I am fascinated by any sort of TV show that shows people behind-the-scenes at work. Deadliest Catch? Ice Road Truckers? Dirty Jobs? Any of those 24 Hours in the ER things? I’m in. I love watching people do their jobs. So it was predicable that I would get completely sucked into Breaking Pointe, an extremely cheesy summer reality show on the CW. It’s set behind the scenes at a ballet company in Salt Lake City, following a number of young dancers and they fight for roles and get ready to perform their big ballets of the season. Unfortunately, Breaking Pointe spends way too much time on the dancers’ (completely dysfunctional) relationships, and not enough time letting us watch them get yelled by Russian teachers in rehearsals. Luckily, The Cranes Dance by Meg Howrey was there to meet my needs.
The Cranes Dance is fiction, told from the perspective of Kate, a twenty-something professional ballerina in New York City. Kate’s younger sister Gwen is a more successful dancer in the same company, but it’s clear from the very start of the book that Gwen has had some sort of mental breakdown and has been taken back home to the Midwest by their parents to recover. Left by herself in New York, Kate has to sort out how she feels about her caretaker role as the big sister, where she fits into the ballet world without Gwen, and whether she is still the “sane” one if there’s no one there to compare herself to. Oh, and all this is happening while she’s rehearsing for performances and dealing with a serious neck injury, partner problems, and other assorted daily ballet annoyances.
I initially picked this up because I wanted to read all the behind-the-scenes stuff about bleeding toes and eating disorders and ballet company politics, and all that is there in spades. Howrey was a dancer and you can tell. But I ended up being much more moved by the emotional story of the book than I expected. Kate is a really compelling character, smart and capable and funny even when she’s making terrible decisions. I’ve seen reviewers compare this book to Black Swan and there are similar elements, but they feel very different. While Black Swan was about someone falling apart, I found The Crane’s Dance to be more about Kate fighting her way out of the darkness. The book does fall somewhat into that category of first-person stories that show the main character going crazy by making the writing crazier and crazier (the two books like this that jump to mind are The Egypotologist and House of Leaves, both of which I found disturbing). I’m not usually a fan of that technique, but this only does a tiny bit of it and it works well.
My one quibble with the book, when I first finished it, was that things wrapped up awfully swiftly at the end and it felt a little jarring. But the more I think about it, the more true to life the ending feels–sometimes there’s not a huge event that helps snap us out of a cycle, it’s just the forward momentum of life, and that’s what The Crane’s Dance describes.