Welcome back to the Dare To Dance Book Club! If you haven’t already, start by reading this post which introduces the book club and gives my thoughts on “Ballerina Body” by Misty Copeland.
Today I want to talk to you about one of my most precious books, “The Ballet Companion” by Eliza Gaynor Minden. I found this tucked away in a Waterstones years ago, and it became my ballet bible. I’d say that it was the advice in this book that gave me the confidence to be open about my desire to become a professional dancer, something I wanted since my first ever ballet lesson but was too scared to admit out of fear of being shut down.
I think that this book is a really good resource to have by your side for any dancer. I think it’s probably most useful for young dancers in their teenage years, starting to become more serious and explore more about the art form, but it’s full of wonderful information that could benefit many ages and levels of experience.
There’s all sorts of advice about starting ballet and choosing a studio, the main different schools of dance (i.e. Balanchine, Vaganova, Cecchetti), performing, technique, cross-training, anatomy, common dance injuries, famous ballets and throughout the book there are interesting snippets of dance history. It’s the perfect book to devour every word of and expand everything you know about your art form, and then keep to refer back to regularly.
I really do feel that this book covers everything, from advice to late starters and when to start pointe work, to eating disorders in ballet, puberty and preventing burnout. It’s really important for a dancer to understand their craft, and this book is a great starting point, covering lots of ground. What I really like is that it’s written without a bias to a particular school, covering the main points of many different styles. If you take classes at multiple studios in different styles, or have transitioned from one to the other (like how I changed from RAD to Russian), this book can help you to understand some of the key differences. However I’d recommend more in-depth reading about the style you’re training in if you want to appreciate it fully and get the most out of your training.
Although there isn’t a bias towards a particular school of ballet, there is somewhat of a bias towards Gaynor Minden pointe shoes, naturally, having been written by the woman who designed them. I wear Gaynors at the moment and I really love them. I find that high customisability of the shoes helps me to find ones that work for my difficult feet. However, many people don’t like them because they are very different to a traditional shoe. Some more old-school teachers won’t allow their girls to wear them because they feel it fosters laziness and incorrect technique. I don’t feel this is true, but that’s a discussion for another post! Whilst the book mentions both varieties of shoe, it is geared more towards the Gaynor wearer. However, everyone will find the tips about when to start pointe work, how to sew ribbons and more very useful.
I find it difficult to go in to much depth about this book because the fact is, it’s an invaluable resource to the aspiring dancer and keen amateur that would be difficult to oversell! I love it, I re-read it regularly and I keep it on my shelf to peruse whenever I need specific information. I’ve used it to help me to get to the bottom of injuries, to look up terminology and to find facts for dance history essays.
My recommendation is to get this book, read it thoroughly and use it as your starting point for further exploration. This book will give you a broad, basic understanding of all things ballet. It’s like a compilation of all the essentials every dancer should know. Take note of anything you find really interesting, and go and learn more about that in depth. The mistake you don’t want to make is to read this book and to keep it as your only real source of information. I’d say to go and read entire books devoted to dance history, anatomy, etc. because these will give much more detail than what is covered in The Ballet Companion. Then keep this book on your shelf to dip into like a wonderful ballet encyclopaedia! That is how you will begin to become a well-informed dancer who can think critically; this is a really useful skill to cultivate.
You can buy The Ballet Companion on The Gaynor Minden website as well as in book shops.
Have you read The Ballet Companion? Let me know what you thought of it!