This past Wednesday I travelled to Raleigh, NC, to meet two authors I’ve come to feel very close to over the past year and a half. I’ve talked, emailed, Zoomed and social media messaged with each of them separately and together so many times that the fact we had not ever actually been in each other’s presence was hard to believe.
Meeting and hugging Barbara Quick and Martha Anne Toll for the first time, after so many months of sharing and learning so much about and with each other, was quite simply amazing. Barbara and Martha and I connected as three “ballet-book authors,” committed to combing forces as we paddled our way through the wide open oceans of the publishing world.
Our joint reading/conversation/signing at Quail Ridge Books in Raleigh was months in the making (an in person event where all three participants are traveling in from afar is a complex affair to arrange), but thanks to Martha’s network, the generosity of Quail Ridge and Regal House Publishing, the efforts of Barbara to come all the way from California to join us, and the alignment of the stars, it happened. And was a great, great success and tons of fun.
While our turnout wasn’t enormous (pun intended), the group that came out to see and hear us was warm, interested, and engaged. I met and signed books for several people, including one especially memorable young woman.
She dashed in at the very last minute and although there were few chairs left on the sides and back of the seating area, scurried right up to a spot front and center, just a few feet away from where I was perched on our makeshift stage. I was intrigued. Startlingly beautiful and clearly a dancer, her body language didn’t match her bold seating choice. She crossed and uncrossed legs, arms, and hid behind lots of gorgeous curly ringlets that her fingers kept playing with. Her eyes—huge, amazingly huge for her very petite face— didn’t seem to want to meet anyone’s. She kept them mostly down, only sneaking quick glances up at us as we talked. But I managed to catch them once or twice.
During the question and answer portion of the evening, she raised her hand. “I’m wondering how you keep yourself motivated, on those days when it just feels so hard or you don’t want to do it, or you just feel down….” she directed her words to me, peeking through her ringlets.
I hesitated ever so slightly, wanting to give a good answer to someone I suspected had a lot going on inside.
“It’s the camaraderie,” and as I said it, I realized how incredibly true it was. “It’s that bond we dancers all have. It’s knowing that on those awful mornings when you are so tired, dragging yourself to class, wishing you could do anything else besides put on tights and pointe shoes, you go into the studio and everyone else is feeling the same way. You buck each other up, you joke, you commiserate, you count the hours together until the day is done and you can kick back and relax. It’s knowing you’re not alone, even though you feel so isolated in your own body. That’s what gets you through.”
As soon as we wrapped up, I quickly stepped over to her before she could escape. I had to know more. Turns out she’s a 16-year-old student at the School of Carolina Ballet, suffering from insecurity because of being a late starter and loving ballet beyond words but not being as advanced as she thinks she should be for her age. It also turns out she is moving to Asheville next year and looking for a new place to train. Her eyes finally met mine without flickering when I told her I taught in Asheville and we’d love to have her.