Back in the 1970’s, I was part of a tribe, one of the many, pale slender ballet girls that walked the avenues—Seventh, Eighth, Broadway—where so many of New York City’s dance studios were then located. With our hair scraped back into punishing buns, and our oversized bags in which we lugged our paraphernalia, we were instantly recognizable, especially to each other, and we displayed a devotion to our art that was almost religious in its single-mindedness and its fervor. Class six days a week, sometimes twice daily in the summer; student rush tickets for performances at Lincoln Center and City Center in the evenings; high school, with its geometry exams, field hockey games and debate teams a mere blur—this was how I spent my formative years. And then, in a blink, it was over—but that is another story. Suffice it to say that although my life veered off in a different direction, my love for the beautiful rigors and rigorous beauties of that early training remained unchanged. My first novel, The Four Temperaments, was set in the ballet world I’d left behind, and even though it was written three decades later, the book became a waiting vessel into which I could pour all the passion of my past.
So when I chanced upon the New York Times obituary of the ballerina Yvette Chauviré, who died in her home in Paris at the age of 99, I read it with more than a passing interest. The obit mentioned another dancer of the period—Solange Schwarz. Solange was clearly French. But Schwarz? Could have been German. Or Jewish. Intrigued, I dug up a little more.