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A Very Young Dancer; all grown up


In 1976 photographer Jill Krementz decided to chronicle the day to day life of a 10-year-old student named Stephanie. The story follows her attendance at the School of American Ballet in New York through to being chosen for the starring role of Marie in George Balanchine‘s presentation of The Nutcracker. The book was called A Very Young Dancer and while today it is out-of-print there was a time when it was a bestseller, for many years, and over the years has influenced a great many of today’s ballet professionals. But for all who read it there was always the question of “who was this Stephanie.” The young girls last name was never used in the book, and for 30 years fans have wondered what ever happened to the young prodigy. Did she become an adult ballet dancer; did she go on to teach? This past week we got to find out because The New York Times managed to find and interview Stephanie. The Very Young Dancer, it seems, was asked to withdraw from ballet at the age 13.

She wasn’t just a young dancer whose career was ending abruptly but the focus of a beloved, high-profile book. Her failure would be agonizingly public. And so she decided, with her mother’s backing, simply to tell people that she had quit.

“So many people would say, ‘Why’d you stop dancing?’ Just everybody,” Stephanie recalls. She told them that she wanted to go to college, and that a commitment at the school would rule that out. That was her story, and she stuck to it for three decades.

Even her father, who had divorced her mother when she was young, thought she had quit on her own. Following this blow Stephanie attended collage studying religion and returned to a family home in Wyoming each summer to nurture her other childhood love, horses. There was a fairly bumpy patch in the middle of her life where she explains that she felt completely lost, but she helped herself though it with an extended stay in a Connecticut monastery. Four years ago she moved back to Wyoming where she met her husband. They live a quiet life, he as a plumber and her working in a flower shop.

On a snowy day Stephanie flips through the book, telling John about the real people behind the pictures: the woman in wardrobe who pressed too hard with the bobby pins; Balanchine, who never talked down to the kids.

She looks at a picture of herself joyously dancing across a big, dark stage. “It was quite an experience,” she says. “It is hard to top it.” She gazes out the window at snowcapped Carter Mountain. “Out here kind of tops it, in a way.”

You can read the whole article in The New York Times

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