I’ll never forget one particular Saturday afternoon trip to the library after ballet class when I was young. I walked into the familiar magazine room expecting that there likely wouldn’t be anything I hadn’t already checked out before. But as I approached the rack that held the arts publications, the image of New York City Ballet‘s newest ballerina, Jenifer Ringer, found me. I was enchanted.
In February 2014, Ringer danced her last dance with the NYCB, performing in Jerome Robbins’ Dances at a Gathering, one of her favorite ballets. “I think one of my reasons for loving Dances at a Gathering so much is the feeling of dancing with friends,” writes Ringer. It is this beautifully simplistic attitude and reflection upon dancing that makes her memoir such a delight. In a time when ballet can be melodramatic and political, Ringer’s soft sentiments about her chosen profession are calming and genuinely refreshing.
Throughout, Ringer is honest and positive, even whilst recalling the infamous Nutcracker performance review, the aftermath now known as “Sugar Plumgate”. In the infamous 2010 review, The New York Times critic Alistair Macaulay, wrote that Ringer, “looked as if she’d eaten one sugarplum too many” and sparked a sensation in the media, launching Ringer into a series of television appearances, including the Today Show and Oprah. “Before I knew it, what I had thought of as my own very private little moment of internal struggle and triumph became a public story about which everyone had an opinion.”
Although the issue of Ringer’s struggles with her weight and maintaining a look that is accepted within the ballet world seemed to be a prevalent theme in the publicity surrounding the book, this is not its main focus. Rather Ringer’s positive attitude and the perspective she maintained throughout her career is the primary story. Like anyone who makes it at the NYCB, or any top ballet company, Ringer did live and breathe the art during that time, and she writes candidly about her dedication. However, what makes her different is not her struggles with her weight (so severe she was asked to leave the company), but her ability to put the dance world into perspective. The all-consuming fire of ballet did not ultimately burn Ringer, for she has realized that for her, ballet is a part of her life, but it is not her life in its entirety.
Instrumental in this attitude is the role of Jenifer Ringer’s faith, about which she is consistent and unapologetic. For some, the candor with which she writes about her Christian faith may act as a deterrent or distraction, or perhaps even a turn-off. However, believers and nonbelievers alike, readers are likely to gain respect for Ringer’s dedication to her faith that kept her grounded again and again throughout her career.
The love and respect Ringer feels for the true art of ballet resonated the most with me throughout the journey of reading her book. Ringer doesn’t portray herself as a victim, a survivor, or a star. She is living life according to what she feels is right… and indeed, ‘dancing through it’.
Certainly Ringer’s book is a must-read for aspiring dancers, (and parents of growing dancers) as Ringer keeps it all in perspective. Ms. Ringer sums-up the power that dance has to inspire joy when describing her daughter Grace dancing: “And she will dance before the mirror, beaming with joy, her beautiful spirit shining out through her eyes.”
See a career retrospective on Jenifer here: