A Dance Journey Through Memoir

Book Review of “Being a Ballerina” 
written by Gavin Larsen

Dean Speer

I thought that one of the best ways to review this book was to read it again. It’s that good – that, and I wanted the simple pleasure of allowing myself to walk through Larsen’s career story again.

It felt so wonderful to be able to get Gavin Larsen’s excellent memoir, “Being a Ballerina,” when it first came out, and I happily and hungrily devoured it. I had known of Larsen from, first, her years at Pacific Northwest Ballet in Seattle, and later, observing the whole of her tenure at Oregon Ballet Theatre. During that OBT run, I got to interview her for this site.

Cover of Gavin Larsen’s
“Being A Ballerina”
Photo courtesy of
University Press of Florida

I cannot believe she left the stage 10 years ago. I’d followed one subsequent branching out of her career — that of a writer, and an excellent one at that — enjoying her pieces in trade publications. So, in a sense her book is a culmination of a storied career.

Through a series of relatively short essays, Larsen invites readers by telling her stories with great use of language, imagery, and terse phrase. It was fun imagining myself in her place, alongside her as she journeys from being fresh off the boat, so to speak, as she learns to navigate the perils of two different ballet schools, her first professional full-time job at PNB, Alberta Ballet as a free-lance, and then as a principal at Oregon Ballet Theatre. Quite a remarkable road, and a rich one.

It was doubly fun for me, as I’ve inhabited both of the NYC spaces (New York Ballet School, in the former SAB space, and viewing classes at SAB’s current home), guessing who the “curly-haired teacher” at SAB might be (my money is on Suki Schorer), and the others Larsen recounts with great insight and well-measured humor. Larsen is an excellent writer and, combining that with her unique voice, makes her a writer’s writer.

She brings us into her career so well that it’s easy to forget that she brings us into her life as well. For example, I wept and was deeply moved by her personal story about the older rescue kitten she adopted and adored, and eventually having to say goodbye to it.

“Being a Ballerina” is recommended for all ages. It’s of particular interest to those who are considering a career in the lively arts, but also also an excellent read. I’ll probably read it again and again…

“Being a Ballerina” is available through the University Press of Florida at: https://upf.com/book.asp?id=9780813066899