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Monday, February 12, 2018

At the Boston Ballet

By Shari Randall

Oh, the Places You’ll Go is a popular Dr. Seuss book often given to graduates as they take their
first steps into the world after school ends. As I take my first steps into the world of the newly-
published mystery author, I’ve thought about that book. The title came to mind as I sat in the
rehearsal studio of the Boston Ballet last fall.

Research is part of the author’s tool kit. Sometimes it leads to endless hours of internet sleuthing. Sometimes it means interviews. And sometimes it means a trip to experience the real life of a character. That’s the kind of trip that brought me to Boston and let me check off the bucket list item I thought I’d never attain: to sit in on a professional ballet company class.
In one of those unbelievably lucky Six Degrees of Separation moments, I was chatting with a
friend about my main character, Allegra Larkin, a ballerina whose injury leads her to return
home to recuperate and take a job in her aunt’s Lazy Mermaid lobster shack. My friend told me
that her sister volunteered with the Boston Ballet and that she’d ask if I could take a tour and
meet one of the dancers. I thanked her, thinking that there was NO way that would happen in
my lifetime, especially since it was the fall and the company would be preparing for The

Not two weeks later, I walked up the steps of the Boston Ballet’s headquarters, a sleekly
renovated brick building in Boston’s south end. Men and women with impossibly good posture
passed me on the steps. I was in the right place.

The charming Assistant to the Artistic Director, Elizabeth Olds, met me and proceeded to take
me through five floors of magic. I don’t know if she could tell that I was floating…. I know I
couldn’t stop smiling.

Ever since I was a little girl at the barre at Miss Patriciann Wallet’s dance studio in Meriden, CT, I’ve
been in love with the ballet. Pursuing it as a career was not ever really my dream. I had a
“modern dance” body, as my teacher gently put it. I love to dance and I’ve tried many forms,
from jazz to country line dancing. I’d say my specialty is mortifying my kids when I hit the dance
floor at weddings. But I’m a fan, as passionate about dance as any football fan is about their

And what a team dances at the Boston Ballet. I took a seat in their soaring studio, tall windows
overlooking the Boston skyline, surrounded by what Martha Graham called “the athletes of God.”
Dancers warming up don’t look very godlike – they’re draped in layers of wool, ripped leggings,
t-shirts. One young man wore plastic pants held up by one strap, kind of like farmer’s overalls.

But then they started to move. I forgot that I was supposed to be taking notes. The show began.
For an audience of one. Me. It passed all too quickly, dear readers. All I can say again is: Magic.

I floated to a meeting room where I talked with Dawn Atkins, a dancer who suffered an injury much like my main character. We talked about her recovery and the dancer’s life. I can’t help but think that she is the image of my main character - are you listening, Hallmark Channel?

Then, when I thought it couldn’t get any better, Elizabeth took me to the costume shop. Did
you know that the tutu is separate from the corset-like top of the ballerina’s outfit? Me,

Be still my librarian heart – they have a dance library.

And the shoe room! Hundreds of shoes lined the walls, stacked with cubbies that held several
pairs of each dancer’s shoes. Here I learned that when dancers attain a certain level, they work
with their very own shoemaker, who can tailor their pointe shoes to their personal
specifications. Just the kind of detail that makes dance fans swoon.

What else did I learn from this visit?

I learned how generous the dancers and staff of the Boston Ballet are with their time. My visit was during the build-up to Nutcracker, the busiest time of the year for most ballet companies, and still Elizabeth and Dawn made time to answer my questions and never made me feel rushed. I learned so many details that will bring my dancer, Allie Larkin, alive on the page.

The biggest thing I learned? Talk about those bucket list items, even the ones you think are
unattainable. Sometimes the universe is listening.

Any bucket list items you’d like to share? And writers – where has your research taken you?

A librarian and military wife, SHARI RANDALL lives in a mid-century money pit in Connecticut. When she's not committing murder (on the page, of course), Shari enjoys walking the beach near her house, traveling and eating the local cuisine, reading, and dancing. When she isn't writing the Lobster Shack mysteries for St. Martin's Press, she is the Library Liaison for Sisters in Crime. John Valeri of Criminal Element called Curses, Boiled Again! a "trifecta of triumph: engaging characters, a welcoming backdrop, and a compelling plot" and Donna Andrews declared it "suspenseful and entertaining."

You can see what's new with Shari at


Kait said...

I'm midway through Curses, Boiled Again and loving it.

Sounds like you had a fabulous trip to Boston and at the ballet. There is something heady about the dancer's life. I still have a pair of my pointe shoes - but the ones I cherish most belonged to Iliana Lopez. They are painted for her role in Prodigal Son and she gave them to me as a remembrance after her performance when I was leaving Miami City Ballet where I worked in administration.

Why are ballet teachers always named "Miss"? Mine was Miss Debbie, and the dance studio was named Debbie's Plie-no accent on the e.

Margaret S. Hamilton said...

I recently asked my local librarian where she'd stash a body. Her face lit up like a thousand watt bulb as she grabbed a fat ring of keys. "Come on, I'll show you."

And gave me a guided tour of potential spots in the library building.

Love your behind-the-scenes look at the Boston Ballet!

Shari Randall said...

Hi Kait,
Someday I'd love to see Iliana's shoes! I kept my last pair of pointe shoes for WAY too long - but it was so much fun to slip them on once in a while and play!
Miss Debbie's Plie? How did she pronounce it? We could have a whole blog about past dance teachers.

Shari Randall said...

Hi Margaret - I can just picture that ring of keys! I hope we'll see her in one of your next stories.

Sasscer Hill said...

Shari, what a great experience you had with that ballerina! I love the way so many people from so many different occupations are helpful to writers. They really enjoy doing it, and that is very lucky for us!

Though it had nothing to do with research, when I was 25 I was so lucky as to meet a ballet dancer from the Royal Canadian ballet while I was at a party at the Iranian Embassy. He invited me to the Kennedy Center to watch the performance the next evening, but from the most incredible location. I stood in the wings and watched Rudolph Nureyev and Margot Fonteyn dance. A young ballerina, who could have been your gal, was also dancing with Nureyev that night. She came into the wings after a dance with Nureyev, and she was crying. A friend stood near her and the ballerina said, "Why is he so mean to me. I hate him!" I think he had made her look bad during her dance, but that was a really, really, long time ago and a bit shrouded by the past.

Shari Randall said...

Sasscer, what an incredible story! I will totally have to crib that one! I know your horse racing stories are full of details and experiences that are so vivid - must be pulled from your own life and love of horses.

Grace Topping said...

Oh, Shari, this was charming. Your book was wonderful, and I look forward to learning more about ballet dancers in a future book. Perhaps you could have a touring ballet company visit Mystic Bay.

Gloria Alden said...

Shari, what an experience. The only dancing class I ever took was clogging with a friend, and when we had to go onstage with our other two people in sort of a clogging square dance, neither my friend or I told our families. I lived in fear that some of my third graders would be there on stage or in the audience. I'm very uncomfortable dancing in public at weddings or anything else, but I love dancing at home in my living room with my only audience a confused Maggie wonder what I'm doing. I do love watching ballet dancing on the TV. So graceful.

I'm ordering your book today and can't wait to read it.

Shari Randall said...

Hi Grace, Thank you! I love your idea of a touring company visiting Mystic Bay. I have to get Allie back on stage somehow!

Shari Randall said...

Hi Gloria, I would have loved to see you clogging! And your students would have LOVED it!

Warren Bull said...


KM Rockwood said...

What an adventure! I'm sure the experience shines through in your work.

Shari Randall said...

Warren, it was cool! I'm still floating when I think of it!

Hi KM! I hope I did the dancers justice. They work so hard!