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Jenifer Ringer: Mom, Sugar Plum Fairy, Role-Model

When Jenifer Ringer was younger she was told by a ballet teacher that she was lazy and needed to work much harder; she now says she's grateful for the teacher's honesty because it pushed her to be the dancer she is today. To have the opportunity to dance on stage is an honor; a dancer becomes a tour guide to take someone on a journey, a least for a little while. Dancers send energy to the audience and in return fuels the dancer's fire to perform.

We are all our own worst critics so when Alastair Macaulay said, "Jenifer Ringer, as the Sugar Plum Fairy, looked as if she'd eaten one sugar plum too many" the world heard because it hurt not only Jenifer, but all women who have battled with eating disorders. Macaulay responded, "If you'd rather not be critiqued on your body, don't enter the world of dance." Voltaire said, Let us read and let us dance; two amusements that will never do any harm to the world. This was true until we read Macaulay!

Jenifer Ringer knows that her body is part of her art form; she says she has a more womanly shape than most ballet dancers. I think of So You Think You Can Dance judge, Mia Michaels who was told she was too big to be a dancer so she switched to choreography. What I love is that she didn't just give up because of critics like Macaulay, she made her own dance through determination. Jenifer had a ballet teacher who told her, "I don't care how you look, you need to dance." She eventually accepted herself and found her balance.

Ballerinas need to have tough skin. As beautiful and fragile looking as they are, ballet dancers are tough! A ballerina's job requires more than just aesthetical beauty; dancers today are required to be more athletic as well as artistic. The aesthetic of an ideal ballet body is shown in Natalie Portman's twenty pound weight loss for the movie Black Swan. Natalie plays Nina, an anorexic ballet dancer whose goal is to be perfect. That is the goal for most ballerinas.

There are all kinds of dancers out there just as there are all kinds of body types. We have to deal with what we've got, appreciate it then move on. There are many women out there with beautiful bodies who aren't prisoners to dieting and self-inflicted misery. Yes, many of them are "French women who don't get fat" but that should tell us something about America. American women are absolutely full of "food" guilt! We are obsessed with weight and have the most eating disorders in the world. I certainly don't want this for my daughter.

Things have gotten much better than they used to be... "Old School" ballet teachers used to be mean, using cigarettes and canes to threaten to keep the leg up high. The same can be said for all teachers. I think of my husband who went to Catholic school in Rhode Island and has very bad memories of "Old School" ruler slapper Sister Bruce. Instead of corporal punishment we have critics! It is not the kind of constructive criticism that helps us to grow though; it is hurtful, unkind, and unnecessary. Macaulay's comment may have made him infamous but it's the meanness that will be remembered. Didn't his mother teach him if he can't say something nice don't say anything at all?

Sometimes being scared of someone can bring out the best in a talent. I think of Chef Gordon Ramsay and how he yells at his chefs in training. But the difference is that people like Ramsay want the best from you and are highly respected. I don't have respect for Macaulay.

Ballerinas have a natural joie de vivre; a dancing mom especially! Being a mom has made my dancing more liberated. Jenifer is thirty-seven and seasoned with life experience. Having children adds fire and meaning to dancing. Moms have more love to express. My favorite memory of being pregnant is dancing a very special pas de deux with my babies. Many ballerinas dance up to their eighth or ninth month, I did and I'm proud to say I could still do a double pique and pirouette turn in my eighth month. Jenifer's daughter has the perfect name for a ballerina- Grace.

I love that Jenifer attributes a lot of her post baby shape to Pilates! I love that she wants to write and have more children, I love that she prays before she goes out onto the stage. She is healthy, beautiful, smart, gracious, and a wonderful role-model for all young girls who want to be dancers.

Last Monday when Jenifer was on the Today Show I read my favorite Christmas book Auntie Claus Home for the Holidays to my second-graders. It was so ironic that one of the characters was the Sugar Plum Fairy. She says, "Ze Sugar Plum Fairy does not eat ze cake. Ze Sugar Plum Fairy has to be light as ze air to perform at ze Lincoln Center."

We all have a bit of Sugar Plum Fairy in us and once we find that happy balance we CAN have ze cake and eat it too! After all, dance is food for the eye.

Sugar Plums
2 cups whole almonds
3/4 lb (350g) dried figs, stemmed
1/4 cup Dutch-processed cocoa
1 ½ tsp ground cinnamon
½ freshly grated nutmeg
1/2 cup honey
2 tbsp amaretto
Grated zest of 1 orange
About 1/2 cup granulated sugar for coating

Spread almonds on baking sheet.
Toast in preheated 400˚F oven for 4 to 5 minutes or until golden.
Cool in small bowl.

In food processer, pulse almonds and figs until figs are about the size of peppercorns.
Sift in cocoa, cinnamon, and nutmeg.
Add honey, amaretto and zest. Pulse a few times, just until blended.
Place in large bowl. Cover and refrigerate about 1 hour to firm up.
Pour sugar into small, shallow bowl.
Using palms, roll fig mixture into balls about 1-1/4 inch in diameter.
Roll balls in sugar to coat. Store in airtight container in fridge for several weeks.
Makes 30 sugar plums.

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