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September 2017

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Life in Motion by Misty Copeland

Written by , Posted in Reviews

Three Stars

Best for: Those who enjoy a good memoir; those who enjoy a story about someone rising to the pinnacle in their artistic field.

In a nutshell: Misty Copeland tells the story of her life, from living in southern California to being promoted to be the first African American female principal dancer at the American Ballet Theatre.

Line that sticks with me: “In ballet, appearance is critical. That may seem superficial or frivolous, but in an art form that is visual, and so much about grace and suppleness, it definitely matters.” (p 108) (I am not a fan of the implications in that line.)

Why I chose it: I enjoy going to the ballet, and I’ve seen articles describing her talents in the past.

Review: I often find it hard to write reviews of books that I don’t love and don’t dislike. This book falls into that middling category, although do want to say that I think this is a fine book, and that people who are interested in learning more about Ms. Copeland’s life will not be disappointed.

It is full of candor, and benefits from having distance from many of the more difficult subjects she addresses (her childhood, the fight over where she should live). Though not all stories are in her past, as especially in the second half of the book when she shares more of her experience not just as a dancer starting many years late, but as a black dancer in a field dominated by white dancers.

I appreciate Ms. Copeland’s honesty as she navigates how to share the feelings she has about her field, especially as she is still in it. It’s possible that this book might look different if written a decade after she stops dancing – I’m thinking of how the book by Abby Wambach, who has retired, had a very different feel from the one by Carly Lloyd.

The one thing that I found frustrating, and it was a small section, was in her discussion about the challenges she faced when she finally went through puberty and found herself curvier than other ballerinas. It’s interesting to read her stand up for herself – that she should be viewed based on her skill and ability, and not punished for not fitting the antiquated idea of super-thin, white ballerina, but in the same breathe say things like the line I pulled up top. Would she support someone with as much talent, skill, and grace as her who was, say, 300 pounds? She doesn’t seem to want limits placed on herself, but at the same time seems to accept different limits that she agrees with. I have a hard time reconciling that.

As someone who enjoys ballet, I enjoyed the discussion of the work that goes into creating that art. I think to enjoy the book you should at least have some interest in ballet.

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