Sophie Flack: An Interview With Some "Bunheads."

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L to R: Zoe Zien, Sophie Flack, Ezra Hurwitz

Experience the Written Word at Chelsea Market

I have always had a passion for learning what professional dancers transition to once they step off the stage. This interest led me to the Chelsea Market on a Wednesday afternoon to  listen to a childhood classmate of mine speak about her debut novel.  Sophie Flack, a former dancer with the New York City Ballet, was joined by Miami City Ballet dancers Zoe Zien and Ezra Hurwitz as well as Owen Taylor, whose resume includes working in dance companies such as Momix and performing on Broadway in Cats, to talk about her debut novel, Bunheadsnot to be confused with the ABC Family dramedy of the same name. The book is a backstage pass into life in the corps de ballet of a major New York City ballet company. Flack explains that the book covers what it is like to dance “in the shadows of the stars.” But this book event wasn’t like her typical appearances where she simply reads a chapter from the popular novel; in a game-show styled interview, she asked the panel of the dancers questions and opened a discussion about the issues raised in her book.

The dancers talked about life in a professional ballet setting. The first question—”Is the ballet world pink and frou-frou or dark and backstabbing?”—led the dancers to explain the challenges that come with balancing working with ones friends in a close-knit environment. Sometimes, since they are forced to compete with one another for roles and attention, unintended strain enters into relationships. Zien stated that dancers have “so little control over [their] careers, that it makes it difficult to backstab each other” for personal gain. Hurwitz spoke of what he referred to as “subtle backstabbing,” which he saw in the unintentional cruelty that arises due to the passionate nature dancers have in their quests for success. Taylor raised an interesting point by explaining that the ‘backstabbing years’ tend to happen while dancers are still students; once a dancer becomes a professional, the community is usually supportive. He further delved into the flip side of the community, talking about how the audition holding room can be ruthless with people fighting for attention; he gave a very physical demonstration, complete with a full split, of how some people intentionally intimidate others around them.

Sophie Flack leads a discussion about her novel and ballet.

The heaviest topic regarded how dancers balance their career with their personal lives. The main character in Bunheads meets a young man who teaches her about life outside of ballet. The responses varied and were dictated by each dancer’s level of experience in the field. Hurwitz, who has been with Miami City Ballet for five years, said, “hard to find balance because dance is both alienating and intense.” Zien, who has been in Miami for ten years, talked about the importance of individual development, saying, “It takes time to be ready to have a life outside of ballet.” Flack piggy-backed on this with her comment of how it is “a gift to dance,” and, with the brevity of the dancer’s career, one feels the need to get the most out of it as possible—which sometimes leaves little room for anything else. Taylor shared his personal story of how he went about things differently, choosing to finish college at Julliard. He has managed to have a long career on stage, then off stage, and is now back in the limelight again.

The dancers all laughed and shared stories about being thrown on in ballets at the last moment, as well as different bloopers they had experienced throughout their careers. As a reward for answering dance trivia questions correctly, ten members of the audience received autographed copies of Bunheads. Overall, the audience and panel alike seemed to thoroughly enjoy the event.

I mentioned earlier that I love seeing what people do after they retire from ballet. Sophie Flack is making more than just a name for herself. She hasn’t just written a novel—which is no small feat—but in finding this new voice, she is opening doors to both entertain and educate. After all, isn’t that what dance is meant to do? She has found a passion, which is not a huge departure from what she spent the majority of her life pursuing. Now, she has a new medium to further share her love of ballet with both dancers and non dancers. I guess it just goes to show, no matter what the “stage” may be, once a bunhead, always a bunhead.

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Comments
  • candice
    Reply

    Wish I could have gone! I so appreciate Sophie’s candid voice and passion for bringing ballet and ballet dancers out of their insular world while at the same time acknowledging the “gift”.

    I also agree with the panel member who mentioned back stabbing to be more of a school phase problem. In my experience, most professionals I have worked with have been extremely supportive of one another. Those who have not seem to just be stuck in their adolescent struggle mentality. Once you have made it into a company, there is just too much to do in such a short time to worry about tearing others down.

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