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Dancing Through It: My Journey in the Ballet
Dancing Through It: My Journey in the Ballet
Jenifer Ringer
Viking, 2014
288 pp., $27.95

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Sharon Skeel

A Graceful Turn

The story of a dancer.

When Jenifer Ringer, a ballerina with the New York City Ballet, gave birth to her first child in 2008, she chose not to receive treatment for the pain because "being a dancer, I wanted to be able to feel what my body was doing and to experience it all, even the discomfort." Not surprisingly, professional dancers pay more attention to their bodies than most people do—how they feel, how they look—since they use them to make art that makes their living. Critics, in turn, are paid to judge those bodies within a particular context—onstage, during a performance. Central to Ringer's memoir, Dancing Through It, is how she drew on her maturing Christian faith as her body and mind went awry, and how that healing was threatened when the most influential dance critic in America pronounced her fat.

Ringer wondered why she was cast as the Sugar Plum Fairy on opening night of the company's 2010 run of The Nutcracker, the only performance that typically draws reviewers. She was a principal dancer—the highest rank—but she was not an obvious choice for the role, at least in her mind. Nevertheless, she and her "Cavalier," Jared Angle, felt they danced well, and the next morning she hurried through Alastair Macaulay's review in The New York Times, searching for her name. Near the end of the lengthy article, she found it: "Jenifer Ringer, as the Sugar Plum Fairy, looked as if she'd eaten one sugar plum too many." The assessment embarrassed but did not devastate her, as it might have 15 years earlier when she was cycling through periods of uncontrollable eating and self-disgust. Moreover, readers of the Times began lambasting Macaulay online, and the contretemps led to Ringer's defending her womanly shape and discussing eating disorders on Today and Oprah. In retrospect, she discerned God's hand in all of it—her suffering, the casting, and the opportunity to reach others with similar problems.

The chapter entitled "Sugar Plumgate," however, proves the least ...

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