This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2011, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
Tired of reading about vampires and queen bees? Utah native Miriam Wenger-Landis' young adult novel, Girl in Motion offers an inside view of professional dance training.
Wenger-Landis' novel is based on her real-life experience of leaving her Salt Lake City home midway through high school to attend one of the most prestigious ballet schools in the world, New York City's School for American Ballet.
The story tells the story of Anna, who faces the challenges of growing up away from home in the strict world of a professional ballet school. Ultimately, Anna must balance her goal of wanting to be a ballerina with her physical limitations. Along the way she learns some of life's most important lessons. Calling on her own inner strength and the support of her best friend Jen, Anna discovers that for her, dance is a reflection of life.
Wenger-Landis, 33, graduated from Stanford with an English degree, and then worked in New York City as an assistant editor at a publishing house. Three years ago, she moved to Seattle to work in book merchandising for Amazon. There she met her husband, a radiation oncologist, who encouraged her to finish writing the novel and self-publish it.
Tell me about your professional dance training.
I knew I loved to dance from a very young age, and found that I was good at it. I studied at a studio in Salt Lake City and then at Ballet West Conservatory (now BW Academy). At 13, I started going away to ballet summer programs in San Francisco, Philadelphia, and eventually New York. I attended the summer program at the School of American Ballet at age 16, and they offered a spot to me for the full school year. I moved away for my last two years of high school, and lived in a dorm at Lincoln Center. At the end of my senior year, [I was] invited to join the Miami City Ballet. I started dancing principal and soloist roles within the first year.
What were the highlights of your dance career?
When I was chosen out of the corps de ballet to dance the lead in Miami City Ballet's premiere of "Stars and Stripes." They were using the premiere as a showcase for a new principal from Cuba, Luis Serrano. He was short and they decided I'd be a good partner for him and I'd been dancing leading roles for about a year. I was thrown in at late notice and had a week to learn and rehearse the role before opening night. It was a huge honor and a memorable experience. My parents flew in from Salt Lake and surprised me at the first performance. Other big roles I danced included the "Flower Festival in Genzano" pas de deux, the scotch girl in "Scotch Symphony," and the ballerina doll in the "Steadfast Tin Soldier." One of my favorite ballets to perform was Paul Taylor's "Company B" (I did the Pennsylvania Polka).
Why did you want to write this novel?
When I was growing up, I read every ballet book I could, but there wasn't anything that described what I would eventually experience. There are a lot of biographies, autobiographies and history books, but there is very little in the way of fiction. I wrote the book that I wish had been there for me to read as I went through the tough times of becoming a professional dancer.
Yet in the book, there aren't many references to Ballet West Conservatory.
It was a very positive experience. I was one of Mr. C's (Willam F. Christensen's) last students. I had great teachers like Sharee Lane and Peter Christie, who gave me a strong foundation and helped build my resilience. But that kind of experience doesn't have any drama to it, so it doesn't make for good fiction. I still keep in touch and feel very supported by all of those teachers.
You use similar names to real people and places in the book. Why not use the actual names, such as School of American Ballet, instead of School of Ballet New York?
I wanted to have the freedom as a writer to make the characters more universal, which is why I didn't write it as a memoir. It was important to me that every young dancer who reads this can relate to the characters and the story, and not think this is specific to one person at one place. I hope it can help kids going through these same troubling experiences.
Girl in Motion
The self-published ballet novel by Utah native Miriam Wenger-Landis is available on amazon.com. For more information, read the "Girl in Motion" Facebook page.