Lauren Kessler’s Raising the Barre is billed as a middle aged woman’s quest to dance the Nutcracker, but ultimately, it is a self-help book that advises you to love your body, take risks, and push yourself out of your comfort zone – especially if you’re a middle-aged woman. Kessler’s narrative starts with her husband jetting off to Paris for a business trip in between Thanksgiving and Christmas. To prevent herself from focusing on her jealousy, Kessler decides to take her own trip, the tour of the Nutcrackers, ultimately viewing 6 different performances of the widely loved ballet. She then takes the reader into her own history with dance, from childhood bliss, to the moment in early adolescence, when she overhears her world-class dance teacher tell her mother that she doesn’t have the body to move to the next level and become a more serious dance student. Kessler bills this moment as one of life-shattering importance, the moment she moves from blissful ignorance of the shape of her body, reveling in its functionality, to hyper body-conscious teenager aware of her “thighs and bottom-heaviness.” From here, the text chronicles Kessler’s quest to return the world of dance that she once loved, although it a limited, mostly-observational-journalist kind of way.
She talks the leader of a respected local dance company into letting her work her way into a minor part on stage. From here, the book becomes a catalog of her workouts (making this a great book for anyone who is stuck in a workout rut), with long digressions on moving out of one’s comfort zones, how to cope with panic, and other generalized life advice. Although the advice in the book wasn’t earth shattering, or probably even new for most readers, Kessler is a funny and self-deprecating writer, and the book is a short, quick read. This would be a great summer beach book, despite it’s nominal holiday theme, because it is designed to make us all feel better about our real world bodies, while providing a reality check about the amount of time and effort that goes into creating the otherworldly bodies of dancers.
Katie Richards is a lifelong reader and story-lover. She formalized this love with master’s degrees in art history and English. In addition to her work with the Portland Book Review, she works as an adjunct instructor at Metropolitan State University of Denver. She lives outside of Denver, Colorado with her partner and four spoiled cats. In her free time she also enjoys knitting, sewing, and the beautiful outdoor scenery of Colorado.
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