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Dancing towards unattainable perfection in Maggie Shipstead’s ASTONISH ME

in Fiction by

A former dance teacher once told me that the essence of ballet can be encapsulated in one word: up. Modern dancers, with their shoulder rolls and deep, sweeping lunges, stay close to the floor, while ballet dancers are in a constant battle with gravity: chins high, necks elongated, muscles constantly tugging on bones to lift arms and legs up, up, up. There is even a word—ballon—for when a ballet dancer appears to hover in the air longer than is physically possible, a pertinent symbol of what dancers spend the entirety of their careers slaving over: the appearance of effortlessness in the face of utmost control, a virtually unobtainable illusion. With this in mind, it’s understandable that most of the dancers…

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