Like most ballerinas, Jennifer Kronenberg has been absorbed with dancing since she was a little girl. But the Miami City Ballet principal dancer has long loved another sort of expression, too.
“I’ve always liked writing. In school English was my favorite subject,” says Kronenberg. “It just flowed, and I enjoyed it. I always said one day I’d like to write a book. But I never saw it happening.”
But about five years ago Kronenberg was teaching at MCB’s summer school and found herself astonished at how many advanced students didn’t know basic skills like how to put up their hair so it didn’t hit them in the face during turns or how to deal with the pain that comes with wearing pointe shoes.
“They’d say ‘Can I sit down? I have a blister,’ ” Kronenberg says. “And I’d be like ‘Are you kidding me? You better get used to handling this!’ ”
As she vented to her husband, fellow principal dancer Carlos Guerra, he said: “There’s your book.”
Those mundane-seeming but crucial questions as well as Kronenberg’s own mishaps inspired So, You Want to Be a Ballet Dancer? (University Press of Florida, $14.95), about which Kronenberg will speak Sunday at Miami Book Fair International.
“We all learn from mistakes,” says Kronenberg, 37. “But there are so many things to stress about. Why wouldn’t you want to come in prepared?”
Ballet Dancer covers practical topics such as applying stage make-up, protecting feet from bunions and corns, proper diet and injury prevention and psychological issues such as dealing with stress, competition, sexual harassment and eating disorders.
Kronenberg draws on her own experiences, like the time she burned her pointe shoes trying to harden them in an oven or when she lost her place during an early dress rehearsal while the stage manager yelled at her over a loudspeaker.
“I had been onstage many times with my ballet school,” says Kronenberg, who joined MCB at 17. “But being onstage with a professional company was a whole different ball game. I had no idea there were marks on the floor. I had no idea what the difference was if I came out from the first or second wing.
“You’re just expected to know these things. I think it’s taken for granted you’ll pick it up eventually. And it does happen. But how nice if you knew what was expected of you beforehand.”
Guerra gave his wife another push, when he told an MCB board member at a party that Kronenberg had written a book. The board member put her in touch with a literary agent. At first Kronenberg was “enormously” intimidated. But she drew on lifetime habits of discipline and perseverance, tapping out chapters on her iPad in rehearsal and lunch breaks and late at night.
“Dancing helped me get through it — the incredible amount of focus dancers have, knowing how to work through something that’s difficult,” she says. “I kept getting pages back all scratched up with red marks. It would have been very easy to give up had I not been used to taking criticism."
The willowy Kronenberg looks demure, but she has an intensity that’s been showcased in the dramatic title roles of Giselle and Romeo and Juliet, the strutting lead in Balanchine’s Rubies, or in such intense contemporary works as Twyla Tharp’s Push Comes to Shove or Alexei Ratmansky’s Symphonic Dances.
Still, the book pushed her capacity for work to their limits. She completed the initial version, published as an e-book in 2011, and then got the contract with UPF for a longer print version just as she found she was pregnant.
“On the one hand I was kicking myself, saying this is probably the only moment you’ll have in your life to rest,” she says. “But I don’t know how not to be busy. I invent things to do.”
As she waited for Eva, who was born Nov. 12, 2012, Kronenberg not only expanded her Ballet Dancer but also produced and shot 10 videos, accessed through QR codes throughout the book. Kronenberg drew on fellow MCB dancers for some of the videos: Patricia and Jeanette Delgado demonstrate how to tape up their toes; Tricia Albertson goes through a physical therapy session, and young dancers Skyler Lubin and Nathalia Arja talk about the stress of coming up through the ranks.
In October Kronenberg returned to her first love, the stage, performing in two of the three dances on Miami City Ballet’s first program of the season. But even with the challenge of juggling her many efforts, she says authorship — and motherhood — have enriched her dancing.
“I feel proud that I was able to … have that energy and drive to focus my energy and get it done,” she says. “Some people never make any of their dreams come true. If you focus and dedicate yourself to doing something, you’ll get ahead.”
“It also makes me less afraid to reinvent myself as a dancer as I get older. That applies in the future too. … It gives me the confidence that it’s OK to take the next step, whether that’s inside the ballet world or outside.”