I had more of Monique's sass and Jesse's laid back attitude.
The cool thing about creating characters is that even though I come up with the initial vision they eventually take on a life of their own. I'm often surprised by some of the things they say or do and I'll think to myself wow, I never would say that to someone. Which is strange since the idea came out of my head. But it's what the character would do, not what I would do.
Where do you see yourself in five years?
I'll still be sitting at my desk, writing! I hope to have at least 3 more titles out by then and be doing fun events interacting with readers. My daughter will be a junior in high school so I'll be actively looking for my future home on a tropical beach somewhere.
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.
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.
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.
Debunking Ballet Myths
While many people admire ballet as art form, it's also often criticized. Unhealthy body image is one of the most common complaints. But are these criticisms based on reality or myth? Let's examine some of the most common ballet myths and see what's real:
1. All ballet dancers are anorexic.
The average professional ballet dancer spends anywhere from five to eight hours each day dancing their butts off; imagine how slim you would be if you exercised that much! Ballet also naturally creates longer, leaner lines in the body, unlike other athletic pursuits such as running, which create bulkier muscles. Although they are slender, most dancers are health-conscious—they have to be in order to have enough energy to get through their long, active days...although their busy schedules mean they snack throughout the day as opposed to eating huge meals (it's hard to be light on your feet with a full belly!).
2. If you want to be a professional ballet dancer you have to start taking ballet classes early, like when you are still in the womb.
Just look at ballet superstar Misty Copeland; her story will burn that myth right out of your head. Copeland didn't begin taking ballet classes until she was thirteen, yet in 2007 she made dance history when she became the third African American female soloist (and the first in two decades) at American Ballet Theater.
Another classmate of mine at the School of American Ballet didn't begin ballet until she was twelve but later went on to dance with New York City Ballet.
3. All male ballet dancers are gay.
There are certainly a lot of good-looking men in ballet but just because they put on tights doesn't mean there aren't some hot-blooded heterosexuals in the mix. The real-life partnership between New York City Ballet principal dancers Robert Fairchild and Tiler Peck is not just one of the most romantic love stories in ballet history (teen sweethearts, drama, breakup(s) and a happy ending when Fairchild proposed in Paris), it is one of the most prominent ballet marriages today. Other well-known ballet couples include San Francisco Ballet Principal Dancers Vanessa Zahorian and Davit Karapetyan, Boston Ballet principals Carlos Molina and Erica Cornejo and Nelson Madrigal and Lorna Feijoo, Ballet West soloists Easton Smith and Haley Henderson. Still not convinced? Rent “The Turning Point” (a classic ballet film) and watch Baryshnikov make his moves.
4. You have to be a twig if you want to be a ballet dancer.
While this was true during the Balanchine era, perspectives on dancers' bodies is changing dramatically and today's dancers are more muscular and feminine. Take a look at the lineup of dancers from companies like LINES Ballet, Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet and Ballet Black. English National Ballet Artistic Director Tamara Rojo recently made it known that she's not interested in employing underweight ballerinas. Ballet dancers such as Kathryn Morgan, a former New York City Ballet soloist, St. Paul Ballet dancer Brittany Adams and New York City Ballet veteran Jennifer Ringer are becoming more vocal about promoting a healthy body image. If you want to delve deeper on the issue, check out "Strength and Beauty," a documentary about ballerinas' personal accounts of dealing with issues like weight.
5. Ballet dancers are weak, timid girlie girls who love anything pink.
If that were true, why are droves of football players signing up for ballet? Headliner Steve McLendon of the Pittsburgh Steelers says, “ballet is harder than anything else I do”. Ballet dancers are not delicate little flowers, nor is ballet easy. It's actually enormously difficult both physically AND mentally. A dancer has to remember several ballets' worth of choreography at any given time PLUS be strong enough to leap, turn, grande battement, and relevé for (sometimes) HOURS on end.
6. Pointe hurts. Stretching hurts.
It doesn't hurt if you're doing it right! Well, okay, pointe shoes sometimes hurt when you wear them day after day for hours at a time. But dancers build up their flexibility and foot strength over time. It's a process where things progress slowly. Beginning pointe classes, for instance, are very brief. If things hurt, it's time to slow down or back off and if you experience pain when you're stretching it's actually a clear indication that you're pushing things too far.
7. Ballet dancers naturally dance well at parties and nightclubs.
Just because someone is a ballet dancer does not mean they'll be a hit on the dance floor at your next party. Trust me; these are two very different types of dancing. In fact, ballet is so regimented and precise that it's difficult for ballet dancers to cut loose. It's much more likely they'll resemble a spastic electrocuted chicken on the dance floor.
8.All female ballet dancers are ballerinas.
Typical cocktail party conversation: "Oh, I didn't know that you were a ballerina!" Um, I'm not. I'm a ballet dancer. Only the highest-ranking female dancers in a ballet company are ranked as ballerinas. The corps and soloist dancers in the company are not ranked as ballerinas yet.
9. Since ballet terms are French all ballet dancers speak fluent French.
Sadly, no ( je suis desolée). Just because ballet terms are in French does not mean that we speak French fluently, nor is there any guarantee that our pronunciation incredible...or even correct.
10. Ballet dancers are not the brightest bulbs in the pack.
Refer to item number 5 above, for how much dancers have to remember (A LOT). This skill also serves dancers well in school, since more dancers are choosing take college courses in the midst of their dance careers, with the blessings of top ballet companies including American Ballet Theater and New York City Ballet (who offer scholarship money to their dancers). Boston Ballet recently teamed up with Northeastern University to offer a program to help dancers earn their degrees while they are dancing. The university's flexible schedule accommodates dancers' routines and the company's scholarship fund covers up to 80% of tuition...which means there are a lot of brainiacs on pointe out there.
As you can see, most myths don't stand up to investigation. Whether your attitude towards ballet is “love it” or “leave it”, you can now make an educated choice.
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