Home > NewsRelease > In Conversation With Gavin Larsen Author of Being a Ballerina: The Power and Perfection of a Dancing Life
In Conversation With Gavin Larsen Author of Being a Ballerina: The Power and Perfection of a Dancing Life
Norm Goldman --  bookpleasures.com Norm Goldman -- bookpleasures.com
For Immediate Release:
Dateline: Montreal, QC
Sunday, April 11, 2021


Bookpleasures welcomes as our guest Gavin Larsen author of Being a Ballerina: The Power andPerfection of a Dancing Life.

Gavin began her studies asa ballet dancer t the tender age of eight and performed as aprofessional for eighteen years until 2010, when she retired. Hercareer included performing the Pacific Northwest Ballet, the OregonBallet Theatre, the Suzanne Farrell Ballet, and the Alberta Balletand guest artist with Ballet Victoria.

Norm: Good day Gavin andthanks for participating in our interview.

What is the one thingother people always seem to get wrong about you?

Gavin: Well, I think peopleoften assume I am somewhat mild-mannered or meek because I presentwith a quiet demeanor. But the truth is that I have very strongopinions (on some things, anyway) and very much want to speak outabout them. It’s just that my way of doing so is through silentmeans: either dancing or writing.

Norm: As a ballerina, whatdo you believe was your greatest strength and greatest weakness?

Gavin: Dancers tend to fixate ontheir shortcomings, so I’ll try to start with a strength… Idefinitely have an innately high ability to push myself, bothphysically and mentally, which is how I just kept on trucking when mytraining was really rough, through choreography that was brutallyhard, and psychologically kept my eyes focused straight ahead attimes when I could legitimately have called it quits.

I have so manyweaknesses as a dancer— we all do— but I will say that now Irealize that it’s the flaws that make an artist interesting to lookat. I sure craved having a more perfect physique, better technique,even an easier ability to make small talk at fundraisers, and neverquite believed that old maxim about focusing on what you have insteadof what you don’t. To be more specific about my dancer-weaknesses,though, I think it’s that I wish I had been more open-minded todifferent styles and forms of dance instead of being convinced Icould do nothing other than ballet.

I cut myself off from numerousopportunities that would have been artistically huge because I wasafraid to look inept when trying to move in a different way.

Norm: Looking back on yourcareer, would you have done anything differently?

Gavin: The same thing I was justtalking about— I would have been more open, more adventurous andmore interested in different dance forms beyond strictly classicalballet. Post-retirement, I did dabble in more contemporary dance andfound it so amazingly gratifying. I’m not sure if I could have donethat when I was still actively performing with a ballet company, butI wish I’d given myself the chance to try. I think I was afraidthat if I danced more modern, I’d lose my ballet technique, whichis crazy.\

Norm: Which of yourteachers was most influential on you? Why?

Gavin: Absolutely the mostinfluential teacher was Suzy Pilarre, who in my book is called thePastel Teacher. I describe in the book how she “rescued” me whenI was 15 or 16 and was sort of losing my way as a dance student.

I’dgotten complacent about my training and wasn’t really thinkingabout what I was doing— I was just going through the motions andnot advancing to my full potential. Suzy didn’t give up on me; shetook me aside and gave me a wake-up call and basically said, “Youhave a lot of talent, but that’s not enough. You have to be smart,be thoughtful, and develop it.” And she showed me how.

That kind offrank assessment and drive to be more assertive continued into myadult years, when I told her I’d written this book and she was init. She read the entire thing well before it was published and keptat my back to make it better. I owe her so much.

Norm: What is your mostprecious dance-related memory?

Gavin: That’s hard, becausethere are so many. They’re probably all performance-related, as inspecific moments on stage that were transcendent. There are at leasttwo or three times I was on stage, dancing in a performance, and feltlike I was literally going to fly, I was so ecstatic.

It wasn’t ahyper kind of glee, it was a supremely calm sense of absolute, purejoy. Those moments made me feel like I could go through the rest ofmy life and be satisfied, because I’d had that.

Two ballets inparticular when I felt that way were both by George Balanchine:Concerto Barocco and Serenade. During Barocco, I was so distracted bythe incredible beauty of the music, the moment, and just theexperience that I totally lost my place in the choreography! Mypartner had to whisper and cue me back on track.

Norm: What advice can yougive aspiring ballet dancers that you wished you had received, orthat you wished you would have listened to?  

Gavin: Nowadays, most youngdancers have an open-mindedness and an assertiveness that I lacked,so my advice to cultivate those qualities is not much needed.

I wouldsay to identify what your purest form of strength is as an artist,and then work to enhance it without cutting yourself off fromanything else. I’d also say you have to just not stop, not give up,and always be looking for more opportunities.

It’s the people whostep out of the race who lose. If you’re looking for a job and keepgetting rejections, just keep looking. There is a dance job out therefor everyone. You need talent, but that won’t get you there withoutpersistence.

Norm: How do you believethe pandemic affected the world of ballet? Will there be any positiveoutcomes?

Gavin: There definitely arealready positive outcomes among the tragedies. The swing towardsvideo and virtual training and performance has opened up the world ofdance.

I’ve been teaching students across the country for the pastyear, which is something that was possible before but no one wouldhave considered doing it. As a result, I have reconnected with formerstudents and have been able to mentor, coach, and guide them througha rocky year. And some professional dancers and companies have donegorgeous things with filming dance, way beyond simply producing videoversions of live shows.

I also really, really love how manyinnovative and unusual performance settings there are now. I’vealways adored dancing outside or in ‘weird’ settings, not in atraditional theater. This year I assisted with shows held in aparking lot and the lobby, staircase and atrium of a theaterbuilding. The nontraditional “stages” give an entirely newdimension to the dancing, make it feel more reachable and personal tothe viewers, and also more welcoming. I truly hope that trendcontinues even when major theaters reopen.

Norm: What motivated youto write Being a Ballerina: The Power and Perfection of a DancingLife?

Gavin: I began writing downepisodes from my dancing life, along with fragments of memories andreflections, not long after I retired in 2010. I was suddenly struckby a sense of urgency to get these things out of my head before Iforgot them. And I kept feeling that it was in the small moments, thelittle daily things, the routines, the passing comments and feelings,along with the more obvious events, where the truth about what itmeans to be an artist live.

There are so many pop culture depictionsof ballet that are either melodramatic, over-exaggerated, or plainold wrong. It makes me angry to see the general public getting thisfalsified, hyper-commercialized version of what they then come tobelieve ballet is. I wanted to express the real thing— the dramainherent in the practice of ballet, the act of living that life,minus the sensationalized bits. I truly believe the life itself issensational enough.

Norm: What process did yougo through to get your book published?

Gavin: It was long. I started bytrying to find a literary agent and spent about three years with noluck. At the same time, I was submitting excerpts from the manuscriptto journals, hoping someone would read them and be intrigued. I didget a lot of pieces published that way.

But finally, through a mutualdance writer friend who was working a book for the University Pressof Florida, I sent the manuscript to an editor there. She gave mefeedback and directed me to make substantial additions and revisions,which I did, and then it went to the acquisitions editor at UPF. Morerevisions followed, but eventually in the summer of 2019 I signed thecontract with them.

Norm: What were your goalsand intentions in this book, and how well do you feel you achievedthem? 

Gavin: My goal for the book—and for its readers— emerged as I was writing it. As I saidearlier, at first I was just kind of dumping everything from years ofmemory-storage out onto the page, but eventually I realized I couldexpress a larger truth about the essence of practicing an artisticlife through my mini-chapters. I really do think I achieved that.It’s like a patchwork quilt, or a collage: each piece isinteresting by itself, but when seen as a whole, you get a richer,more revealing picture.

Norm: What was the mostdifficult part of writing this book and what did you enjoy most aboutwriting this book?  

Gavin: I’d say the hardestpart about creating this book was finding the line where I feltcomfortable crossing into purely personal territory and informationthat didn’t specifically speak about a dancing experience. I’m avery private person and am loathe to let people into my personallife, but I was told that I had to include at least some context soreaders would feel closer to me. What I enjoyed most about writing itwas purely that: writing. I love the feeling of freedom that comeswhen I just spew out thoughts and reflections, and then shape andmold them.

Norm: Did you write yourbook more by logic or intuition, or some combination of the two?Please summarize your writing process. 

Gavin: It was definitely acombination of the two, but at first it was purely intuition. As thebook grew, I started shaping and formatting it, piecing together themini-chapters (that were more like stand alone essays) into arainbow, I hope.

Norm: What are some waysin which you promote your book?

Gavin: I’ve been working hardto get more comfortable and confident using social media. It’s nota natural thing for me. I’m not a self-promoter; even asking peopleto “like” my page or posts is slightly embarrassing for me.

Ifeel bad, as if I’m inconveniencing them! Not a great approach whenyou’re trying to get attention. But I feel so strongly about thisbook and the work I’ve done on it that I can’t believe how boldI’m being with promotion. I’m mining my brain for every dancecontact I’ve ever had, through performing, teaching, writing, andtelling them about it.

My publicist is working on the non-danceconnections and we’re hoping to get the book reviewed as a book—not only a dance book, but on the merits of the writing andconstruction, and the universal themes that will resonate with allreaders, too.

Norm: Where can ourreaders find out more about you and Being a Ballerina: The Power andPerfection of a Dancing Life?

Gavin: You can look at (andfollow!) my Author page on Facebook (Gavin Larsen Author), where Ipost all the updates on appearances, interviews, readings, podcasts,etc, that I’ll be doing.

Also I put up little ‘teasers’ withsneak peeks into the book, and nice reviews or mentions that the bookgets. I’m also on Instagram as @Gavinalarsen and Twitter as@Gavinalarsen. And on Goodreads.

Norm: What is next forGavin Larsen?

Gavin: Very good question. Icurrently live in Asheville, NC, where I teach ballet and do someregular contributing to various dance journals. I have several ideaspercolating for another book, but nothing is in the works yet. I’dlove to travel again to a writing residency where I could test outideas and see what seems viable.

I was a resident at the WurlitzerFoundation in Taos, NM, a few years ago, and that’s where I got ahuge chunk of this book done. That time was magical and I dream ofgoing back.

Norm: As our interviewcomes to an end, if you could invite three well-known ballerinasdead or alive) to your dinner table, who would they be and whatwould you discuss with them?

Gavin:  I’d love to sit andlisten to Suzy Pilarre, Allegra Kent, and my other former teacherwho also is in my book) Richard Rapp— although he was not aballerina— talk about the golden years of being in New York CityBallet and in the presence of George Balanchine on a daily basis. Ihave already talked to all three of them, but I know there must beendless remembrances and gems of memory that would be so fascinating.

Norm: Thanks once again and good luck with all of your future endeavors

Follow Here To Read Norm's Review of Being a Ballerina: The Power and Perfection of a Dancing Life.

Follow Here To Watch A Video of Gavin Larsen

 Norm Goldman of Bookpleasures.com

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