The Little Ballerina That Could

 

This month I continue to showcase my historical novel, The Grace of the Hunchback. The book was inspired by the real life of the 19th-century dancer, Marie Taglioni. Along with her father, Philippe, an influential choreographer, Marie developed the Romantic style of ballet: toe-dancing, ethereal costumes, and athletic pirouettes executed with disarming ease.

Marie was born with what we would now call scoliosis, a curvature of the spine that today–if detected early enough–can be cured by wearing a brace. Marie’s scoliosis was not treated and she spent her childhood with a curved back, which earned her the nickname “hunchback”–a taunt hurled at her by the other little girls in dance class. Interestingly, Marie’s rigorous practice of dance did help her spine to straighten (though she would often be in pain after a performance).  On stage, Marie was the epitome of cool, unattainable beauty. Offstage she would suffer all of her life from the psychological image she had of herself: an ugly duckling who would never be a swan.

Though born into a prominent theater family, Marie had to fight against tremendous odds to secure her place in the pantheon of famous ballerinas. Her story remains an inspiring one, full of grit and determination. It’s hard to leap that high; she just made it look easy!

For another take on scoliosis, check out Deenie by Judy Blume.  The heroine is a thirteen-year-old aspiring model who learns she must wear a body brace for at least three years, to correct her crooked spine. I read this book when I was 13 and it was the first time I had ever heard of scoliosis.  Deenie is not just about a medical condition, but about how to overcome an obstacle that you think will ruin your life but instead changes it for the better. The Grace of the Hunchback is intended for older audiences but both books convey many of the same messages.

Historical Tidbit: In Victorian times, a backboard was often used to elicit good posture. Made of wood, a girl was required to hook her arms around the edges and hold the position, until told she could stop. If you can’t find one of these, you can always use a good old-fashioned book:

 

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