3rd SR Crapometer #98

Dear Miss Snark,

Everyone wants to be a star. Dana Delacy is one. Dana never outgrew her dreams of being a ballerina when she grew up. Instead of going to school at her local public high school, Dana moved to New York City, where she lived in the dorms and went to the elite New York School for Young Dancers. While normal teenagers were frantically trying to find homeroom on the first day of high school, Dana was doing Pilates. She went to the opening night of Swan Lake instead of the Homecoming football game. But when she fell during an audition at the beginning of her Junior year and did irreparable damage to her knee, Dana’s beloved ballet school swiftly expelled her. (you know that the Dance season is summer, not Fall, right? Swan Lake is much more likely to be presented in June than November.)

Back home in Colorado, Dana discovers that all the grace she learned in ballet classes is useless in high school Algebra 1, and having perfect extension definitely did not equip her to open a jammed locker. Of course, that doesn’t matter, because Dana plans to move back to New York as soon as her leg heals. In the meantime, she’s going to try to experience everything she can’t experience at private school. She has an unfortunate encounter with a hot air balloon, befriends the world’s biggest klutz, and discovers a knack for twisting balloons into animals. In fact, learning not to dance is so much fun that by the end of the year Dana is no longer sure she wants to return to New York.

Learning Grace is a young adult novel with a chick-lit tone, complete at 65,000 words. It is my first novel. I have more than fifteen years of experience in the pre-professional dance world, as both a teacher and a student. Unfortunately, my most memorable performance involved a face plant into a white-feathered fan during Swan Lake. Thank you for your time, and I look forward to hearing from you in the future.


You're focused on events here when, as you know, ballerinas are mostly about obsession. This isn't a novel about algebra, this is a novel about a young girl either coming to terms with not getting her heart's desire, or, worse, getting it.

There were no lockers. No bells. There certainly was no yucky cafeteria food. Despite appearances I did actually eat the food we were served – and it was fabulous. But the best part of going to the New York School for Young Dancers was that we never had homework or tests. We had auditions, rehearsals, and performances. Much more fun. Especially when I was the one in the spotlight.

The music crescendoed as I stepped up into position. Grande allegro has always been my strongest type of dance. For this audition, I planned to fly. My best friend Mei was just finishing her combination. She leapt effortlessly, like she was born with springs in her legs, and ended with a brilliant arabesque that put her leg up above her head. Much less graceful walking than she was dancing; she waddled back towards the end of the line. She paused by me.
“Slippery floor today,” she whispered as the very next dancer lost her footing midway through the combination and fell less than gracefully out of a series of turns. I was already counting down to my cue as she spoke. Rosin, which would make my shoes sticky, was on the far side of the room. No time to change my shoes, no way to change the floor, and if I held back it would ruin my audition.

So I danced. I started with a fast-paced set of pique turns, spinning faster and faster across the floor until the last one changed direction and I stopped dead in an arabesque balance. I held the balance until the split second before the music changed and then I was off across the floor a second time in a set of fabulous, flying leaps. Going into the final leap, it was flawless. I wish time could have stopped in that perfect split leap, miles higher than any other leaps performed that day.

But I came down again. And when I came down with my weight shifted slightly to the inside of my left foot. (here's your lead --->) There were two snapping sounds. One came from my shoe. The other one came from my knee. The next thing I knew, I was facedown staring at the honey colored floor, and my whole body hurt. I heard someone comment that they’ve never seen a leg bend that way. It’s not good when a dancer says that.

You're telling me how you feel, not showing me. Dancers can describe pain in ways that amaze me. You don't do that here.

Form rejection.


Anonymous said...

"Despite appearances I did actually eat the food we were served –"

You ate it, although it appeared that you didn't?

Anonymous said...

You're focused on events here when, as you know, ballerinas are mostly about obsession.

The dance business is fanged and clawed, and this writer gives us Care Bears At The Joffrey. It's dishonest.

Anonymous said...

Actually, Miss Snark, here in Cincinnati the ballet season is winter/spring. The last time I saw Swan Lake here, I believe it was February. I can understand why you'd reject this book based on the writing, but it irks me a bit that you'd be so hoity toity about dance facts. Even NYCB and ABT have fall seasons.

Oh, and no, I'm not the author.

Anonymous said...

I liked this, and it's the kind of book I think my pre-teen daughter would like. Good luck, Author!

writtenwyrdd said...

Please don't plaster a rosy gloss over such a cut throat business. Competitive gymnastics and ballet are two places where little girls get hopes dashed for no other reason than their body type isn't right. And from there it goes on to the "fanged and clawed" mode anon describes.

Where are the broken bones in the feet, strained muscles, torn ligaments, the blood in the shoes, the ugly suspicion and poor body image among these young women? The temptations of anorexia?

Miss Snark said...

3rd Anon...the author clearly sets her viewing of Swan Lake in NYC when the kid is at school. ABT runs till November 5. NYCB does The Nutcracker in the Winter season starting over Thanksgiving.

All this is easily obtained info on the web. You can make up stories, but it helps if the facts mesh with reality.

Anonymous said...

"But the best part of going to the New York School for Young Dancers was that we never had homework or tests. We had auditions, rehearsals, and performances. Much more fun.
no. no student at an art school would say this. I studied fashion for a year and a half and I never thought my classes were "more fun" than regular classes. I thought they were harder because it took a lot of work outside of class. My brother graduated with a degree in art (cartooning) at SVA and didn't think his classes were more fun. I used to room with metal smith majors and they didn't consider their classes more fun.
Art is hard work too. Have you never taken any classes in the arts in your life?

Bella Stander said...

I don't believe the writing from the first, including that the protag would pass on using rosin on an obviously slippery floor. Also that young dancers don't take any academic classes. There's too much about technique, not enough real action.

Dancers are as neurotic about food as models, and I'm with those who commented on the obsession and viciousness of the ballet world. Read the marvelous YA novel THE KINGS ARE ALREADY HERE (also about chess) or rent "The Turning Point."

But I'll give you "Swan Lake" in fall--late fall, anyway. I thought all dancers went to Saratoga or Jacob's Pillow in summer.

Linda Adams said...

Minor thing, but the first thing that struck me was the character's name. It's awfully similar to actress Dana Delaney.

Anonymous said...

Well, speaking merely as someone who has taken professional level ballet classes for the past 25 years and still takes an adult class at The National Ballet School here in Toronto, this kid's monologue ran absolutely true for me. I've been there. I know that slippery floor. I know what it's like to hear that awful snapping sound as you land. So I wouldn't diss this on that basis....

Yes, dancers are obsessive perfectionists. It's part of our charm.... And it's a tough, competitive business, true. But among ourselves, we all understand the continual pain and agony, the impossibility of dancing as well as we'd like to, the endless criticism from our teachers and coaches, the endless rejection in auditions. We try to be kind and supportive of each other...

Which is what, when you think about it, gives us dancers a lot in common with us writers.

This story may certainly need more oooph and all that, but the dancing is authentic.

Author said...

Thank you all for your comments. To those of you who commented that my writing didn't show the viciousness of the dance world well enough, that is my fault for underestimating my readers. I cut a large part of the nastiness out of my story because I thought it would be offensive to anyone who is not a dancer. I will be working it back in immediately.

You're all correct that my query letter needs work, including the comment that the main character would be at Swan Lake instead of Homecoming. A more accurate statement would be "Prom." Most dance companies rehearse for Nutcracker all fall, start their season at the beinning of November with the Nutchracker, then have a Winter season with (roughly) three more performances after the Nutcracker, depending on funding. The really big companies also do touring, and that usually happens in the summer months.

The audition on the first page is actually not for any of the above though. It is for a Fall Student Showcase, presented at the end of the semester so the parents can remember why they are spending so much money to send their children to a private dance school. I will make that more clear as I revise as well.

To the Anonymous who went to art school: I don't mean to offend you but art school and dance school are run entirely differently. I had several roommates and a brother who majored in art, and art classes are extremely work intensive outside of class. In ballet - all the intensive work is done IN class, and the dancer in this story is obsessive enough that she rarely does much besides eat, sleep, and dance. So this student's entire life would be spent in the classroom, but it's her choice, and while it's hard work it's fun too.

Thanks again for all the comments. I really appreciate the help!

Spooks said...

I'm not sure what kind of injury your dancer/heroine sustained, but I doubt she'd be noticing the colour of the floor. I broke my ankle a few years ago - trust me - not for a split second did I notice the hill I was on, the colour of the trees, the fact that the horse was practically on top of me - no, the only thing I did was lie on the ground clutching my leg, using every swear word I knew...

FWIW, in case this is meant to be a seriously painful injury.