Everything I ever needed to know I learned in ballet class: Bow to your teachers (for we dance on the shoulders of giants). Do your positions every day (because even the most basic rituals prepare us). Smile (though every bone in your body is aching). Make it look easy (despite all the sweat on the floor). And always, always thank the piano player (success is never a solo).
For young aspirants, ballet is as necessary as breathing and "class" a whole universe in itself. Nothing can equal the exhilaration of a perfectly executed fouete. And nothing teaches you like a pratfall. But ballet is hard work -- good technique can take years to perfect. (Girl to pedestrian: "How do I get to Carnegie Hall?" Pedestrian to girl: "Practice, practice, practice. . . . ")
So, barre-hangers take note: Eliza Gaynor Minden's The Ballet Companion (Fireside, $29.95) is a thorough reference book that lays it all out for the serious dance student. It is not written for children necessarily, but even a 10-year-old will learn from its snippets of ballet history, its clear outline of the profession's demands and its cleanly illustrated, step-by-step explanations. Filled with attractive photographs, it's a welcome addition to the literature.
Also just released: Put Your Best Foot Forward, by Suki Schorer and the School of American Ballet, illustrated by Donna Ingemanson (Workman, $9.95). Schorer studied with the great ballet master George Balanchine and teaches at the school he founded. This little picture book is meant for the much younger balletomane -- "Behave beautifully," it exhorts its reader, or "Even a Sugar Plum Fairy sews her own ribbons." It could serve as a manual for life.
-- Marie Arana