“Another World: Ballet Lessons from Appalachia” by Edwina Pendarvis

Ballet is probably not the first kind of dancing people associate with Appalachia, Edwina Pendarvis acknowledges in the introduction to Another World: Ballet Lessons from Appalachia. Yet for the twenty-four women Pendarvis interviews for this engaging book, ballet assumed considerable importance in their lives. The fond memories and photographs of ballet lessons gathered for this book will recall similar memories from those who grew up taking dance lessons.

Another World shines from thorough research, an academic’s ability to organize and present facts, and the ability to make surprising connections to literature and other aspects of Appalachian history. It should be noted that the author and her sister both took ballet lessons for many years, so the book benefits from personal knowledge and inspiration. Another enjoyable aspect of Another World is the photographs the women shared, ranging from the adorable fresh faces of little girls at their first recitals to the ethereal poses of accomplished ballerinas. The book is organized by five themes that emerged from the interviews: Sense of Beauty, Challenge and Sense of Pride, Link between Mothers and Daughters, Community and Camaraderie, and Reverence.

Many of those interviewed were drawn to ballet by its beauty. They recalled the lovely costumes they got to wear, the grace of movements, and admirable older ballerinas and teachers who served as role models. Pendarvis writes, “ballet lessons offered the possibility of achieving the kind of beauty that bestowed power and offered escape from mundane hardships.” Another benefit most gained from dance lessons was bonding with their mothers and other students. In many cases, lasting friendships grew from shared experiences in ballet.

The book also addresses the difficulties of ballet. While many women enjoyed the challenge in perfecting techniques, the downsides to the dance form include over-emphasis on having a very lean body, persistent stereotypes of male dancers bullied as homosexuals, and the pain and deformities caused by toe shoes. But Pendarvis writes, “The physical challenges offered by ballet were meaningful, and for most of the women in this group, the benefits far outweighed the costs.”

Biographical sketches of those interviewed are presented at the end of the book, along with chapter notes, bibliography, and appendices.

Pendarvis lives in Huntington, West Virginia, where she taught at Marshall University for thirty years and is now Professor Emeritus. Most of her poems, essays, chapters, and books focus on people and places in Appalachia. She has written four young adult biographies of Nobel Laureates in Literature, including Away Down South, about William Faulkner. She serves as book editor for Pine Mountain Sand & Gravel, and has served as book editor for Now & Then Magazine; interim editor of the Journal of Appalachian Studies; and as a contributing editor of Roeper Review: A Journal on Gifted Education. Her work appears in journals, such as the Louisville Review and Appalachian Journal, and anthologies, such as Southern Poetry Anthology. Her work includes a poetry collection, Ghost Dance PoemsAppalachian Murders and Mysteries, co-edited with James Gifford; Out of Our Minds: Turning the Tide of Anti-Intellectualism in American Schools, co-authored with Craig and Aimee Howley.

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