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Reviewed by Vincent Dublado for Readers' Favorite
Fierce and Delicate: Essays on Dance and Illness by Renee K. Nicholson is a collection of narrative essays about her journey into the world of ballet and her experiences with a life-changing illness. Beginning in her early years, as a young girl who dreams of flying, she recalls her training and keenly gives it a metaphorical touch. She gives you a glimpse of the stringent and competitive world of ballet dancing with its many dress rehearsals, backstage moms, and draconian instructors. Nicholson creeps around the outskirts of this world like a mouse, and the first half of the memoir thrusts you into the author’s world as a fervent dancer who spends most of her time in class. The second half is no less dramatic, as Nicholson, who is used to performing splits and pirouettes, is struck down by rheumatoid arthritis at the tender age of twenty-one.
Getting inside a ballet class feels like entering a humorless world where only the grammar of swanlike movement is given merit. Fierce and Delicate is an apt title for this piece as it is an in-depth first-person experience of a ballerina in training. Renee K. Nicholson’s narrative soars like a grand jeté, springing compulsively from one dramatic scene to another. Non-dancers like me can appreciate the immense effort required in training, which is made vivid and evocative by Nicholson’s lyricism. In the pursuit of perfect movement, the memoir becomes a story of conquering one’s self. It is her early bout with rheumatoid arthritis that tests her true mettle - for it has given her the most challenging life choice - and she uses her power to choose wisely. She has chosen to be something more, to keep her dancing shadow, and as a result Fierce and Delicate is an inspirational tale that everyone should read. It is a graceful and moving story packed with adversity but with triumph at its heart.