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Unknown-2Raising the Barre: Big Dreams, False Starts, & My Midlife Quest to Dance The Nutcracker. Lauren Kessler. DaCapo Press, a Member of the Perseus Books Group. Boston,MA. 2015. 254 pp.

This book shares only the genre—memoir—with any other book ever reviewed here. The tribulations a woman, who left her dreams of dancing behind in adolescence when faced with the cruel biology of a “wrong body” type, trying at middle-age to dance in the Nutcracker just doesn’t seem to fit this mold. However, the exception has been made here for two reasons: first, the author is from Eugene and Eugene’s Ballet figures prominently in her dreams. And second, (like many an aging used-to-wannabe dancer) the thrilling possibility of ever dancing on a stage in a professional production is a story too tantalizing to pass up.

This is certainly a quick read, easily accessible and fast-paced. And the physical practice and more practice the author undertakes to re-connect to her long-lost youthful dreams is a real tribute to her desire and dedication to an idea which began as a small voice in her head urging her on after a coast-to-coast Nutcracker marathon. She approaches the Eugene Ballet’s Artistic Director who agrees to give her a try, provided she makes herself over into a passable dancer.

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Self-Portrait of the Author

The rest of the book details how she does that, what it’s like to be in a dance company as a non-dancer (she recognizes that, unlike professional dancers, she interprets with her mind not her body), take a road tour, overcome tripping on her costume and all the other highs and lows any dancer faces.

Lauren Kessler describes her writing as “immersion journalism”, and while not necessarily a path many would take, the results are wonderful, funny, insightful. And in some ways profound as she also assumes the role of life coach, gently prodding the reader to re-consider the excitement of starting over by re-positioning one’s middle-age secure self, back at the beginning of a big jump (dare I say grand jeté) into something entirely new.

Laura Kessler on right as the Maiden Aunt

Laura Kessler on right as the Maiden Aunt in Eugene Ballet Company Production of The Nutcracker

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