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The Power and Perfection of a Dancing Life

Memoir, Arts, Ballet

Published: April 2021

Publisher: University Press of Florida



A look inside a dancer’s world…

Inspiring, revealing, and deeply relatable, Being a Ballerina is a firsthand look at the realities of life as a professional ballet dancer. Through episodes from her own career, Gavin Larsen describes the forces that drive a person to study dance; the daily balance that dancers navigate between hardship and joy; and the dancer’s continual quest to discover who they are as a person and as an artist.

Starting with her arrival as a young beginner at a class too advanced for her, Larsen tells how the embarrassing mistake ended up helping her learn quickly and advance rapidly. In other stories of her early teachers, training, and auditions, she explains how she gradually came to understand and achieve what she and her body were capable of.

Larsen then re-creates scenes from her experiences in dance companies, from unglamorous roles to exhilarating performances. Working as a ballerina was shocking and scary at first, she says, recalling unexpected injuries, leaps of faith, and her constant struggle to operate at the level she wanted—but full of enormously rewarding moments. Larsen also reflects candidly on her difficult decision to retire at age 35.

An ideal read for aspiring dancers, Larsen’s memoir will also delight experienced dance professionals and fascinate anyone who wonders what it takes to live a life dedicated to the perfection of the art form.



Praise for Being a Ballerina:

There is power and perfection in this captivating memoir―the power of personal experience and the perfection of writing that carefully captures the life of a dancer. Larsen, now retired, was principal dancer with the Oregon Ballet and guest artist with Ballet Victoria; she also danced with Alberta Ballet and Suzanne Farrell Ballet. Before describing her many positions, however, Larsen starts with an account of her first class at the New York School of Ballet at age eight. She covers the years of study required for every dancer, and along the way introduces readers to memorable teachers and dancers and discusses the roles she inhabited and companies she worked for as a professional dancer. Appended to the memoir are essays on pointe shoes and how to dance with a partner, along with a list of places she has performed. VERDICT: Dancing ‘full out’ means going all out during practice rather than saving energy for the performance. In this memoir Larsen is writing full out, and we are the lucky audience of her performance. Balletomanes, dance students, and aspiring dancers will applaud this absorbing account.” ― Library Journal, Starred Review

This is the best book I’ve ever read about becoming and being a dancer. Every word rings true.” ― Robert Gottlieb, editor and dance critic

Larsen relates in great detail and remarkable prose how she became a ballerina. With her we enter a school. With her we enter a theater. With her we listen in the wings and rush out onto the stage, the destination of her desire, the music her guide. We read about the difficult training that must be mastered and the fragility of the body during the process of learning technique. We learn about the joy of performance. I loved reading it.” ― Allegra Kent, former principal dancer, New York City Ballet

Gentle, genuine, and honest, Larsen shares her experiences generously, offering a compelling glimpse into a ballerina’s world―one that beautifully illustrates not only what it takes to become a professional dancer but what it means to be a ballerina.” ― Jennifer Carlynn Kronenberg, author of So, You Want to Be a Ballet Dancer?

I laughed out loud, cringed, and teared up relating to the joys and trials that a career in ballet requires and that Larsen so vividly conveys. Her wit and humanity bring behind-the-scenes experiences to life with the candor of a good friend along with the invaluable insights of a real ballerina. If you want to be a ballerina or want to know what it takes to be one, this is a must-read.” ― Elysia Dawn, arts consultant and former dancer


About the Author


Gavin Larsen was a professional ballet dancer for 18 years before retiring in 2010. A principal dancer with the Oregon Ballet Theatre, she also danced with the Suzanne Farrell Ballet and Alberta Ballet and as a guest artist with Ballet Victoria. She has written for Pointe, Dance Teacher, Dance Spirit, Dancing Times, Oregon ArtsWatch, Dance/USA’s From the Green Room, the Maine Review, and The Threepenny Review, among others. She writes and teaches in Asheville, North Carolina.


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