Did you know that, to perfectly balance on their toes, ballet dancers have to put their entire body weight on just their first two toes? Even if you aren’t attracted to the graceful beauty of ballet, perhaps you will be astonished by these real and fictional stories of the harrowing lives of dancers.
Ballet is the greatest illusion in the world and the world of ballet is very secretive. Dancers endure a lot to get to where they are and it surely isn’t an easy job. They are some of the most athletic and hardworking people around and their undying affection for ballet is inspiring.
These books about the real world of ballet are gripping and sometimes ugly. You’ll walk away with a new appreciation for dance.
1. Girl Through Glass: A Novel by Sari Wilson
This novel perfectly brings up the juxtaposition of gorgeous and hideous that is at the heart of ballet. It’s also a great read that presents a portrait of New York City in the 1970’s from the perspective of a young girl. Far from a glamorous tell-all, Girl Through Glass is a disturbing story told by a dance professor reminiscing back on her dancing days and the events that changed her life.
2. Mao’s Last Dancer by Li Cunxin
A story from a Chinese peasant boy turned world class ballerino, Mao’s Last Dancer is a gut-wrenchingly sad memoir from Li Cunxin. His difficult childhood and separation from his family during training are difficult to read about though are honest and touching. We also get a sense of the cultural and political climate of China in the 1980’s. His determination and pride for his family make this the most moving ballet memoir.
3. Life in Motion: An Unlikely Ballerina by Misty Copeland
Misty Copeland is everyone’s favorite ballerina! Widely successful and the first African-American principal ballerina at the American Ballet Theatre, her memoir talks about her difficulties making it in the ballet world which, sadly, has not welcomed dancers from all backgrounds. Hers is a rags to pointe-shoes story that is sure to spark inspiration in everyone.
4. The Painted Girls: A Novel by Cathy Marie Buchanan
A beautiful historical fiction novel that will take you to the origins of Paris ballet, circa 1878. The story is about two young girls who, at the prime age of 14, are immortalized in a Degas painting. The girls start dancing because their family is impoverished without their meager income and as they grow up, they have to solely rely on each other.
5. Winter Season: A Dancer’s Journal by Toni Bentley
A dancer for the New York City Ballet feels like her life has lost all direction. She begins writing in a journal as the winter season opens in the fall of 1980. Her intimate entries bring us closer to a dancer’s experience than ever before. This novel sheds light on the passion and dedication that goes into pursuing one’s dream. A very underrated read!
6. Bunheads by Sophie Flack
If you are looking for a more light-hearted ballet read, this is definitely the one for you. Written by a former New York City Ballet dancer, Bunheads is a romantic story that sheds light on the love of a dancer for their art, despite the difficulties they face.
Have you ever performed in or seen a wonderful performance of a ballet?