The Rib-Cracking Episode
By Gavin Larson, December 17, 2021 for Dance International
My inspiration for The Rib-Cracking Episode, a chapter in Being a Ballerina: The Power and Perfection of a Dancing Life, came from my friend and fellow dance writer, Martha Ullman West. Martha and I had an ongoing email conversation as I was working on my book in which I shared with her my progress, blockages, and ideas, and frequently asked for guidance. Often, our messages rambled delightfully into anecdotes and memories that were, for me at least, comforting moments of respite from the pressures of the present. When I recounted this particular tale to Martha, she replied with a quip that I needed to expand upon the “rib-cracking episode.”
I realized then that my memories of the incident had the right blend of technical detail, internal dialogue, and physical and emotional repercussion to bring a reader right into the feeling of being a dancer — which was one of my aims in writing this book. It was fun to put myself back into that rehearsal with Patrick, reliving an otherwise routine hour that captured the ordinary extraordinariness of a dancer’s life. While every person in my book is real, I changed many names or used descriptive monikers. Patrick, however, is and was Patrick. I felt his large personality would want to own his role in my book.
I was lucky enough to sustain only two fractures during my career, but oddly, both were to my ribs.
Patrick had very large hands and a very, very strong grip. With one hand positioned on my rib cage, the other on my thigh in arabesque, he bent his knees into a deep plié, inhaled, and delivered me to the height of the lift. I braced my stomach muscles so I would stay sturdy, pressed down with my leg so I wouldn’t flop out of position and, barely breathing, pointed my bottom foot (now off the floor and easy to forget about) as hard as I could, as if to distract myself from the pressure on the rest of my body. It worked perfectly. Holding me aloft, directly over his head and with completely straight arms, Patrick took the choreographed four or five steps diagonally across the floor as the music hit its crescendo, and I gazed intently at the high corner of the studio, waiting to be gently lowered to the floor at the end of the phrase.