The Bookworm Sez
“Raising the Barre” by Lauren Kessler
c.2015, Da Capo Press
$24.99 / $31.50 Canada 254 pages
A snazzy red sports car just wouldn’t do it.
A torrid love affair was also out of the question, as was a wild roadtrip via convertible. No, when you reached That Certain Age, there was no crisis – just a dream that called to you, and you had to find it. Then, as Lauren Kessler describes in her new book “Raising the Barre,” you had to do a grande jeté into it.
When her husband said he was taking a business trip to Paris and didn’t invite her along, Lauren Kessler decided that was okay. Instead, because three weeks solo was too delicious to waste, she devised a plan.
Kessler boarded a plane, too, and flew criss-cross-country to catch The Nutcracker in as many cities as she could. She’d loved that ballet since she was five years old; it made her want to take lessons then, and become a ballerina. She’d seen more than twenty productions of it, and she wanted to binge on more.
But then the unexpected happened: two days after arriving home from her mission, Kessler claims that a voice “whispers in my ear: Dance The Nutcracker, it says…. Take a chance.”
But even for a middle-aged woman in excellent physical shape, that was easier said than done. Kessler first had to decide why she felt a strong “restlessness” to dance a role in the nearly-century-old ballet. She hadn’t been at a barre since she was twelve years old. And then, “who would allow me to dance in The Nutcracker even if I could?”
But someone agreed to at least think about it, and Kessler had nine months to get herself in shape before official rehearsals – a sort of “prep for the prep for the real work.” She signed up for classes meant to get her physically ready; traveled to Utah for a fitness boot camp; and learned what to wear, where to stand, and how to dance again. And through it all, she says, “It occurs to me that I could fail at this.
It also occurs to me that not trying would be the bigger failure.”
Throughout this slice-of-life story, author Lauren Kessler makes it clear that she’s tackled other challenges so that she can write books about them. Even so, knowing that this was not just a lark, “Raising the Barre” is a nice surprise.
In taking readers through a grueling, painful trip that may (again: may) garner a spot in a ballet she adored, Kessler proves that ballet – and, really, seizing any dream worth having – isn’t as easy as it looks. You may even see yourself in what she endures: the doubts, aggravations, and triumphs, especially, but also in the journey itself. And for sure, you’ll laugh, too, because Kessler keeps readers on their toes with plenty of self-depreciating humor.
You don’t need to be an aspiring ballerina to love this book. You don’t need a dream, either, but you’ll understand it better if you do. And, of course, because you do, “Raising the Barre” is a book to leap for.