Ballet girls are certainly in a world of their own when it comes to the dedicated life a dancer. Cate Holahan's first book, DARK TURNS, is a ballerina thriller about a young dancer who gets pulled into a world of mystery, lies and murder.
Cate Holahan is an award-winning journalist and former television producer, based in the United States. Olivia Holland is a professional ballerina and currently in New Zealand. They managed to get together on Skype to discuss the ballet world, competitiveness and thriller books!
Introduction by Olivia Holland:
I trained at a boarding school in London at the Royal Ballet School to become a professional dancer - an establishment that comes with exacting pressures and high expectations. It's true to say that, like any intense environment, it can bring out the judgemental attitudes and gossip precisely as featured in Cate Holahan's DARK TURNS. An interesting read for anyone in the ballet world".
Here's the discussion transcript:
Cate asks: “How competitive is it in one of those places? Obviously I'm inflating for the purposes of a thriller … is it really like that?!”
It is competitive, (although there are certainly no murder mysteries!) everyone wants to become a professional dancer and that pressure can get to you. Once you’ve reached a professional company I’d like to think it becomes more of a mature environment, although the goal never really stops to keep striving for more.
DARK TURNS shows the intensity of a ballet boarding school and writing in such a detail about ballet, you would think you’d have to be a former dancer to do so.
Cate: "I understand why people study it for so long because two years later I was working on still standing up properly.”
Despite not being a professional ballet dancer herself, Cate truly understands deep inside the world of dance which comes out strongly in her book.
Dancer’s can be quite protective and judgemental at how other’s represent or try to emulate the ballet world.
Cate: "You have to be an athlete at the top of your game and express like an artist”
Cate took adult ballet classes among retired dancer’s and ex-professionals. Her knowledge of life involved with ballet really stands out in DARK TURNS, which is sure to be appreciated by other ballet dancers like myself.
There is even a part of the book which beautifully describes a performance of Balanchine’s Agon, a renowned piece of repertoire in dance.
Cate: “Not only did I see it but I also watched the videos on youtube over and over again. So many people know that ballet you have to really get it right.”
There are also many personality traits in the characters of DARK TURNS which are similar to ballet girls. Leading dance figure, Misty Copeland, also acts as an influence on the main character Nia Washington.
Cate: "It was interesting Misty had a similar experience of being an outsider and having to work a little harder to become accepted into this world"
One particular moment that stood out for me at the beginning of the book was Nia instantly criticising the ballet girls and judging others. This can become quite a personality trait of a dancer to look at other things and instantly judge it.
If you go to an audition as a dancer, you can't always help it but size up the competition and look at other ballet girls “she’s too small” “she’s too tall”. This is a bad mentality to get into and you have to bring yourself back into your own world. If you focus too much on other people it will destroy your mentality which is a key factor in making it as a dancer.
Since the release of the American psychological thriller-horror film, Black Swan, ballet seems to have found a new place in displaying the attitudes that go towards becoming a ballerina.
Cate: “I think it’s an interesting time for ballet it’s become a bit of a culture phenomenon after Black Swan”
There’s no hiding the fact that the ballet world is highly competitive and full of young ballet girls all striving for the same goal.
Everyone wants to make it and sometimes this determination can feel like you would climb over anything to get there.
However, you have to learn to get along with others in the world of dance and focus on yourself.
Cate: “Do you find that being a dancer it’s easier to have fellow dancer’s as friends, or do your friends come from a variety of different disciplines?”
When you’re surrounded by dancer’s 24/7 there’s a certain bond that make them feel like family, more once you've reached a professional ballet company. You can make friends so easily because dancer’s are used to moving around different cities and countries meeting new people, which makes you adapt very quickly.
You instantly become friends with dancers you hardly know, but you have much in common so it feels like you’ve known them forever.
A lot of people fixate on this ruthlessness and harshness of ballet. However, there are always two sides to every story and although ballet can be extremely tough and dark at times, it can also be immensely fulfilling bringing you something nothing else can.
DARK TURNS by Cate Holahan is a new adult book for ages from 16.