Despite my fascination with ballet, Karen Kain’s autobiography, Movement Never Lies, is the first book I’ve read on the subject. I couldn’t have picked better because it gives the ballerina wannabe a thorough introduction to the life of a dancer. It describes her entire career in ballet, from her first lessons in a grotty basement to the exhausting heights of stardom to the artistry of her mature years.
She was still dancing professionally when she wrote the book but her perspective in the book is distinctly mature. Her evaluation of both herself and those around her is totally honest but also fair and compassionate. She exposes the dark underbelly of ballet—issues like eating disorders, AIDS, and deplorable working conditions—with sensitivity and diplomacy. She also devotes ample space to the glories of her profession, and the book is filled with photographs from her performances. At the end of the book she delves a little into the spiritual aspects of dance:
For Michelangelo, the human body was an instrument of the soul, the noble means by which we reach towards God, and in rare performances I have felt something similar. I hesitate to speak of such things—to speak of them is almost to profane them, or to risk the chance that they will never happen again—but every now and then, in a ballet like The Song of the Earth or Swan Lake, I being to understand the ancient belief that the true artist is possessed by some power, some spirit. I feel touched and elevated by something that far transcends the merely human; I sense that for a few moments I am the privileged instrument for higher truths, in reality the “chosen maiden” of The Rite of Spring; and I feel deeply blessed to be part of an art form that somehow allows the wordless communication of matters so deep, so important.
I think this book is part of Karen Kain’s many efforts to give back to her profession. She began speaking up for dancers at a time when it could have ended her career, and she continues to fight for respect for dancers both within the dance world and in society. In the book she briefly describes her work with the Dancer Transition Resource Centre, which helps dancers plan their dance and post-dance careers. She is now also the artistic director of the National Ballet of Canada, where she is no doubt implementing many of the reforms she longed for as a dancer. I suspect she will continue contributing to the art of ballet for the rest of her life. Thank you, Karen.