Ballet on the Bookshelf: 6 New Titles for Bunheads
September 24, 2021

Whether through memoir, biography or essays, these six new ballet-focused books—exploring the ups and downs of a life in ballet; the roots of the form in America; issues like race, gender and abuse; and more—will ignite your curiosity and give you knowledge and perspective to bring back to the classroom or studio.

A Life in Dance: Three Memoirs

Jill Randall

Fierce and Delicate: Essays on Dance and Illness, by Renée K. Nicholson, and Being a Ballerina: The Power and Perfection of a Dancing Life, by Gavin Larsen, both masterfully use short personal essays to share stories about their lives and careers in ballet. Nicholson’s journey begins with training and performing, then shifts dramatically at age 21 when she is diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis. She shares how this health crisis shaped her new path as an educator.

Larsen’s memoir recounts her childhood and 18 years as a professional dancer. It is a vulnerable window into the inner life of a ballerina, and a true story of longevity and endurance over nearly two decades.

The third new memoir, Georgina Pazcoguin’s electrifying Swan Dive: The Making of a Rogue Ballerina, is an honest look at the life of the first Asian-American female soloist in New York City Ballet’s history. Pazcoguin writes with humor, profanities and an insider’s casual tone about her childhood, her training at the School of American Ballet, and rising through the ranks of NYCB. Her story boldly reveals truths about eating disorders, abuse and racism, and challenges us to consider how we all can and should help rewrite the story of dance-company culture in 2021.

The History of Dance: A 345-Page Masterpiece

Jill Randall

Martha Ullman West’s Todd Bolender, Janet Reed, and the Making of American Ballet weaves together the career paths of Bolender and Reed over many decades as dance partners, fellow company members and administrative colleagues. As the author tells their life stories, she also documents the development of ballet in the U.S. since the 1930s, including the building of San Francisco Ballet, Ballet Society, New York City Ballet and Ballet Theatre (now American Ballet Theatre), and the careers of the Christensen brothers, Balanchine, Lincoln Kirstein and Jerome Robbins. Reed and Bolender performed with some of these top companies and then went on to help found the Pacific Northwest Ballet (Reed and Bolender) and to direct Kansas City Ballet (Bolender).

The Future of Dance: Interviews and Essays

For her Turning Pointe: How a New Generation of Dancers Is Saving Ballet from Itself, journalist and former dancer Chloe Angyal conducted approximately 100 interviews to turn a mirror on the ballet field, tackling a robust list of topics like injuries, eating disorders, the cost of training, racism and nurturing the next generation of choreographers. 

Paired beautifully with Angyal’s reporting is a more academic collection edited and curated by Adesola Akinleye. (Re:) Claiming Ballet grapples with race, gender and pedagogy, offering historical context alongside a current analysis of the field. As the title references, Akinleye and her contributors encourage us to reclaim, reshape and reimagine ballet.

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