Like a lot of little girls, I took ballet classes, so I was able to draw from my experience when Alexandrie was at Madame Channing’s studio. I read about the various ballets that were used in this book to capture the energy needed to tell each ballet’s story. For the more specific descriptions of steps, I went online. It doesn’t sound very appealing, but there are videos of different moves that I could watch and then describe as Alexandrie performed them.
When you were in the planning stages of writing this novel, which came first - the inspiration of Degas’ work or the life of the ballerina?
I’ve always loved Degas’ ballerina paintings and while taking an art history class in college, my professor pointed out that the man behind the curtain in The Star (L'etoile [La danseuse sur la scene]) was a "John."
Were the Parisian ballerinas really looked upon as lorettes (well cared for mistresses) rather than respected for their craft?
Yes and no. There were many wealthy men who bought season tickets to the Opera ballet, which afforded them an all-access pass to the dancers’ dressing rooms and after-parties in the Green Room. Many of these men took young dancers as mistresses, and many of the dancers saw it as a great opportunity to advance socially. This was pretty commonplace in France - beyond the ballet - during that time. The Notre Dame de Lorette was the real nickname for the area depicted in Dancing for Degas because so many mistresses were kept there. But the ballerinas were always respected for their craft. The Paris Opera ballet was, and still is, one of the most prestigious institutes in France. It was also not necessary for the ballerinas to become mistresses, as history will show there are many famous ballerinas who were dedicated only to dance.
What was the best source of information in your research for this novel?
I found Impressionist Quartet: The Intimate Genius of Manet and Morisot, Degas and Cassatt by Jeffrey Meyers to be very helpful as well as Degas: Letters, which helped me to write in Degas’ tone of voice.
Do you have a favorite Degas ballet painting?
L'etoile is probably my favorite because it’s beautiful but then when you look closer you see a man behind the curtain, illustrating the relationship between abonnes and ballerinas. Although, since Dancing for Degas has been released Dancers in Blue will always be special to me because it’s the cover of my book.
Follow Up: Question by Librarypat - In your research, did you find why he chose to focus on the ballet as his subject?
Degas chose to paint the ballet because he liked to study movement. He also did a series of paintings at the races which focused on race horses for the same reason. It's not very romantic, but if an artist wants to study and paint movement, what could be more beautiful than the ballet?
Kathryn Wagner currently resides in Washington, D.C. Dancing for Degas is her first novel. She holds a B.A. in journalism with a minor in art and has worked as a staff writer and columnist for several newspapers in North Carolina, Massachusetts, and Virginia. Imagining what has inspired great artists has been a longtime passion of hers. She is currently at work on her next novel. You can also find more about Kathryn and her book at her website.
Copyright © 2010 by The Maiden’s Court