This site has limited support for your browser. We recommend switching to Edge, Chrome, Safari, or Firefox.

For the Dance Moms

Dance has always been a part of Tammy Greenwood’s life. Growing up, she studied ballet, tap, jazz, and acrobatics, and when her daughter took up the art form, she became involved through the unwavering—and sometimes self-sacrificing—support that is often asked of a dance mom.

Cover of The Still Point by Tammy Greenwood.

It makes sense that dance became a lens through which Greenwood could view essential life experiences like friendship, competition, loss, and connection. Her latest book, The Still Point, to be released on February 20, follows three serious pre-professional dancers and their mothers as the young ballerinas compete for a prestigious scholarship. The novel, which is Greenwood’s fifteenth, uses this “hothouse situation” in a competitive Southern California ballet studio to speak to deeper life themes. 

“I wanted to honor the mothers, I wanted to honor the dancers, and I wanted to honor ballet,” Greenwood says. “This is probably the closest to home book that I’ve written.”                                                          

Greenwood talked with Fjord Review about her perspective as a ballet mom, painting an accurate picture of the dance world through fiction, and how a ballet environment affects interpersonal relationships. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Tammy Greenwood, author of The Still Point. Photograph courtesy of Tammy Greenwood

You often explore mother-and-daughter relationships in your writing. Why has this been such a consistent theme throughout your career? 

It's just one of those sort of universal themes. I am a mom with daughters and I have a very close relationship with my own mom. I do find it so interesting, especially in the ballet world, because it is typically the moms that are the ones waiting in the studio and doing the pickups. There's such a thin membrane between mothers and daughters, and it's always interested me how women with girls tend to have a different relationship than mothers and sons. It's a complex relationship—all the different facets of what it means to be the mother of a daughter and to be the daughter of a mother and how we relate to each other. 

How does the added pressure of ballet add nuance and complexity to the mother-daughter relationship?

Women are sort of the default extracurricular leaders, though there is the occasional ballet dad who is right there doing the same. I'm a writer, so I'm mobile with my work and I would just bring my work with me to the studio. I found that actually, for a lot of mothers, that was the situation. There were women who were able to bring their work to the green room and just be there as their kids were dancing or taking class. The women tend to be the thrust into this role, particularly moms of dancers, because the ballet studio is sort of a nurturing environment, in a way, and it is definitely very female. 

Tammy Greenwood and her mother before a dance performance. Photograph courtesy of Paul Greenwood

Throughout the book, you also touch on the ways that a mother's dreams can get enmeshed with their daughter’s lives and goals, and how a ballet environment can affect—or even exacerbate—this. 

Mothers of teenagers are typically of a certain age: 40 to 60. I think we find ourselves at that point where either we've realized our dreams or we haven't, and suddenly we have children that are heading out into the world. It feels, for some people, like a second chance. This is where this sort of vicarious situation happens, where you're living out unrealized dreams through your child—and that happens. But, just in general, any parent wants their kid to realize their dreams and their ambitions. It's easy, when you're not embroiled in your own ambitions, to then give everything that you have to your children's. I just think it's sort of human nature, but particularly so for women who may or may have not realized their own dreams. 

In The Still Point, the way you write about experiences like friendship is so poignant it feels like your words must come from a true and personal place. How much of the events in the book are inspired by your own lived experience?

There's an intensity to the friendships that are developed in a hothouse environment like a ballet studio. The friendships that I have from those years with my ballet moms—the book is dedicated to my ballet moms—are really powerful friendships. Female friendships in general tend to be very intimate things, and when you are on the same sort of journey with somebody else there's an unspoken understanding. 

The dance audition. Photograph courtesy of Tammy Greenwood

The book definitely draws on this theme of friendship, while also exploring how the ballet environment can affect interpersonal relationships more broadly. 

The Still Point is about people—that was my main goal. Yes, this is a ballet book, and yes, it's a ballet mom book, but it really is about the journeys of each of these women. There's so many other forces at play. There's grief and loss for all of the characters. Ever, one of the moms, is experiencing the loss of her husband, but Lindsay, another of the moms, has experienced the loss of her marriage. And Josie, a third mom, has been through a series of losses. That's the larger picture that transcends the very specific environment that's been created within ballet.

The Still Point doesn’t play into the typical tropes that are often involved in stories about the ballet world, but it remains a page-turner with plenty of drama and spice. How did you find this balance?  

I think what happens sometimes with movies and things is, they're created by people who are relying on clichés. They're relying on every dancer having an eating disorder, or these girls putting glass in each other's pointe shoes, which is something I've never seen—it’s just not done. I really wanted to honor the fact that the girls often are very supportive of each other—they're like siblings in a way. The girls that my daughter grew up with were like family. I really wanted to avoid those more tired tropes and go deeper than that. Not to say that girls don't face those struggles, but there's so much more to the training to be a dancer. To have your life, at such a young age, dedicated to making art is amazing. I wanted to really try to be authentic to real dancers’ experiences and the real relationships that develop inside a studio, rather than just going with the cliché. That's the beautiful thing about writing from your own experience: you can offer something that somebody who isn't as familiar with a particular world can’t. 

Sophie Bress

Sophie Bress is an arts and culture journalist based in Salt Lake City, Utah. In her writing, she focuses on placing the arts within our cultural conversations and recognizing art makers as essential elements of our societal framework. Sophie holds a Master’s degree from the University of Southern California’s Annenberg School of Communication and Journalism. She has been published in Dance Magazine, L.A. Dance Chronicle, The Argonaut, Festival Advisor, and more.



Musically Inclined
REVIEWS | Sophie Bress

Musically Inclined

Despite the fact that dance and music are often regarded as inextricably linked, it remains astonishing to experience the work of a choreographer who channels the score particularly well—or a group of dancers who embody it especially organically. Repertory Dance Theatre’s 58th season closer, “Gamut,” happened to have both.

Continue Reading
Dance Downtown
REVIEWS | Karen Hildebrand

Dance Downtown

One might easily mistake the prevailing mood as light-hearted, heading into intermission after two premieres by Brenda Way and Kimi Okada for ODC/Dance’s annual Dance Downtown season. Maybe this is just what we need to counter world events, you may think. But there is much more to consider beneath the high production values of this beautifully wrought program. Okada, for instance, folds a dark message into her cartoon inspired “Inkwell.” And KT Nelson’s “Dead Reckoning” from 2015 reminds us the outlook for climate change looms ever large.

Continue Reading
Wayne McGregor: Riding the Wave
INTERVIEWS | Victoria Looseleaf

Wayne McGregor: Riding the Wave

It’s not every choreographer who works with economists, anthropologists, neuroscientists and cognitive scientists, not to mention collaborating with the Google Arts & Culture Lab and the Swedish pop group ABBA, but Wayne McGregor wouldn’t have it any other way. 

Continue Reading
Good Subscription Agency