Marie’s novel releases today from Riverhead Books and we’ve got a copy up for grabs. Simply leave a comment on this post and we’ll enter you in the drawing.
Update: the winner of this giveaway is Susan Coster. She has been notified by email. Thanks to everyone who entered! Check back soon for more giveaways!
Have you ever stood at the barre with your heels together, your feet turned out, bending your knees? Do you know a strange collection of French terms—battement beat, fouetté whip, frappé strike? Do you handle hairpins with deftness? Sit ramrod straight? Have you ground rosin beneath your slippers? Do you sometimes look at your footprints in the snow and see that still you walk with your toes turned out to the sides?
Can you recall the tiny nod of the ballet mistress as she took in the line of your attitude—your open hip, your toe level with your held high knee? Remember your first decent fouettés en tournant? Had the turns eluded you the very next day? Were there tears behind the piano? Had you stomped off?
Do you remember putting on that first pair of pointe shoes? How you had risen onto the tips of your toes about a hundred times even if the ballet mistress said only fifteen minutes to start? Was there a blot of seeped blood on the toe of your stockings? Had you felt a bit of pride?
Do you sometimes dream you cannot get the combination right? Is the ballet mistress waiting, the two bars of introductory music very nearly finished, and still you cannot remember whether the glissade was en avant or en arrière? Or worse, do you dream of the stage, your mind unable to recall the steps? Do you wake knowing that no such debacle ever happened, that always you were prepared?
Do you remember those moments when you truly felt the music, the way your body became expansive, full of grace, precise? Was your bliss such that you failed to notice your heaving ribs, your knotting calf? Had the moment faded too quickly? Was it one you wanted to feel again?
While I was writing The Painted Girls, I went to Paris to research the story of Marie van Goethem, the young dancer who had modeled for Edgar Degas’s beloved sculpture Little Dancer Aged Fourteen and is the novel’s protagonist. I was lucky enough to attend a class of the fourteen-year-old girls at the dance school of the Paris Opéra Ballet. What struck me most was how, even a continent away and thirty years after I had stood at the barre, the slippers, the pinned up hair, the exercises, the corrections, the music had not changed. And it made me think that, same as me, a hundred years earlier Marie had flubbed combinations and wept and counted music and ground rosin beneath her slippers and nailed fouettés en tournant and experienced moments of undeniable grace. I think Marie’s story speaks to that place inside each of us that always surfaces, as we take in the magic of a sylph before us on the stage– our remembering bodies twitching with a longing to dance.
About Ariel Lawhon
Ariel Lawhon is the co-founder of She Reads, novelist, blogger, storyteller, and life-long reader. She lives in Texas with her husband and four young sons (aka The Wild Rumpus). Ariel believes that Story is the shortest distance to the human heart.