5 Historical Ballet Novels To Satisfy Your Love of Dance, Adventure, and History

historical ballet novels

If you love ballet, books, and history, then I have five novels you'll definitely want to add to your reading list...

The first two books on our list, Painted Girls and Marie, Dancing, take place in late nineteenth century Paris, during the lifetime of artist Edgar Degas. Both books are based on the life of Marie van Goethem, the model for Degas' famous sculpture, "Little Dancer Aged Fourteen."

And the second two books on our list, The Last Days of the Romanov Dancers and The True Memoirs of Little K take place during the fall of the Romanov Empire in Russia, circa the Russian Revolution of 1917.

Lastly, A Company of Swans follows the adventures of a young British ballet dancer who runs away from home in 1912.

Below you'll find more info about each book. (You can click a title to jump to it!)

  1. Painted Girls
  2. Marie, Dancing
  3. The Last Days of the Romanov Dancers
  4. The True Memoirs of Little K
  5. A Company of Swans

#1)The Painted Girls by Cathy Marie Buchanan

Painted Girls, a historic ballet novel by Cathy Marie Buchanan

Set in 19th century France, The Painted Girls follows the two oldest van Goethem sisters who, after the death of their father, find their family struggling to make ends meet.

Their mother works cleaning laundry but spends her meager earnings on her absinthe addiction.

Marie soon joins the Paris Opéra, where she is paid a low weekly wage to train as a ballet dancer. Her sister Antoinette also works in the theater, as an extra in performances.

Marie works hard at her ballet training, and eventually finds herself modeling for the artist Edgar Degas, who bases his sculpture “Little Dancer Aged Fourteen” on her image.

As the sisters struggle to survive on their practically nonexistent wages, they each face a similar dilemma: Marie could accept assistance from a wealthy ballet patron, but what would he expect in return?

Antoinette faces the choice of hard work for little pay or the only higher paying work available to lower class women in 19th century France — but at what cost to her dignity, her safety?

By telling the stories of the van Goethem sisters, this book paints a vivid picture of the 19th century Paris slums and the stark contrast between the glittering theater productions and the real lives of the young performers.

If you'd like to read Painted Girls, the ebook, audiobook, paperback, and hardcover are all available on Amazon.

You can also find this book at:

Our next book, Marie, Dancing, is also based on the life of Marie van Goethem...

#2) Marie, Dancing by Carolyn Meyer

Marie, Dancing: a historical ballet novel by Carolyn Meyer

Marie, Dancing is another fictional account of the van Goethem family.

Like Painted, Girls, this novel covers the family's struggles in poverty: the mother’s alcohol problem, tensions between the sisters, and the difficult choices many young girls face during this time about how to earn a living.

In this book, Marie’s one joy in life is dancing ballet, and again, the beauty and glamour of her life on the ballet stage is juxtaposed with her destitute home life.

When Edgar Degas chooses Marie to pose in his studio for his new sculpture, Marie, with naive, youthful hope, believes her life could be forever changed: that the work of Degas could make her famous and lift her from poverty. 

As she stands for him in his cluttered studio, she dreams about her future as an esteemed ballerina.

But following a similar theme as Painted Girls, in this book, Marie must soon make a choice, become a mistress to a wealthy sponsor to keep her place at the ballet, or leave and work a job she doesn't love just to scrape together enough to barely survive — but perhaps maintain the hope of real, true love.

If you want to read Marie, Dancing, you can grab the audiobook, hardcover, or paperback on Amazon. 

You can also find this book at: 

The next two books on our list are both set during the fall of the Romanov Dynasty in Russia...

#3) The Last Days of the Romanov Dancers by Kerri Turner

The Last Days of the Romanov Dancers, a historical ballet novel by Kerri Turner

The Last Days of the Romanov Dancers follows Valentina Yershova, a dancer for the Romanov’s Imperial Russian Ballet. 

Valentina lives a precarious life, with her position as soloist just barely keeping her out of poverty.

To reach the status of soloist, she has relied not on talent alone but also on her ability to maintain relationships with wealthy men who support the ballet.

But when she forms a connection with a talented young company dancer named Luka, she risks losing the alliances that offer her rank and security at the ballet. 

Their relationship puts Luka's job at risk, too. 

Luka faces another struggle — though he has dreamed his whole life of joining the Imperial Ballet, his father, a factory worker, views Luka’s life of dance as an utter betrayal. On the other hand, his father is quite proud of Luka's brother, who is fighting for his country at war. 

As the war causes economic peril in Russia, Luka struggles with guilt about his lavish life at the ballet, especially since his family is suffering.

Luka and Valentina continue to fall for each other, but Russia is edging toward a revolution that could end the Imperial Russian Ballet, which is, to the proletariat class, a symbol of bourgeoisie indulgence and injustice.

Both Luka and Valentina face impossible choices and risk great losses. 

Want to read The Last Days of The Romanov Dancers?

It can be difficult to find an affordable print copy outside of Australia, but the ebook is available on Amazon. 

(By the way, I have a Kindle Fire, which I love, but did you know that you can read Kindle ebooks on any device? All you need to do is download the free Kindle app.)

You can also grab a copy of the ebook at the following places: 

Our next novel also takes place during the fall of the Romanov Empire...

#4) The True Memoirs of Little K by Adrienne Sharp

The True Memoirs of Little K, a historical ballet novel by Adrienne Sharp

The True Memoirs of Little K is based on the life of Mathilde Kchessinka, former prima ballerina assoluta of the Imperial Russian Ballet.

Mathilde has been exiled to Paris, and at the age of one hundred, decides to write her memoirs.

Prior to the Russian revolution, Mathilde was famous for her ballet dancing but was also known for her romantic relationship with Nicholas Romanov, heir to the tsarship.

Their relationship ends when Nicholas becomes tsar; once he is ruler of Russia he is no longer allowed a mistress.

But when Nicholas’s wife Alexandra fails to produce a male heir, Nicholas visits Mathilde, or Little K, and as the Romanov Empire begins to crumble, Mathilde finds herself tested in ways she never thought possible.

This book is rich with accurate historical details and packed with both action and emotion.

Readers experience the revolution, the doom of a naive royal family, and the end of the decadent era of the Romanovs. 

Want to read this book? Grab a copy on Amazon, or at any of these places...

And the final book on our list is a story of a young girl who runs away from her life in Victorian England...

#5) A Company of Swans by Iva Ibbotson

A Company of Swans, a historical ballet novel by Iva Ibbotson
In A Company of Swans, Harriet Morton grows weary of her life in 1912 Cambridge — her father and Aunt Louisa are strict and oppressive, controlling her life to such an extent that her only escape is ballet, the one activity they allow her.

Now, a man wishes to marry her, an act that would solidify her fate in a small, restricted world, utterly at the mercy of others.

Harriet runs away and joins a ballet company that is set to tour South America — she performs with the company in grand opera houses throughout the Amazon rainforest.

While away from home, she falls in love with a man named Rom, who owns one of the opera houses.

She also falls in love with her new exotic life, that is full of ballet, freedom, and hope.

However, her father and the man who wishes to have her hand in marriage leave Cambridge, following her to South America in an attempt to bring her home.

Will she be forced back into her oppressive Cambridge life? Or will she continue her adventure of ballet, travel, and true love?

Want to read A Company of Swans? Grab a copy on Amazon. You can also find this book at...

There you have it: five historical novels that center around the lives of ballet dancers! Some are set in the same time periods, but each book tells its own unique story in its own unique way.