Tag Archives: Off Balance

My 200th post, and a giveaway!

Well, there you have it, my 200th post. The irony being, of course, I can’t think of anything profound to say. Guess I used up all my ceremonious profundity for my post earlier this year that celebrated 5 years of blogging. That, and my mind is in fiction-creation mode with — shhh, don’t jinx it — a third Ballet Theatre Chronicles book. No worries, we’ll just cut to the chase, because we all know why you showed up here…

A Giveaway!

To celebrate my 200th post, I am offering one lucky winner a $25.00 (USD) Amazon gift card and a print advance reader copy (US addresses only) of my forthcoming novel, A Dancer’s Guide to Africa, out in stores on October 2nd. If the winner lives outside the US, they will receive an electronic copy (regrettably, postage for outside the U.S. runs a whopping $18.00 for a single print book, so, forget it!). To sweeten the deal for them, I’ll offer the winner electronic copies of all three of my novels. Sound fair?


And for the rest of you — fret not, I will draw two more names as runner-up winners, and you will each receive an Amazon gift card for $5.00 and an electronic advance reader copy of A Dancer’s Guide to Africa. If you’re interested in putting your name in the drawing, you can either reply in “comments” below, or send me an email via my “contact me” tab above. I will print out all names, toss ’em in a big bowl and pluck out the winning names in two week’s time. For anyone who subscribes to notifications during this time, I will put your name in twice.

I’ll contact all winners via email at that time, but I’ll post their names here, too, around July 1st. Feel free to use a nickname or pseudonym, if you’d rather keep your anonymity. Just don’t use an anonymous email address because, well, that’s not going to help me contact you, now, is it?

Here are some stats I created in February for my post, “The Classical Girl turns Five.” I’m too lethargic to revise it now. You don’t mind, do you?

  • 196 posts created and shared (which has now become 200)
  • 207,951 visitors (in the past 3 years because my Google Analytics data only covers that)
  • 552,000 page views (in the past 3 years, because, see above)
  • 819 comments (+ 80 via email)
  • 10 pages (from the original 6)

Wondering what the top 10 blogs have been since 2013? Here you go — click on the title to get to the article.

  1. What do ballet dancers eat? – 80,188 views
  2. 10 odd facts about pointe shoes – 37,500 views
  3. 10 reasons ballet dancers hate Black Swan – 17,500 views
  4. Pianist Yuja Wang’s very short dresses and very big talent – 17,500 views
  5. Ballet Q & A – 11,457 views
  6. Ballet in Paris: I dare you – 9,519 views
  7. Ulyana Lopatkina and her swans – 7424 views
  8. 10 things you didn’t know about tutus – 6937 views
  9. John Cage’s “As Slow As Possible” – 5896 views
  10. Ohad Naharin’s “Minus 16” – 5818 view

I served up some great snacks and beverages at my five-year celebration, and the good news is that there were leftovers. Here you go! 


Something sweet, perhaps?


And now something savory?


Above all, I want to offer a heartfelt thanks to all of my readers. In the early, early days, there were few readers and it was a crappy feeling. But with each new post came new traffic, and every 20th post seemed to grow white-hot and bring in hundreds of readers (see above Top 10 list). What a great feeling. Special thanks to the site, The Imaginative Conservative, which has been republishing many of my music essays of late, and we’ve agreed happily that it’s a win-win situation. They get new material, I get new readers, there’s been more dialogue and comments here at The Classical Girl, about art-related things, creative, beautiful things. I don’t know about you, but for me, it’s a breath of clean, fresh air for the senses after a day oversaturated with media, conflict, bad news, polarity, and such. I love that the arts can connect us all. And it’s my goal to keep forging on for another 200 posts, to do my little bit to make that happen. I hope you’ll keep reading and commenting.


The Classical Girl turns five

The Classical Girl, as you longtime readers might know, was a concept I’d created on the eve of 2013. A New Year’s resolution of sorts. My ballet novels were long completed, out being shopped, and I missed researching and living inside the dance world terribly. I knew, as a writer, that it was good to enforce some assignment-like work into my writer’s life. So I dove in, headfirst. I shared more of that story in my two other anniversary posts, The Classical Girl Turns One Year Old and The Classical Girl Turns Three. Thinking of starting a blog of your own?  Wondering how your early visitor numbers compare to someone else’s? You’ll find out there.

As a five-year recap, here are a few stats…

  • 196 posts created and shared
  • 207,951 visitors (in the past 3 years because my Google Analytics data only covers that)
  • 552,000 page views (in the past 3 years, because, see above)
  • 819 comments (+ 80 via email)
  • 10 pages (from the original 6)

New since my last anniversary update

  • A giving program
  • A second novel that was named a Kirkus Indie Books of the Month Selection for January 2017, as well as being on the Top 100 Indie Book of 2017 list, and a third novel forthcoming.
  • Four dance seasons of reviews of ballet performances and dance articles (for a total of six seasons, including 2017-18).

Wondering what the top 10 blogs are? Here you go — click on the title to get to the article.

  1. What do ballet dancers eat? – 80,188 views
  2. 10 odd facts about pointe shoes – 37,500 views
  3. 10 reasons ballet dancers hate Black Swan – 17,500 views
  4. Pianist Yuja Wang’s very short dresses and very big talent – 17,500 views
  5. Ballet Q & A – 11,457 views
  6. Ballet in Paris: I dare you – 9,519 views
  7. Ulyana Lopatkina and her swans – 7424 views
  8. 10 things you didn’t know about tutus – 6937 views
  9. John Cage’s “As Slow As Possible” – 5896 views
  10. Ohad Naharin’s “Minus 16” – 5818 view

Enough business talk. I’m celebrating, and you can celebrate with me. From now till midnight on Friday (Saturday, 8am GMT, 3am Eastern, 7pm in Australia) my two ballet novels, OFF BALANCE and OUTSIDE THE LIMELIGHT, Books 1 and 2 of the Ballet Theatre Chronicles, are FREE! Just click on the titles above.



How about some bubbly for this five-year celebration of ours?


And something decadent but elegant?


Something savory? Good idea!


If you’re on a diet and can’t enjoy these cyber-goodies, well, how about some food for thought:


And speaking of Africa, I’m putting the finishing touches on my newest novel, A Dancer’s Guide to Africa, forthcoming in October, and can’t wait to share the cover with you. Stay tuned!

Thank you, dear readers, for helping me celebrate five years of The Classical Girl. I literally couldn’t have done it without you!

It’s Acoustic Neuroma Awareness Week

Acoustic neuromas seem to want to feature into my extended family. If you’re one of my regular readers, you’ve likely heard the story of my sister and her acoustic neuroma, but a different sister found herself with an extra chapter to the story. Two years ago, she and her husband had an appointment with an ENT specialist following up on his own symptoms (headache, ringing in the ear). An MRI had been performed and the doctor now told the two of them, “What he has here is a rare condition, affecting 1 in 100,000, known as an acoustic neuroma. Now, what an acoustic neuroma is…”

“… is a slow-growing, benign tumor, located on the eighth cranial nerve,” my sister finished for him. “Yes,” she added, noting his surprise, “our family knows all about acoustic neuromas. My sister had one removed six years ago.”

So. You add two family members and my beloved character, Dena, from my novel Outside the Limelight to the equation, and that’s why it seemed important to pause the button on musings about classical music and ballet to give the condition and the association a shout-out this week. Happy Acoustic Neuroma Awareness week to all of you!

What is an acoustic neuroma? Also known as a vestibular schwannoma, it’s a benign tumor that arises on the eighth cranial nerve leading from the brain stem to the inner ear. This nerve has two distinct parts, one part associated with transmitting sound and the other with sending balance information to the brain. The eighth cranial nerve and the facial (and/or seventh) cranial nerve lie adjacent to each other; they pass through a bony canal called the internal auditory canal. It is generally here that acoustic neuromas originate, from the sheath surrounding the eighth nerve. When they grow large, they press against the brain stem, which gets dangerous, as you might have guessed. Acoustic neuroma patients often deal with post-op issues that reflect the state of these compromised nerves: hearing can be compromised or destroyed on the tumor side. Patients can experience different levels of one-sided facial paralysis, as well, based on the condition of the facial nerve, and whether or not it has to be clipped during the extraction surgery.

I lived vicariously in the world of the acoustic neuroma patient for three years while writing and revising my novel, Outside the Limelight. I frequented the Acoustic Neuroma Association’s invaluable discussion board, which is an amazing place, a source of not just information but powerful stories of both struggle and success. Check it out HERE — you will learn so much and have the opportunity to hear the stories of real-life heroes and survivors.

Want to hear others’ stories about acoustic neuromas? HERE is a great blog from writer Lucie Smoker, an acoustic neuroma survivor. And actress and fashion designer Tara Subkoff tells her story for Harper’s Bazaar HERE.

Today, and all week long, I will lift my hat to all of you who’ve had to deal with this rare and challenging condition. You are warriors, survivors and heroes, each and every one of you.


Me and my sisters. Orange Classical Girl next to white-shirt, acoustic neuroma survivor, Maureen.

May 7-13, 2017 marks the fifth annual ANAwareness Week hosted by the Acoustic Neuroma Association®(ANA). ANA invites you to raise awareness of acoustic neuroma and the challenges facing acoustic neuroma patients, their family members and caregivers while recognizing their accomplishments. Visit www.ANAUSA.org and follow them on Facebook.

Ballet terms made simple


In putting the final touches on my novel, OUTSIDE THE LIMELIGHT, back in 2016, I decided to include a glossary of ballet terms in the back of the book. Which made me pause and consider just how one constructed one’s own glossary of ballet terms. Do you borrow from a dictionary, or a Wiki page, or a long-established dance company’s web page? Do you credit each and every word, so as to avoid being called a plagiarist? It seemed to me that the best way to go about it was to create a glossary from scratch, but, whoa, that could take days, even weeks, to achieve. I didn’t have that kind of time. I had, in essence, twenty-four hours to throw one together, in order to meet a deadline. And then I started thinking that readers didn’t really need yet one more formal description of ballet terms, anyway. I wanted to create the kind of description that sounded like I was talking to you, dear reader, just giving you a quick mental image. So. Here you go. These are terms you’ll find in OUTSIDE THE LIMELIGHT and OFF BALANCE, Book 1 of the Ballet Theatre Chronicles, so it isn’t a comprehensive list. There are hundreds of ballet terms–maybe more. But, tell you what. If you found a baffling ballet term you’d like explained in laymen’s terms, comment below, or send it my way via “contact me,” and I’ll add it in, here. I’d love to make this the most easily understood glossary of ballet terms out there. Or maybe the most irreverent. Or fun. Because this ballet thing, it’s supposed to be fun, right? Especially for my fellow adult ballet learners.

So, without further ado, here you go!




Adagio – slow, sustained movement. A section in a ballet, or in the center during class. Pretty to watch. Can also be called an adage.

Attitude (devant or derrière) – one leg goes up at an angle, preferably with the knee way high and the foot just a little lower (when it’s devant) but nothing dangling downward like a bird’s broken wing.

Arabesque – the non-standing leg lifts in back and holds, nice and straight, somewhere between a ninety and 120 degree angle.

À la seconde – refers to a body and leg position, which here would be to the side.

Assemblé – a jump movement where one foot/leg sort of swings out to the side and then both feet/legs “assemble” midair just before you land in fifth position. Commonly linked to a glissade.



Barre – that wooden railing affixed to the wall that you see in every ballet studio. Also the term for the first part of ballet class, which takes place—you guessed it—at the barre.

Battement – “beat.” Petit battements are these little foot beats at the ankle you do midway through barre, and grand battements are these big, leg-swinging kicks you do to the front, side and back, at the end of barre.

Ballet master – the guy (or female, who is sometimes called a ballet mistress) who does things like supervise rehearsals, teach class, serve as the dude in charge when the artistic director is not around.

Ballon – wow, I could write an essay on this one. Translated as “bounce,” this coveted trait, most commonly noted in male dancers (mostly because they tend to be the big jumpers), refers to a sense of lightness and ease when doing jumps. A dancer with great ballon will seem to sort of linger in the air, defying gravity for an instant. To use it in a sentence, and thus impress others with your newfound ballet acumen, you might say, “wow, did that guy have great ballon, or what?”

Bourré – a busy little foot skitter en pointe that makes it look like the dancer (always female—males totally don’t bourré) is skimming across the stage. Used to great effect in the “Wili” scene in Giselle. Also part of a pas de bourré.



Cambré – an arch back with one arm overhead. Usually done while at the barre, during a port de bras. A very iconic movement in La Bayadère’s “Kingdom of the Shades.”

Chaîné turns – a moving “chain” of quick revolutions, usually en pointe.

Choreographer – the person (usually a male; why is that?) who created the ballet, although if he’s busy and/or quite established (or dead), he’ll send out his representatives, called stagers, to teach the ballet to the dancers.

Corps de ballet – the entry level rank into a ballet company, above apprentice, below soloist and principal. Not the most coveted place to spend your whole dance performance career.

Chassé – a movement step, from fifth position, where one foot sort of “chases” the other while doing this little baby leap/hop. Ideally the feet sort of slap together midair. Commonly paired up for a chassé sauté.



Dégagé – a movement at the barre where your foot goes out, like in a tendu, but “disengages” from the ground, a few inches, before returning to a closed first or fifth position.

Demi-plié – demi means half and plié means “bent.” At the barre, the plié exercise you begin class with usually includes a few demi-pliés tossed in. All jumps begin with a demi-plié preparation.

Devant – “front.” It’s a floor position, a body position, that gets tacked on to other terms, such as in “attitude devant” where your attitude leg is in its pretty shape in front of you, not back.

Derrière – “back.” Otherwise, pretty much the same definition as the one above.

Développé à la seconde – tell me you don’t need me to translate the French here. A leg lift, where the toe traces a path from ankle, to knee, before developing out to the side and up. Some dancers can développé their leg way high, like close to 180 degrees. Pretty crazy to watch.

Downstage – back in the day, stages were raised in back, or “raked,” which meant downstage, closest to the audience, was literally down from the back part of the stage.



Échappé – this jumpy thing where your feet are in first/fifth position and they “escape,” while you’re in the air, out to second position. And then in the next jump, the feet go back to first/fifth.

En l’air – “in the air,” and it’s usually paired with something like rond de jambe, which means your leg’s in the air as it does the rond de jambe.

En pointe – on full point, when you’re wearing pointe shoes.

Entrechat – a jump from fifth position, where the feet switch positions, and there’s a sort of midair meeting of the feet before they land in their new spot. An entrechat quatre (French for “four”) means you double up the midair action, so the feet go back and then front before landing. An entrechat six (pronounced CEES) means there’s yet one more meet-up happening, before the feet land. Guys with great jumps can do entrechats huit (“eight”) and story has it Rudolf Nureyev could do entrechats dix (“ten”). Whoa!



First [position] – when your heels are together, toes turned out, usually 150 to 180 degrees, depending on how turned out your hips are. (See Turnout)

Fifth [position] – a foot position where the hips are doing the turned-out thing (see Turnout) so that the right heel fits snugly up against the left big toe and the left heel is behind the right toes.

First cast – the casting everyone craves. You are the top dog. You will likely perform on opening night, which is when most of the critics come to review, so you are lucky and fabulous, but likely you already know it, and so does your artistic director.



Giselle – the classic 1841 story ballet about Giselle, this village girl betrayed by love, who dies and becomes a Wili, one of a band of vengeful maiden spirits, but nonetheless tries to protect her beloved from being killed by them. The story motif of “bereaved, betrayed, innocent maiden sent to the spirit world” would make its way in several more story ballets (see La Bayadère).

Glissade – translated as “glide,” it’s this movement that starts in demi-plié, fifth position, and, well, glides, with a teeny, weeny leap-but-not, into another fifth position. A common prep step for glissade assemblé.

Grand allegro – the big run combination across the diagonal at the end of a ballet class. Big fun. Classical Girl’s favorite part of class.

Grand battement – a big giant beat (see Battement). Basically, big kicks at the end of barre, that you do to the front, side and back.

Grand jeté – a big-assed leap. Comes at the end of a few prep steps, most commonly a tombé, pas de bourré, glissade, and voilà. I don’t know a single dancer who doesn’t love doing this combination. It’s what dance is all about. All dancers, regardless of age and/or physical condition, secretly long to do this every time we walk down a long, wide, empty hallway. Kudos to those who actually do.

Grand jeté lift – when the guy lifts his partner, either waist-high or overhead, and she does the leap in the air. Overhead is the most common. Cool to watch. This is why male dancers must be very, very strong. It’s a HUGE myth that male dancers are wimpy. Couldn’t be further from the truth. Basically, they bench press girls. And they do it without those grunts or face contortions you see on some guys at the gym. But I digress. Sorry.



High fifth – this relates to the arm position, not the foot position. High fifth means arms are curved and overhead, like you’re holding a big beach ball over your head.



Jeté – “thrown.” Most common use is “grand jeté,” that leap where you just throw yourself into the movement.



La Bayadère –another 19th century story ballet about Nikiya, an innocent, young temple dancer, betrayed in love, who dies, and becomes a Shade, and her love, Solor, smokes himself into an opium stupor so he can follow her into the Kingdom of the Shades. Sounds a little like Giselle, huh? (See Giselle.)

Low fifth – an arm position, like high fifth. Low fifth, however, looks more like a guy wanting to cup his nuts in his two hands but his hands are politely hovering six to eight inches from his torso, arms curved all nice and pretty.

Lines – this refers to the pleasing coordination of the arms and legs in relation to the torso and head. Think of an artist sketching the initial lines of a perfect person’s body. You might hear someone say, “she has gorgeous lines” about a dancer (usually the lean, leggy ones).



marley [floor] – once a name brand, now a generic term for a type of sturdy black vinyl flooring that covers dance performance stages and quite a few studios, too. Good, slip-free surface to dance on. You can roll it up and transport it.

Merde – French for “shit” and what dance people tell each other before performing, because of course you’d never say “break a leg” to a dancer, and theater/dance people love their little superstition good-luck customs.

Mixed bill – this kind of program means the night’s performance will include two to four short ballets versus one long story ballet. Most times there are three.



Pas – “step.”

Pas de bourré – this step thingy, three small steps, that serves as a transition to bigger thingies. Like a tombé, pas de bourré, glissade, grand jeté.

Pas de deux – “step of two.” Basically, a more elegant way to say “a duet.” Most ballets have a few pas de deux thrown into them, almost always male/female, but in today’s contemporary ballets, hey, anything goes.

Pas de basque – you don’t expect me to keep repeating “step,” do you? And this one, it’s “step of the Basque” and I dunno, it’s a folksy, jaunty, steppy thing. It’s fun to do, if that helps.

Passé – position on one leg where the knee is out to the side and the toe is touching the other knee, sort of “passing” through, like from a front attitude to back.

Penché – translated as “leaning” or “inclining,” it’s affiliated with an arabesque. Basically the back arabesque leg goes way high while the chest dips way low, and the gaze remains forward. Lovely to watch. Very Giselle Act II.

Petit allegro – fun, busy stuff with the feet, and also a designated portion of the ballet class. (Generally, a combination of several steps within eight or sixteen counts). Hard to do the busy stuff if you’re a relative beginner, but SO much fun to watch a professional do it. YouTube it.

Plié – “bent.” Every barre starts with pliés. Every new student starts with pliés. Every professional does about a million of them. It’s like death and taxes: no way to avoid ‘em.

Piqué – “pricked,” a deliberate step into something, like an arabesque.

Piqué turn – kind of like chainé turns, but the non-supporting leg is in a passé or back retiré position.

Piqué arabesque – instead of bouncing up into an arabesque en pointe, you deliberately step into it.

Pirouette – turns in place with the non-supporting leg up in passé or retiré. Good dancers can do triples effortlessly. Really good dancers can do a half-dozen revolutions (guys, for whatever reason, seem to be able to do more). Partnered pirouettes are when the guy spins the girl’s waist, which doesn’t mean she’s not doing any of the work. She is. It’s just that a good partner can make a good spinner go four or five revolutions.

Port de bras – movement of the arms.

Promenade – a movement during an adagio where a dancer moves in a circular direction on one leg while the other is doing something fabulous, like a back arabesque or a back attitude. A partnered promenade is where the male moves his partner around while she’s en pointe in aforementioned arabesque or attitude, either holding her waist or her hand.



Répétiteur – okay, so different people apply different meanings to the term. Some say it’s interchangeable with the term “stager,” others say it’s someone who rehearses the dancers after they’ve learned the ballet’s steps. Then some say it’s the person who merely schedules all the rehearsals. Meanwhile, a ballet master often acts as a répétiteur. Whatever. You get the idea; take your pick.

Retiré – this position the non-standing leg takes, like a passé where the toe is at the knee, but instead of “passing” through, well, it “retires” there, in front. Or in back.

Rond de jambe (plural: ronds de jambe) – during barre, the foot traces a slow half-circle on the floor.

Rond de jambe en l’air – the thing described above, in the air. (See “en l’air.”)



Sauté – “jump.” I like the image of cooking, when you sauté onions on a too high heat and they jump. Yeah, that’s a good image. (BTW, even though I said I wasn’t going to mess with pronunciation, you really do need to know that this one is pronounced like “sew” as in sewing, versus “saw” like sautéed onions. I can hear your mistake from all the way over here, and it hurts my ears. Just saying.)

Second cast – the lesser cast, that won’t get opening night, but will still get a good number of performances, so, hey, it’s still a great thing. Beats being the understudy cast.

Shade – spirit maiden dancer from La Bayadère, Act II, Kingdom of the Shades.

Sisonne – another jump thingy where the dancer springs off both feet and midair the legs “scissor” open. One foot lands a split second before the other, into a closed fifth position. They can be done from front to back, back to front, or side to side. Can be done as a partnered lift for more dramatic effect.

Stager – a choreographer’s representative, who will teach the dancers the ballet before leaving rehearsals to the ballet masters (or the mystery-laden répétiteur). Generally, they themselves will have performed the ballet many times, with aforementioned choreographer. No Balanchine ballet can be professionally performed without it first being taught by a stager from the Balanchine Trust, all of whom have a close connection to either him or his choreography.

Story ballet – also called an evening-length ballet. Tends to be one of the classics, like Giselle, Swan Lake, Don Quixote, The Nutcracker, etc. Will be the sole ballet performed that evening. Big moneymakers for companies.



Tendu – its official name is “battement tendu” but no one bothers with the first word. In a tendu, you slide your foot out, point the toe, and slide it back in. It’s one of the most elementary steps at the barre, right after pliés. It’s the thing every little girl learns on her first day of ballet class and will thereafter demonstrate to you daily. Hourly.

Turnout – this is mostly referring to how your hip joints were built. Although anyone can turn their feet out when they’re in first position, having great turnout means your hips will allow a 180 degree pose without twisting the hell out of your knee joints. Either you’re born with it or you’re not.



Upstage – see “downstage” for explanation; I don’t feel like writing it out twice.



Wili – maiden spirits [from the ballet Giselle] who died before their wedding day and now wander the forest by night, exacting revenge on unsuspecting men by dancing them to death.

10 ballet novels [for adults] you’ll love

My latest novel, A Dancer’s Guide to Africa, has released! To help celebrate the new arrival, enjoy my other novels, Off Balance  and the award-winning Outside the Limelight for 99 cents and $2.99 respectively. Just click on their titles!

photo by Jordan Matter

photo by Jordan Matter

For a long time, “ballet fiction” meant the books that catered to young girls, slim tomes with pink, appealing covers. Noel Streatfeild’s more substantial and highly popular Ballet Shoes comprised my ballet fiction-reading youth. I adored the book. I compensated for its lack of competition by reading it over and over, annually, through my youth and adolescence, until the trashy romantic fiction genre caught my eye and stole my attention for {{winces}} well over a decade. What can I say? I love the ballet world’s theatricality and glamour, its dangerous, seductive glitter, and ballet fiction for adults just didn’t exist. Fast forward two dozen years. The movie Black Swan happened. The equally compelling documentaries, First Position and Ballerina happened. And suddenly I wasn’t the only adult wanting to read ballet fiction.

I should clarify something about this Top 10 list. While I’m calling it ballet fiction, it doesn’t mean it has to take place in a ballet studio or theater (or necessarily be classical ballet, for that matter). In Outside the Limelight, one ballet dancer narrator spends nearly the whole story offstage, in doctors’ offices, out in the “real” world with new non-dancer friends and ideas. The Art of Falling uses flashback to reference the narrator’s actual performing days, and chronicles instead her slow, treacherous journey to finding wholeness beyond her lifelong relationship with dance, its dark hold, the mix of slavish love and despair its presence conjured. Likewise, Girl Through Glass features one narrator (of two) who is a dance historian and professor, steering clear of the dance performance world in a way of avoiding her own dark past within it. The thing connecting these ten books is that all the narrators are dancers at their core. The craft, and the scars the lifetime commitment has yielded, have made these characters who they are. And who they are runs very, very deep.


Without further ado, here are The Classical Girl’s favorite and recommended ballet novels (and one short story collection), in no particular order:

  1. Girl Through Glass, Sari Wilson
  2. The True Memoirs of Little K: A Novel, Adrienne Sharp
  3. The Art of Falling, Kathryn Craft
  4. The Cranes Dance, Meg Howrey
  5. Astonish Me, Maggie Shipstead
  6. White Swan, Black Swan: Stories, Adrienne Sharp
  7. The Painted Girls, Cathy Marie Buchanan
  8. Ballerina, Edward Stewart
  9. First Love (also released as The Sleeping Beauty), Adrienne Sharp
  10. Off Balance, Terez Mertes Rose

You’ll find each novel’s description further down. In the meantime, here’s a nifty chart. I don’t know about you, but when I hear about a new ballet fiction book, I want to know, is it dark and dramatic or breezy/funny? (Or, as in The Cranes Dance, both.) Is it a literary voice (Girl Through Glass, First Love) or does it have more of an old fashion storytelling voice, the kind of book that you can sink into and lusciously inhabit another world for the afternoon (Astonish Me, Ballerina)? Is it deeply immersed in the ballet world (Ballerina, First Love) or is the dance world somewhat peripheral to the story at hand (The Art of Falling and half of Girl Through Glass)? Do issues relevant to women and relationships—self-acceptance, the power of healing and/or the power of friendship—come up? (The Art of Falling, Off Balance, Girl Through Glass) So, here you go. All nicely spliced up to help you pick out that next favorite ballet read. I hope it’s okay with you that I included my own ballet novel, Off Balance. And I’ve also included, in the chart below, its follow-up, Outside the Limelight, forthcoming in October, so that you can see what category it will fall into.

Historical fiction
The True Memoirs of Little K: A Novel
The Painted Girls

Balanchine era, ‘70’s New York (“Historical-ish” Fiction)
Girl Through Glass (half the story)
First Love
Astonish Me (First section)
White Swan, Black Swan (select stories)

Girl Through Glass
White Swan, Black Swan: Stories
The Cranes Dance
The Art of Falling
First Love (warning: gets dark & rather depressing)

Fun, beach read
Astonish Me
Ballerina (warning: grows a bit over-the-top dramatic and a little annoying. Published in 1979.)
Off Balance

White Swan, Black Swan
Girl Through Glass
The Art of Falling
The Painted Girls
First Love

Humorous slant
The Cranes Dance
Off Balance 

Women’s fiction (themes of self-query, acceptance of the past, healing)
Girl Through Glass
The Art of Falling
Outside the Limelight
The Cranes Dance
Off Balance

The Cranes Dance
The Painted Girls
Outside the Limelight 

Powerfully drawn characters you will never, never forget
The Art of Falling
The Cranes Dance
Girl Through Glass

Off Balance
The Art of Falling

Sexy (or erotic-tinged) scenes
First Love
Off Balance

Set mostly in the ballet world
The Cranes Dance
White Swan, Black Swan: Stories
First Love

Uses the dance world as the launch pad for a broader story and theme
Girl Through Glass (half the story)
The Art of Falling
Off Balance
Outside the Limelight
The Painted Girls

This Top 10 list does not take into account the quality young adult ballet novels out there, which seem to be increasing in number with each passing year. Yay! Maybe some day I will create a “10 Best YA Ballet Fiction” list. In the meantime, if you’re a crossover reader into YA, or if you have daughters/nieces who love ballet stories, it’s worth checking out works by the following authors: Sophie Flack (Bunheads), Miriam Wenger Landis (Girl in Motion and Breaking Pointe), Grier Cooper (Hope and Wish) and Nancy Lorenz (The Strength of Ballerinas and American Ballerina).

The following book descriptions are courtesy of Amazon. I just about blew a mental gasket trying to come up with ten summaries of my own, and halfway through, I gave up and dumped all fifteen pages out all by the cyber-roadside. I’d rather talk for pages about how a book makes me feel versus trying to summarize it in two neat paragraphs. I’d rather have oral surgery than attempt it ten times. Click on the book’s title to go to its Amazon page and read an excerpt.


Girl Through Glass, Sari Wilson
In the roiling summer of 1977, eleven-year-old Mira is an aspiring ballerina in the romantic, highly competitive world of New York City ballet. Enduring the mess of her parent’s divorce, she finds escape in dance—the rigorous hours of practice, the exquisite beauty, the precision of movement, the obsessive perfectionism. Ballet offers her control, power, and the promise of glory. It also introduces her to forty-seven-year-old Maurice DuPont, a reclusive, charismatic balletomane who becomes her mentor. As she ascends higher in the ballet world, her relationship with Maurice intensifies, touching dark places within herself and sparking unexpected desires that will upend both their lives.

In the present day, Kate, a professor of dance at a Midwestern college, embarks on a risky affair with a student that threatens to obliterate her career and capsizes the new life she has painstakingly created for her reinvented self. When she receives a letter from a man she’s long thought dead, Kate is hurled back into the dramas of a past she thought she had left behind.

Told in interweaving narratives that move between past and present, Girl Through Glass illuminates the costs of ambition, secrets, and the desire for beauty, and reveals how the sacrifices we make for an ideal can destroy—or save—us.

The True Memoirs of Little K: A Novel, Adrienne Sharp
From Publisher’s Weekly: Sharp impressively conjures the grand life of Mathilde Kschessinka, Russian prima ballerina and mistress of Czar Nicholas II, in her sweeping third novel (after The Sleeping Beauty). Narrated by Mathilde–“Little K” as she was affectionately known–the story follows her early life under her well-placed father’s tutelage, and on through her determination, at 17, to catch Niki’s eye, their affair, his breaking it off so he can marry his Alexandra, Little K’s affairs with two grand dukes, Niki’s return to father her son, the removal of his family from power, and her escape before the imperial family’s slaughter. Sharp, a trained ballet dancer, gives the backstage escapades a lively spark and writes movingly of Russian dance. Though Mathilde is a bit narrow in terms of her icy ambition, her story is an unrelenting thrill ride and chockfull of the stuff that historical fiction buffs adore: larger than life characters, epic change, grand settings, and lusty plotting. © Reed Business Information

The Art of Falling, Kathryn Craft
All Penny has ever wanted to do is dance—and when that chance is taken from her, it pushes her to the brink of despair, from which she might never return. When she wakes up after a traumatic fall, bruised and battered but miraculously alive, Penny must confront the memories that have haunted her for years, using her love of movement to pick up the pieces of her shattered life. Kathryn Craft’s lyrical debut novel is a masterful portrayal of a young woman trying to come to terms with her body and the artistic world that has repeatedly rejected her. The Art of Falling expresses the beauty of movement, the stasis of despair, and the unlimited possibilities that come with a new beginning.


White Swan, Black Swan: Stories, Adrienne Sharp
The world’s most famous choreographer becomes infatuated with a coltish young dancer who proves both siren and muse. A rising star plunges into an affair with a principal but finds that ecstasy on the stage can’t be surpassed in the bed. A dying legend reflects on the evanescent beauty of a life of gesture, lost to everything but memory. Each bittersweet story plants the reader amid a cast of dancers and choreographers who struggle—valiantly, playfully, fiercely—to find in the rigorous discipline and animating beauty of ballet a counterbalance to the chaos of unscripted life.

The Cranes Dance, Meg Howrey
Kate Crane is a soloist in a celebrated New York City ballet company who is struggling to keep her place in a very demanding world. At every turn she is haunted by her close relationship with her younger sister, Gwen, a fellow company dancer whose career quickly surpassed Kate’s, but who has recently suffered a breakdown and returned home. Alone for the first time in her life, Kate is anxious and full of guilt about the role she may have played in her sister’s collapse. As we follow her on an insider tour of rehearsals, performances, and partners onstage and off, she confronts the tangle of love, jealousy, pride, and obsession that are beginning to fracture her own sanity. Funny, dark, intimate, and unflinchingly honest, The Cranes Dance is a book that pulls back the curtains to reveal the private lives of dancers and explores the complicated bond between sisters.

Astonish Me, Maggie Shipstead
Joan is a young American dancer who helps a Soviet ballet star, the great Arslan Rusakov, defect in 1975. A flash of fame and a passionate love affair follow, but Joan knows that, onstage and off, she is destined to remain in the background. She will never possess Arslan, and she will never be a prima ballerina. She will rise no higher than the corps, one dancer among many.

After her relationship with Arslan sours, Joan plots to make a new life for herself. She quits ballet, marries a good man, and settles in California with him and their son, Harry. But as the years pass, Joan comes to understand that ballet isn’t finished with her yet, for there is no mistaking that Harry is a prodigy. Through Harry, Joan is pulled back into a world she thought she’d left behind—back into dangerous secrets, and back, inevitably, to Arslan.


The Painted Girls, Cathy Marie Buchanan
1878 Paris. Following their father’s sudden death, the van Goethem sisters find their lives upended. Without his wages, and with the small amount their laundress mother earns disappearing into the absinthe bottle, eviction from their lodgings seems imminent. With few options for work, Marie is dispatched to the Paris Opéra, where for a scant seventeen francs a week, she will be trained to enter the famous ballet. Her older sister, Antoinette, finds work as an extra in a stage adaptation of Émile Zola’s naturalist masterpiece L’Assommoir.

Marie throws herself into dance and is soon modeling in the studio of Edgar Degas, where her image will forever be immortalized as Little Dancer Aged Fourteen. There she meets a wealthy male patron of the ballet, but might the assistance he offers come with strings attached? Meanwhile Antoinette, derailed by her love for the dangerous Émile Abadie, must choose between honest labor and the more profitable avenues open to a young woman of the Parisian demimonde.

Set at a moment of profound artistic, cultural, and societal change, The Painted Girls is a tale of two remarkable sisters rendered uniquely vulnerable to the darker impulses of “civilized society.” In the end, each will come to realize that her salvation, if not survival, lies with the other.

Off Balance, Terez Mertes Rose
Alice thinks she’s accepted the loss of her ballet career, injury having forced her to trade in pointe shoes onstage for spreadsheets upstairs. That is, until the day Alice’s boss asks her to befriend Lana, a pretty new company member he’s got his eye on. Lana represents all Alice has lost, not just as a ballet dancer, but as a motherless daughter. It’s pain she’s kept hidden, even from herself, as every good ballet dancer knows to do. Lana, lonely and unmoored, desperately needs some help, and her mother, back home, vows eternal support. But when Lana begins to profit from Alice’s advice and help, her mother’s constant attention curdles into something more sinister. Together, both women must embark on a journey of painful rediscoveries, not just about career opportunities won and lost, but the mothers they thought they knew.

Ballerina, Edward Stewart
[Note: first published in 1979.] Stephanie Lang and Christine Avery meet in ballet school. Although they share the same dream—to become great dancers—they could not be more different. Ballet is in Stephanie’s blood; her mother, Anna, is a former dancer who lives to see her daughter achieve the fame she herself never attained. Christine has lived a sheltered life, secure in the love of her family. But her privileged upbringing conceals a devastating secret.

Two teen dancers, one chance to make it. From the thrill and terror of auditions through years of meticulous training to landing a coveted spot in a professional company, Stephanie and Christine relentlessly pursue their ambitions. As they give their all to dance, they become inseparable—until they are torn apart by their passion for the same man, a brilliant Russian dancer whose seductive, mercurial temperament will have unforeseen consequences for them all.

First Love (also released as The Sleeping Beauty), Adrienne Sharp
Adam and Sandra are ballet dancers, friends since they were fifteen, and now lovers. Sandra is a dancer in the corps of the New York City Ballet who has just caught George Balanchine’s eye. Adam is an explosively gifted new star who has defected to the rival company, the American Ballet Theatre. They are in love, passionate and ambitious, but ill-prepared to handle the demands, seductions, and expectations that are visited on them as they come within reach of their dreams. The novel proceeds from a true premise: Since the beginning of his career, Balanchine sought to create an opulent ballet from the fairy tale Sleeping Beauty, but never had the means and the muse come together at the same time. In First Love, Adrienne Sharp conjures in Sandra a last muse for the ailing ballet master. Balanchine promises to make Sleeping Beauty for her, and that it will be his final and greatest ballet. But Balanchine’s favor comes at a price, and Sandra is forced to decide which of her loves comes first.


Outside the Limelight, Terez Mertes Rose    *A Kirkus Indie Books of the Month Selection*
Rising ballet star Dena Lindgren’s dream career is knocked off its axis when a puzzling onstage fall results in a crushing diagnosis: a brain tumor. Looming surgery and its long recovery period prompt the company’s artistic director, Anders Gunst, to shift his attention to an overshadowed company dancer: Dena’s older sister, Rebecca, with whom Anders once shared a special relationship.

Under the heady glow of Anders’ attention, Rebecca thrives, even as her slowly recuperating sister languishes on the sidelines of a professional world that demands beauty and perfection. Rebecca ultimately faces a painful choice: play by the artistic director’s rules and profit, or take shocking action to help the sister she came close to losing.

Exposing the glamorous onstage world of professional ballet, as well as its shadowed wings and dark underbelly, OUTSIDE THE LIMELIGHT examines loyalty, beauty, artistic passion, and asks what might be worth losing in order to help the ones you love.

And new released in 2018 (“ballet meets African dance” fiction)

A Dancer’s Guide to Africa, Terez Mertes Rose

Fiona Garvey, ballet dancer and new college graduate, is desperate to escape her sister’s betrayal and a failed relationship. Vowing to restart as far from home as possible, she accepts a two-year teaching position with the Peace Corps in Africa. It’s a role she’s sure she can perform. But in no time, Fiona realizes she’s traded her problems in Omaha for bigger ones in Gabon, a country as beautiful as it is filled with contradictions.  

Emotionally derailed by Christophe, a charismatic and privileged Gabonese man who can teach her to let go of her inhibitions but can’t commit to anything more, threatened by an overly familiar student with a menacing fixation on her, and drawn into the compelling but potentially dangerous local dance ceremonies, Fiona finds herself at increasing risk. And when matters come to a shocking head, she must reach inside herself, find her dancer’s power, and fight back.

Blending humor and pathos, A DANCER’S GUIDE TO AFRICA takes the reader along on a suspense-laden, sensual journey through Africa’s complex beauty, mystery and mysticism.