Picks and Pans Review: The Right Moves

UPDATED 08/24/1987 at 01:00 AM EDT Originally published 08/24/1987 at 01:00 AM EDT

by Daphne Hurford

There is a fresh look at the world of ballet in this nonfiction volume, which concentrates on the training of male dancers, describing years of daily practice, tension, stress, disappointments, pain and rare triumphs. The Right Moves centers on a boy named Max Fuqua from Dallas. His parents are divorced, and his mother takes Max to New York and enrolls him in the School of American Ballet, the noted institution founded by Balanchine. Behind every male in ballet is a mother, and Max's is a formidable woman whose life revolves around her son's dancing. As the book begins, 15-year-old Max has a fight in class with another boy—an unheard-of breach of the strict discipline—and is suspended. The multitude of mental and physical problems all growing boys are susceptible to is heightened in the rarefied dance world. Appearance, at a time when boys are awkward and changing, is everything. Academics are of little importance; no one seems to care if these boys even learn to read. One dancer recalls the year when he was the prince in the New York City Ballet's Nutcracker: "I really thought I was the prince. I wouldn't even wash the dishes at home because princes don't wash dishes." For some, the mental anguish is paralyzing. When Jock Soto first made it in the pros, "he had such severe stage fright that he regularly vomited before making an entrance. He was only 15 years old." Hurford, a former reporter at SPORTS ILLUSTRATED and LIFE, has provided a behind-the-scenes look that ardent ballet fans will enjoy, but this book should be required reading for any boy (and his mother) who thinks he wants to study dance seriously. Back in the 16th century, the Italians preserved the beautiful soprano voices of some boys by taking drastic physical measures. If this book is any indication, what today's dance schools do to males training for ballet seems almost as severe. (Atlantic Monthly Press, $17.95)

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