Mean Girls…In Toe-shoes: A Review of Love You, Hate You by Charis Marsh, Book 1 in the Ballet School Confidential series

5245026For those who don’t know, I am a HUGE ballet nut, no pun intended. And it all started with PBS. I was about 3 or 4, before my parents got the big D. It was near the holidays and PBS was airing Cinderella. I only got to see a few minutes of the first solo that Cinderella does with the broom in the very beginning, because my mother hated the music and made me change the channel, but from then on, I was hooked. I wanted that! I wanted to be that ethereal figure dancing onstage using her body to tell a story. All I wanted was to dance. I begged my dad for ballet lessons. Finally in Fourth grade, I got to dance, but not the way i had hoped.

I began in a small dance studio where they almost absolutely refused to teach you ballet until you had had at least one year of tap. The music was fun, but I was dejected. I hated the noisy shoes, the loud sporadic movements. I wanted the smooth grace that was ballet. Unfortunately, when I got what I really wanted, it ended up being my sister and myself alone in the class. Not exactly a great idea, but you work with what you’ve got. To make matters even worse, our teacher seemed more focused on the money that she got from giving us lessons than she did really making us good dancers. There were no corrections, no directions on what we should or should not eat, nothing. No one seemed to take it seriously that I wanted to be Prima Ballerina.

By the age of 12, that dream was pretty much dead. I still love the ballet, but by that time my body had started that wonderful change, and it became very apparent that I would be too top heavy to dance. Not only that, but lack of a really truely dedicated teacher seemed to pop that particular balloon. I did my best to teach myself from books, and even now about twice a week, I stand at my kitchen counter and use that as a barre to make my legs strong.

Not being able to achieve my dream of Prima Ballerina did not cool my love for the ballet. I collected ballerina dolls, read stories about ballerinas, and dancers of all sorts. Even now a good book about the corps of a ballet will send me rushing to my makeshift barre to stretch myself. (Thank you, YouTube). So when I was at my local Library and I happened to see these series of books, of course I had to give it a go. The story follows 4 main characters, Kaitlyn, Alexandra, Taylor, and Julian the only boy to star in the books. (there are other main characters, but it is a fact that men in the dance world are outnumbered at least 3:1). Over all the book is a great story of one ballet school in Vancouver, but it is told, alternately in four different voices.

Kaitlyn has the best technique, but poor body type. She truely seems to work the hardest of the four and she seems to want it the most, unfortunately, it seems that both the school and her mother will drive her to an eating disorder just to get a good role and the career that she so covets.

Alexandra already suffers from an eating disorder, and is hiding it from the school and her parents. Painfully thin she feels that she is the best and should get everything, but she just doesn’t have the technique. She works hard but she seems to push all her troubles off onto the teachers, not her own lack of… well, something.

Then there is Taylor. She is constantly the butt of jokes, and it seems she is always being made fun of. She is simply not a good enough dancer for the big roles and she seems to only get the roles she does due to her body type, a perfect willow thin.

Julian seems to only be there because its fun. He seems to lack dedication to the dance and is only there on lark.

Now dance should be fun, you should enjoy it, but these young people are what is considered pre-professional. Which i guess would explain the purely cutthroat nature that is exposed in this book. Think Memoirs of a Geisha , and each character in turn gets to be both Sayuri and Hatsumomo. Each main character gets to be victim and tormentor alike. Not even likable Taylor whose biggest fault is that she is too nice, is nice all the time.

This is good and bad because while the characters are real, and I can totally see much of this acutally happening, much of it is also unacceptable bullying. From the teachers, I understand the Drill Sergeant bit. Push them harder than they ever will be in performance so that when the time comes they will shine. I get that. Can accept that, but Kaitlyn is “fat” for a dancer, Taylor doesn’t have the brain G-d gave a gnat, Alexandra expects accolades for sub-par dancing and Julian gets away with murder because he is a boy, and there is a shortage of boys. Worse of all in the climax of the story a series of pranks are pulled on Kaitlyn that are not only cruelly, but that could have injured her greatly, and no one does anything. The teachers, the parents just seem to let it pass as teenage hijinks.

In many ways, this is a great book for anyone who can see the truth, but it is detrimental in that in this climate of unbelievable cruelty going unchecked, an example is not set.

****/5 stars.


About Navah Vesper Anat Yehudit

I am an avid fan of the Ballet, am expanding my tastes in Opera and all all Classical Arts. I enjoy Japanese art, needle craft, crochet, knitting, and though my past-times are old-fashioned, and some of my ideas are, that isn't necessarily a bad thing in this age of progress for the sake of progress.
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