Book Review: Swan Dive: The Making of a Rogue Ballerina by Georgina Pazcoguins.
Reviewed by Lady Verity

Book Review: Swan Dive: The Making of a Rogue Ballerina by Georgina Pazcoguins. Reviewed by Lady Verity

. 3 min read

Not your pink tutu ballerina in a pink musical jewelry box, Pazcoguin’s memoir provokes with some serious titillation. Readers might raise their eyebrows (whether with interest or dismay) when she describes her stint dancing naked on stage in a revival of Oh! Calcutta!’s nude pas de deux. Rehearsing with her straight male partner, she says, “boners happen.” She gets turned on while dancing and admits, “I got aroused at times, too, but it’s not like I was dripping on the floor.” Indeed, male ballet dancers are hot, embodiments of prowess that resemble the
physical ideal -- like classical Greek statues come to life. Pazcoquin describes the sexuality sans sensuality (most often) of some of the dancers’ relationships: one-night stands, drugging and drinking, partying and blackouts. Lest readers miss the point, she recalls smoking weed in Christiania, Denmark’s hippie enclave, and dining on potentially lethal blowfish in Japan.

Swan Dive doesn’t view the world of New York City Ballet dancers through ballet-pink colored glasses. It’s more like a minefield planted with constant fat-shaming and snarkiness, world class jealousies and cutthroat competitiveness. Dancers wait in the wings for their compatriots to slip up or sustain injury so they can pounce on a coveted role.

Walt Whitman famously observed that people contain multitudes. This might explain the telluric undercurrent of malcontent in the memoir. Georgina climbs the professional ballerina ladder of success, then turns around and complains about the ladder. She’s irked that star roles go to blondes because that’s Peter Martins’s “type.” She reveals that Martins is her abuser and clarifies in an asterisked footnote that the abuse is not physical but psychological. She accepts parts he choreographs for her, for example, the role of nurse in Romeo and Juliet, and later objects to what she notes are humiliating moments like having a dancer reach into her bodice to retrieve Juliet’s note -- why not speak up during rehearsal? She says, “I knew voicing my displeasure about being harassed onstage would be viewed as ungrateful.” She arrives at the conclusion: “the nurse is finally like Fuck this shit, when she takes the note out of her dress dead center stage so he won’t touch my boobs.” If she weren’t a dancer, she could double as a rapper. Every expletive known and then some are wodged onto every page.

Ballet lovers should read this memoir. It’s a look behind the red velvet curtain and a primer on what it takes to get ahead. It’s also a primo example of how hard it is to write a memoir in an authentic voice if you’re not writing it yourself. Pazcoquin acknowledges her assistant, the writer Paula Balzer, who has a “brilliant mind” and “absorbed her voice.” No matter the writer, a new ballerina memoir is always reason to rejoice. It’s a welcome read for ballet enthusiasts and those little girls of long ago who once dreamed of becoming ballerinas.

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