Ballet Book Club Books of the Month

Ballet Book Club books of the month and a pair of pointe shoes.

In Ballet Book Club, we read one ballet related title each month and discuss it weekly in our Facebook group...

This page is our running book list! Come here to learn more about our books of the month and where you can purchase your own copy of each title.

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Below you'll find descriptions of our 2020 books of the month. You can click a title to jump to it and learn more about it!

  1. Final Bow for Yellowface by Phil Chan with Michele Chase
  2. Astonish Me by Maggie Shipstead
  3. Dancing On My Grave by Gelsey Kirkland
  4. Holding On To the Air by Suzanne Farrell
  5. Taking Flight by Michaela DePrince
  6. The Painted Girls by Cathy Marie Buchanan
  7. Dancing Through It by Jenifer Ringer
  8. Raising the Barre by Lauren Kessler
  9. Cantique by Joanna Marsh

November 2020 Book of the Month

In Final Bow for Yellowface, Phil Chan uses personal anecdotes in the style of a memoir combined with historical context to explore the topic of how Asian culture and people are represented on the ballet stage.

Chan discusses the important distinctions between character and caricature and appreciation and appropriation. He also shares stories from other dancers about their personal experiences with yellowface and its negative effects.

But more than simply presenting the problem, Chan offers solutions for how ballet companies can respectfully represent Asian cultures in ballet.

Anyone who loves ballet and who is hopeful for a brighter, more inclusive ballet world should read this book.

Final Bow for Yellowface is available on Amazon.

October 2020 Book of the Month 

Astonish Me by Maggie Shipstead is a novel about young American ballet dancer Joan Joyce, who helps Russian ballet star Arslan Rusakov defect in the 1970s.

Joan knows she will never rise above the corps de ballet, and after her love affair with the reknowned Arslan comes to an end, she is devestated. She upends her life in pursuit of a new beginning.

Joan leaves her ballet company, marries a respectable (and non-dancing) man, and settles for a quiet life.

But when her son Harry turns out to be a ballet prodigy, Joan finds herself once again immersed in the ballet world, once again in contact with Arslan, and once again surrounded by dangerous secrets and drama.

Characters in Astonish Me are loosely based on real-life figures of 20th century American ballet. Ballet history buffs will quickly and easily realize who is who in this fast-paced novel.

Read this book if you would enjoy a dramatized version of an important time period in American ballet.

Grab a copy of Astonish Me on Amazon or at any of the following online shops:

This book offers readers an exciting escape into the American ballet world.

September 2020 Book of the Month

Gelsey Kirkland joined NYCB in 1968 at the age of fifteen.

Her life as a dancer was rife with struggle, and Dancing on My Grave covers difficult topics such as child abuse, domestic violence, sexism, drug abuse, and eating disorders.

Kirkland is a deeply sensitive and artistic soul who experiences the world in an intense way, thus giving her the ability to eloquently and articulately communicate the story of her life, especially the unique challenges she faced as an up and coming professional ballet dancer under the artistic directorship of George Balanchine.

While many readers admire Kirkland for her vulnerability and brutal honesty, others do not.

Her writing casts a dark shadow over Balanchine, who is almost unequivocally revered in the American ballet world. Thus, her book has been a point of controversy, especially at the time it was published.

If you would enjoy a unique, sincere take on America's most beloved choreographer and a glimpse into Kirkland's life at New York City Ballet and beyond, you can find Dancing On My Grave on Amazon, or at the following shops:

Kirkland also authored a sequel about the next stage of her life: The Shape of Love.

Some consider the next book on this list, by NYCB ballerina Suzanne Farrell, to be a response to Kirkland’s critical accounts of Balanchine. Although the two ballerinas shared similar struggles in their careers, Farrell, unlike Kirkland, remained supportive of Mr. B, his life choices, and his work.

August 2020 Book of the Month

Suzanne Farrell is widely regarded as the last and most famous muse of choreographer George Balanchine.

Farrell joined NYCB in 1961 at the age of fifteen. Just four years later, she would be promoted to principal dancer.

Farrell had more than one-hundred works created just for her during her career, which spanned from 1961-1989.

Farrell wrote her autobiography, Holding Onto the Air, in collaboration with Toni Bentley, author of Winter Season.

Farrell is quite honest and frank about controversies that took place at the company during her years there, making her book an interesting read. However, while she is forthright, her book is not as dark as Gelsey Kirkland’s Dancing On My Grave (which covers a similar time period at NYCB) and it never became a serious point of controversy in the dance world, as did Kirkland's book.

But that is not to say that Farrell's life in the company under Balanchine's leadership was without difficulty — her personal relationship with Balanchine was a struggle, mostly because he wanted an intimate relationship with her, and Farrell, while she felt deeply connected to him on an emotional and artistic level, had reservations, mostly due to the fact that he was married. Also, she felt determined to avoid being another ballerina in Balanchine's long string of ballerinas, who he obsessed over and subsequently married, only to divorce when his next muse appeared.

Despite Farrell's efforts to distance herself from Balanchine, he would become extremely jealous when she showed romantic interest in anyone else. His jealousy eventually escalated their personal conflicts to a breaking point that severed their relationship for several years, during which she danced in Europe.

Nevertheless, Farrell is extremely forgiving toward Balanchine and staunchly supports him throughout her autobiography.

If you'd like to read Holding Onto the Air, you can grab a copy on Amazon or at any of these stores:

Holding On To the Air offers readers personal insight into the complicated relationships that Balanchine had with his favorite NYCB ballerinas, and into the repercussions of the strange work dynamics that existed within the company; though Suzanne never stopped supporting Balanchine, readers can feel her pain through the pages.

July 2020 Book of the Month

You may know Michaela DePrince from the documentary First Position, which follows three young ballet dancers through their pre-professional training and participation in the Youth America Grand Prix.

Michaela, now a soloist with the Dutch National Opera and Ballet, wrote her memoir,Taking Flight,in collaboration with her adoptive mother, Elaine DePrince.

Born into war-torn Sierra Leone and orphaned at a young age, DePrince's story is one of unprecedented strength and resilience.

After her biological father is killed by a militant group of government rebels, Michaela (then known by the name Mabinty Bangura) and her mother are forced to live with Michaela's abusive uncle.

When Michaela's mother dies of a fever, her uncle abandons her at an orphanage.

At the orphanage, she stumbles across a page from a magazine, featuring a beautiful photo of a ballerina en pointe.

Michaela decides that one day she will be like the ballerina on the page.

When she is four, an American family — the DePrinces — adopt Michaela and put her in dance classes.

This incredible journey, from war orphan to ballerina, is a page-turner and must-read.

June 2020 Book of the Month

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 and her younger sister Charlotte soon join the Paris Opéra, where they are paid a low wage to train as ballet dancers. Their oldest sister Antoinette also works in 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 van Goethem family struggles to survive on their practically nonexistent wages, Marie and Antoinette 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 poverty sticken women in 19th century France.

But at what cost to her wellbeing?

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 lavish, glittering theater productions and the real lives of the young performers.

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

You can also find this book at:

Painted Girls is poignant and beautifully written, but it is worth noting that this book goes into quite a bit of detail about some of its darker themes. If you would like to read a lighter retelling of the same story (the lives of the van Goethem sisters), consider reading the young adult novel Marie, Dancing instead.

May 2020 Book of the Month

In Dancing Through It, New York City Ballet dancer Jenifer Ringer shares how an eating disorder almost ends her ballet career — but of how she ultimately goes on to have a long, successful tenure at NYCB, even being promoted to principal dancer in the year 2000.

She also shares an interesting milestone of her life: she receives a throng of media attention in 2010, when New York Times reviewer Alastair Macaulay writes that, on stage, Ringer "looked as if she'd eaten one sugar plum too many."

Many of Ringer’s fans, aware of her previous struggles with an eating disorder, feel a collective sense of outrage toward Macaulay.

His review goes viral, and thousands of people rise to Ringer’s defense, a surreal but also encouraging experience for her.

She ends up discussing the review and her reaction to it on national television, in appearances on both Oprah and The Today Show.

Dancing Through It is available on Amazon and at the following online shops:

Readers will appreciate Ringer's behind-the-scenes insights into life at NYCB and also her unique views on body image and self-acceptance.

April 2020 Book of the Month

In Raising the Barre, immersive journalist Lauren Kessler decides — in her fifties — to pursue her lifelong dream of dancing in the Nutcracker, even though she hasn't stepped foot in a ballet studio since she was a child.

This story is particularly appealing to adult ballet students, for many of us secretly wish we could go all-in with ballet.

Kessler, for several months anyway, does just that.

She covers the ups and downs of her training and cumulative performance, but she also touches on topics such as body image, perfectionism, and the shift in perspective that many people experience in middle age.

Kessler is open about both her insecurities and her triumphs, and her humor and relatability is endearing.

Raising the Barre is a fascinating and inspirational read for anyone who loves ballet.

This book is available on Amazon. Here are a few more places you can grab a copy of Raising the Barre:

Read this book for a rare glimpse into what can happen when an adult goes after ballet with all their heart.

March 2020 Book of the Month

Joanna Marsh's debut novel tells the story of adult ballet beginner Colette Larsen.

Cantique follows Colette through a jarring career change and a tumultuous time of self-discovery. It explores how she grapples with her passion for ballet — she longs to be part of the ballet world, but isn't she too late?

Perhaps, but perhaps not.

When Colette happens across handwritten, eighteenth century sheet music from a long lost ballet, she suddenly finds herself immersed in the arts community that she has admired from afar.

She also, by chance, meets James Brennan — a laid-back, confident professional ballet dancer — and these two twenty-somethings form a deep connection.

As a modern-day love story peppered with historical fiction and plenty of relatable adult ballet moments, this book is one of a kind.

If you would like to read Cantique, it is available on Amazon. You can also find it at the following online shops:

This book is special, not only because it tells a beautiful story, but also because it is one of only a few books in the entire world that focus on the topic of beginning ballet as an adult.