REVIEW: Swan Dive by Georgina Pazcoguin
Award-winning New York City Ballet soloist Georgina Pazcoguin, aka the Rogue Ballerina, gives readers a backstage tour of the real world of elite ballet—the gritty, hilarious, sometimes shocking truth you don’t see from the orchestra circle.
In this love letter to the art of dance and the sport that has been her livelihood, NYCB’s first Asian American female soloist Georgina Pazcoguin lays bare her unfiltered story of leaving small-town Pennsylvania for New York City and training amid the unique demands of being a hybrid professional athlete/artist, all before finishing high school. She pitches us into the fascinating, whirling shoes of dancers in one of the most revered ballet companies in the world with an unapologetic sense of humor about the cutthroat, survival-of-the-fittest mentality at NYCB. Some swan dives are literal: even in the ballet, there are plenty of face-plants, backstage fights, late-night parties, and raucous company bonding sessions.
Rocked by scandal in the wake of the #MeToo movement, NYCB sits at an inflection point, inching toward progress in a strictly traditional culture, and Pazcoguin doesn’t shy away from ballet’s dark side. She continues to be one of the few dancers openly speaking up against the sexual harassment, mental abuse, and racism that in the past went unrecognized or was tacitly accepted as par for the course—all of which she has painfully experienced firsthand.
Tying together Pazcoguin’s fight for equality in the ballet with her infectious and deeply moving passion for her craft, Swan Dive is a page-turning, one-of-a-kind account that guarantees you’ll never view a ballerina or a ballet the same way again.
Years ago I mentioned in my review of “The Sugarless Plum” that I’d never taken dance classes and am not the least bit graceful on the dance floor. But I enjoy reading about people who are and make that doubly so if there’s dirt being dished along with the view of backstage.
Well, before anyone begins to read this book, I’d strongly suggest taking a look at the tags and seeing if any of them might trigger you because Gina doesn’t stint in telling the good, the bad, and the ugly sides of the profession and about working at NYCB when it was under the direction of Peter Martins.
Gina was lucky to have two parents willing to support her in classes at home and in her ambitions to become a professional. Intensive summer sessions at SAB in NYC are followed by full time schooling there during which she hopes to make the cut and be asked to join the company – there’s no auditioning for NYCB as they cherry pick the best from the school. It doesn’t take Gina long to realize that as a biracial dancer, she’s got something extra to work against in order to progress up the ladder. There’s also rampant misogyny and sexism directed at most all the female dancers to go with the racism. The fat shaming meeting with administration is infamous and Gina finds herself meeting with a doctor who tells her to not exceed 720 calories a day in order to slim down her thighs that Martins has a problem with. That’s 720 calories per day to fuel a dancer doing daily class, rehearsals, and often performances.
Along with the bad, there’s excitement to learn new roles, new debut ballets, travel the world, do adulting stuff, hang out in a local dive bar, and get up to massive hijinks and pranks with her fellow dancers. I’ll pass on rehearsing in the sweat soaked costume just peeled off another dancer, though. Her time spent on Broadway in a revival of Cats showed her that not all professional dancing comes with a side dish of pettiness or put downs even if it doesn’t have the job security of NYCB.
Gina has been forceful in attempting to shine a light on and eliminate the racism in classical ballet. Maybe with the retirement of Martins, this will happen there. Her autobiography doesn’t spare herself in telling the mistakes she’s made, her naive complicity with the dysfunction rampant through generations at NYCB, and the therapy she’s started to help her deal with that. She’s funny, honest, talented, and can still show us the passion it takes to make it in this intensive world. B