5-Star Review of Ballerina

“The theme of the ballet dancer’s career being far from beauty and glamour, presents itself right from the very beginning of the book…”

Book Review

Title: Ballerina: Sex, Scandal, and Suffering Behind the Symbol of Perfection

Author: Deirdre Kelly

Publisher: Greystone Books

Published: September 29, 2012

Number of Pages: 264

ISBN: 978-926812-66-3

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Reviewed By: Elizabeth Merchant

Deidre Kelly is the perfect authority on her subject, being a dance critic for 16 years for the Globe and Mail, and whose articles on dance have appeared in such top magazines as Elle, Vogue and Chatelaine. In Ballerina, Kelly takes us on a journey from the beginnings of this elegant art form to what ballet is today, exploring its darker side along the way, until concluding with proposed changes for the ballerina into the 21st century. She wants the ballerina to be seen as more than just a romantic idealized feminine figure, and more like a real person who deserves to be treated with respect and dignity.

The theme of the ballet dancer’s career being far from beauty and glamour, presents itself right from the very beginning of the book in the form of a tragic story from 1961 involving popular French dancer Janine Charrat, which ends with a warning “Dancers beware!”

In Chapter 1: The Feminization of Ballet (It is called “Feminization” because originally it was men that danced the ballet), Kelly says, “The history of the ballerina is tarnished by institutionalized suffering, poverty and sexual exploitation.” Through extensive research, Kelly is able to cite numerous sources, to back up her statements, including 19th century dance critiques that appeared in the paper of the day by Jules Janin and Théophile Gautier, two important male dance critics, and observers or critics like Albert Vizentini, a French composer and music writer.

After more and more women entered the ballet, sexual liaisons began to take place between ballerinas and wealthy male patrons who attended the ballet. The practice became so prevalent that fiction writer Ludovic Halévy based his trilogy of fiction on it. Sex for favours and a better way of life was condoned, even encouraged; sometimes even by a ballerina’s mother!

Dancers often endured harsh and unsafe working conditions such as being hoisted up with no safety net and the threat of their dresses catching fire by gaslight fixtures. An 1868 article in The Lancet in the British Medical journal mentions the tragedies associated with what was a new lighting system at the time.

Kelly details accounts of the experiences of an abundance of dancers through the centuries including Madeleine Guimard, Marie Taglioni, and Anna Pavlova, as well as validating her statements of more recent times with quotes from dancers themselves such as Gelsey Kirkland and Evelyn Hart, who recount what it was like dancing for gifted but tyrannical artistic director George Balanchine. In the Balanchine era, eating disorders and plastic surgery were common as ballerinas strived to attain his ideal as described in the book: “tall, with long legs, narrow hips, and a small head.” On top of the pressure to stay very thin, Kelly brings to light other ills of the profession such as age discrimination, (although there were few exceptions; one being popular Canadian dancer Karen Kain who danced until 46 and Soviet ballerina Ektarina Maximova who danced until 60!), forced retirement, and wrongful dismissals. But, dancers did fight back for their rights, and Kelly goes in-depth on the case of dancer Kimberly Glasco, who took on the National Ballet of Canada and won.

Kelly ends on a positive note, with changes that are starting to take place such as dancers being able to take maternity leave with pay as with other careers, and there is more of an emphasis now on maintaining a healthy weight.

This eye-opening book is well written in a literary style, but at times exhaustive, especially in the beginning where it goes into the history of the ballet; the key points could have been scaled down. Photographs are included in the book for a nice touch. Kelly treats her subject with an abundance of respect and admiration. It is interesting that as she examines the lives of some of the early ballerinas (ballerina-courtesans), she does not sit on a moral high horse in regards to what dancers of the time felt was necessary for them to do to achieve a better place in life. If anything, because prostitution seemed to be a necessity, the dancer’s self-worth should never be called into question. Ballerina is an honest and at times horrendous account of the reality of the ballet dancer’s life and career, and makes for a spectacular read.

New Book Probes Delicious Scandals and Bold Triumphs of Ballerinas

Deirdre Kelly's New Book, BallerinaBallerina: Sex, Scandal and Suffering Behind the Symbol of Perfection, by Deirdre Kelly. (Greystone Books)

By Adina Goldman

Journalist, author and critic Deirdre Kelly has been obsessed with dance all her life, and has been covering dance since her first gig at The Varsity (UofT’s student paper). Her recently-released book, Ballerina: Sex, Scandal, and Suffering Behind the Symbol of Perfection, focuses her passion for ballet in a vibrant exploration of the history of the art. It is vividly depicted, peppered with startling facts, scandalous details and wistful beauty. Get out your holiday wish list! This book that will appeal to both ballet lovers and anyone interested in the historical evolution of art and its relationship to women.

You cover every era of ballet history with such vivid detail. Which moment in ballet would you most want to revisit and explore?
I am crazy about the Diaghilev era: What a cast of characters! From Vaslav Nijinsky, the proverbial mad artist, to Igor Stravinsky, a genius composer whose Le Sacre du printemps is my all time favourite ballet score, the artists who comprised Diaghilev’s Les Ballets Russes, represent to me the height of creativity in ballet.

Nothing that has come since has ever rivalled it in terms of its social and artistic impact. Before hand there had been the Romantic ballet of the mid-19th century which had initiated the cult of the ballerina against which Les Ballets Russes in many ways rebelled, replacing ethereality with brute eroticism and the delicacy of the female dancer with the pantherine prowl of the male dancer.
Then there was Isadora Duncan, early in the 20th century. The legendary American dance artist had turned her back on ballet, thinking it too punitive an art for women. She invented the bare-foot art of modern dance which she performed uncorsetted, the better to allow her full female figure to imitate the undulating waves of the sea.

All the principal choreographers of Les Ballets Russes, among them Nijinsky, Mikhail Fokine and also Bronislava Nijinska, Nijinsky’s super talented sister, were deeply influenced by her movement innovations. Isadora was a trailblazer, and so I would have liked to have been in the audience in St. Petersburg with Diaghilev and the other seminal members of Les Ballets Russes as they watched Isadora dance for the first time, and saw in her the future of ballet as an iconoclastic art form full of daring and verve. I would have found that most thrilling.

A similar question, but this one about the dancers: Which dancer in ballet history would you like to sip champagne with?
Marie-Madeleine Guimard, the 18th century ballerina who was a Paris Opéra star. She had been prostituted by her own mother before she was even a teenager as part of her early training as a ballet dancer. She rose from the most miserable poverty to become one of the most sought after female artists of her time, and largely as a result of her talent as both a ballerina and a courtesan. Among her lovers had been the Bishop of Orléans who helped bank-roll a series of beautifully designed and decorated pornographic theatres (the interiors were painted by Fragonard and Boucher) located in the suburbs of Paris. There, the unfashionably thin ballerina nicknamed Le Squelette des graces (the Skeleton of the Graces) oversaw live sex shows performed by other members of the Paris Opéra, both dancer and singers, for an audience that represented la crème de la crème of Paris society.

During the French Revolution, she was able to escape with her head intact by hiding out in Montmartre where the incorrigible dancer continued to stage erotic entertainments, this time using puppets, for those surviving members of the ancien régime who climbed the hill after her, cherishing their memories of her in her glory days. Paris continues to honour her memory. A chiselled bust of Guimard has pride of place in the foyer de la danse of the Opéra Garnier. There the celebrated dancer with a racy past presides over all the other ballerinas who have come after her, serving as their muse. I think Guimard would relish the irony of that. Her own letters which survive to this day show her to have been a ballerina with a wicked sense of humour! I admire her guts and staying power.

You describe the history of ballerinas as plagued by power struggles, exploitation, and wrestling with the female ideals of the time. At what points were ballerinas actually more emancipated than the average woman?
Believe it or not, ballerinas who were more emancipated than the average women belonged to the 17th and 18th centuries – and not the modern era as you might well think. Largely this is because of Louis XIV who early on passed a law exempting all professional women of the theatre from the authority of their husbands and fathers and from persecution by the law. The first ballerinas were servants of the state and they given unprecedented protections and freedoms, making them unique in comparison to other women of their day. Many ballerinas took advantage of these freedoms to carve out their destinies as they saw fit. Some, like the aforementioned Guimard, were able to rise to the highest echelons of their society even when of low birth. This was quite an accomplishment and it as largely as a result of the ballet.

You describe a period in pre-revolutionary France where there were women in their 40s dancing with much younger counterparts. How has that changed in recent history?
Actually, those ballerinas were in their 50s. See what I mean about the 18th century being better? Today, a ballerina could only wish for that kind of career longevity. Ballet today is so tough on the body that the average age of retirement is now 29. As for older female dancers dancing with younger partners, that can still happen. Look at Margot Fonteyn and Rudolf Nureyev: She was already well into her 40s, when the twentysomething Slavic stallion arrived on the scene and gave her dancing career a second life. But such January-May partnerships are rare. Ballet dancers today are more likely to be kids, not mature artists in the prime of life. And more’s the pity because with age a ballet dancer ripens.


Your coverage of Kimberly Glasco landed you in a difficult position with the National Ballet of Canada. How has this controversy affected your relationship to Ballet?
My relationship to ballet continues as it always has – I still love it. I still go to the shows and I still review ballet, and other genres of dance, for the online arts publication, Critics at Large. I am also Canadian correspondent for the Dance Gazette, the magazine of the Royal Academy of Dance in London, England, which is distributed to over 80 countries world wide.

Is ballet is changing in positive ways for women, away from the anorexia and injuries of the past?
Yes it is. There a greater awareness now that a thin dancer is a wasted dancer. A ballerina who continually obsesses over calories can no longer keep up with the demands of today’s choreography which is now faster and more athletic than before. Emaciated dancers are more prone to injuries than healthy ones. They don’t have the bone density. Ballet companies are increasingly creating new policies with which to deal with these health issues, employing squadrons of health professionals, among them physiotherapists, osteopaths, dieticians and psychiatrists, to help ballerinas maintain optimum levels of physical and mental health and well-being. That’s a positive new direction.

Did you study ballet as a child?
I did an after-school program where I, and other girls my age, held on to the backs of chairs for balance. My mom didn’t like ballet and still doesn’t. She wanted me to do jazz or tap, dance forms she knew from the movies. It wasn’t until I was in my late teens that I decided that dance was actually what I was deeply passionate about. I would have wanted to have made it a career. But by then it was too late. I didn’t have the training. I didn’t have the turn-out. I became a killer social dancer instead. I was once on the now defunct Boogie Show on CITY-TV. And I won first prize at a dance contest organized by Toronto Dance Theatre, beating out all sorts of professionals. I move from the hips.

When we spoke with you last year, you mentioned your daughter takes ballet lessons. What words of wisdom would you have for her, should she decide to pursue a career in dance?
First of all, ballet has to be a calling. It’s not for dilettantes. Right now, I am encouraging my daughter to explore all sorts of options, not just ballet, because I want her to decide what it is she wants to do with her life. I am giving her ballet lessons in the off chance that if she one day decides, like me, to pursue dance, at least she will have the body preparedness in place. Then, if she were to choose dance as a career I would tell her to cherish every second, because it is a short career. Dance, like life, is here today, gone tomorrow – best experienced as a blaze of glory.

Deirdre Kelly will be signing copies of her new book, Ballerina: Sex, Scandal and Suffering Behind the Symbol of Perfection, at Books on Beechwood in Ottawa on Oct. 20, 1 to 3pm. She will be at the L.E. Shore Library in Thornbury, Ont., on Oct. 28.,The Writer’s Trust Gala on Nov 15, Metro Reference Library in December and Princeton on Nov. 29.  More information on her books and engagements can be found at deirdrekelly.com

 

Reprinted from iVillage which first published this interview on Oct 19, 2012 at 1:45 PM.

How ballerinas are ‘literally fattening up’ as industry moves away from tyranny of thin

  • Ballet critic Deirdre Kelly is the author of a new book, Ballerina: Sex, Scandal, and Suffering Behind the Symbol of Perfection
  • She says dancers today are allowed to be curvier than they have been for 50 years
 

By Olivia Fleming

Much like models, professional ballerinas famously face low wages, early retirement, constant risk of injury and most notably, a tyranny of thin.

However, a new book which highlights the dance industry’s morally objectionable practices also reveals how it is changing for the better, with ballerinas today allowed to be curvier than they have been in nearly 50 years.

Deirdre Kelly, the author behind Ballerina: Sex, Scandal, and Suffering Behind the Symbol of Perfection, says ballet ‘is literally fattening up,’ overcoming a history of eating disorders that for years have gone unchecked ‘for the sake of art and beauty’.

 
Symbol of perfection: A new book which highlights the dance industry's morally objectionable practices also reveals how ballerinas today are allowed to be curvier than they have been in nearly 50 yearsSymbol of perfection: A new book which highlights the dance industry’s morally objectionable practices also reveals how ballerinas today are allowed to be curvier than they have been in nearly 50 years

‘Ballerinas are today allowed to be curvier than they have been since 1963,’ Ms Kelly, a ballet critic and mother to a nine-year-old ballerina, wrote in a blog for the Huffington Post.

 

 She continued: ‘When [George] Balanchine was granted the lucrative Ford Foundation grant, [it] allowed him to create ballet in his own vision – that is populated by long, lean, leggy ballerinas such as he had known and bedded in St. Petersburg.’

Mr. Balanchine was one of the 20th century’s most famous choreographers, a Russian-born developer of ballet in the U.S. and the co-founder of New York City Ballet, who, Ms Kelly said, ‘institutionalized starvation’ through his ‘thin ideal,’ since 1963 until his death 20 years later.

 
 
Changing face of ballet: A ballerina in the Twenties (left) before George Balanchine popularized as ideal of extreme thinness; now, ballerinas are starting to move away from the tyranny of thin
Changing face of ballet: A ballerina in the Twenties (left) before George Balanchine popularized as ideal of extreme thinness; now, ballerinas are starting to move away from the tyranny of thin
 

Changing face of ballet: A ballerina in the Twenties (left) before George Balanchine popularized as ideal of extreme thinness; now, ballerinas are starting to move away from the tyranny of thin

 

 

However, since the Seventies, when ‘Balanchine-inspired eating disorders first started decimating the ballerina population’ and after the choreographer’s death in 1983, medical experts have continued to determine that the ballet industry’s ‘tyranny of thin’ has detrimental effects on dancers’ health and well-being.

‘Ballet has tended to make victims of the very women it looks to idolize on the stage,’ she said.

‘[But] ballerinas today are again embracing the breasts and hips which first made them objects of desire way back in the day.

Sixties prima ballerina: From 1963, long, lean, leggy ballerinas been the ideal shape for dancers, which according to Ms Kelly, is starting to changeSixties prima ballerina: From 1963, long, lean, leggy ballerinas been the ideal shape for dancers, which according to Ms Kelly, is starting to change

‘They are turning their backs on the radical cosmetic surgeries and punitive dieting that stripped them of their identities as full-fledged women in the modern era.’

The Australian Ballet is one of the many dance companies that now prioritize injury prevention.

By positively changing how they train dancers, ballerinas are encouraged to speak up about their physical or emotional weaknesses.

 
Ballerina: Deirdre Kelly, author of Ballerina: Sex, Scandal, and Suffering Behind the Symbol of Perfection, says ballet 'is literally fattening up'
Ballerina: The author Deirdre Kelly says ballet 'is literally fattening up'
 

Ballerina: Deirdre Kelly, author of Ballerina: Sex, Scandal, and Suffering Behind the Symbol of Perfection, says ballet ‘is literally fattening up’

Despite knowing the ‘dangers lurking in the shadows of ballet,’ the author said she encourages her own daughter to take twice-weekly ballet classes because she still believes it is ‘a sublimely beautiful art form – the feminine mystique personified.’

‘It is an outlet for female strength and autonomy. It is where women artists can lead and dominate. Where the ballerina is in control of her body in determining her own destiny,’ she added.

Reprinted from The Daily Mail — 19  October, 2012

REVIEW: Ballerina: Sex, Scandal and Suffering Behind the Symbol of Perfection

REVIEW: Ballerina: Sex, Scandal and Suffering Behind the Symbol of Perfection

Ballerinas accidentally set aflame. Ballerinas traded like horses by wealthy male patrons. Ballerinas amassing fortunes as courtesans. Deirdre Kelly’s new book delivers on its juicy title, providing a thoughtful history of the ballerina as social construct—the idealized woman. Looking behind the artifice, she describes the starvation, humiliation, exhaustion, sexual exploitation and poverty that have plagued ballerinas through the ages.

Poverty and pregnancy were the chief occupational hazards in 17th- and 18th-century France, when the cult of the ballerina took flight. Successful ballerinas were usually kept women, often with multiple wealthy lovers. Kelly’s book is enlivened with mini biographies of the most (in)famous ballerinas and their cruel stage masters. The author reserves her harshest criticism for the megalomaniac choreographer George Balanchine (1904-1983), who told his dancers to “eat nothing.”

Mikhail Baryshnikov comes off as even more sexist and demanding than his character on Sex and the City. But Kelly, a staff dance critic at The Globe and Mail for 16 years, is at her best when cataloguing injustices done to Canadian ballerinas. She outlines the professional hardships of dancers Gizella Witkowsky, Kim Lightheart and Patricia Neary, and she details the behind-the-scenes story of ballerina Kimberly Glasco, who made front-page headlines by launching—and eventually winning—a wrongful dismissal lawsuit against the National Ballet of Canada in 1998. Kelly often cites her own newspaper and magazine articles for these controversies, so they aren’t new revelations, but when grouped together in this fashion, they’re highly effective at painting a picture of ageism and suffering at the ballet bar.

Although Ballerina reads as a cautionary tale, the book ends on a positive note. She sees a trend toward more muscular, less emaciated dancers. Some even take maternity leave, Balanchine be damned.

Reprinted from macleans.ca —  Friday, September 14, 2012

New book exposes ballet’s white swans and ugly ducklings

Dance critic authors new book about Ballerinas and their deep dark past.

THE BLUE MOUNTAINS – A new book about ballerinas reveals a schizophrenic history of ethereal beauties floating from gas light to red light.
It is a behind-the-scenes history of the poised, pirouetting prima ballerinas, graceful, lean and powerful; rising again and again from ashes, filth, pain and oppression.
“The image of the ballerina as clean and perfect belies a complicated, complex and dark reality,” said Deirdre Kelly. “In history, there’s never been such a thing as a safe ballerina.”
Indeed, even the prologue of Kelly’s book, Ballerina, is a tragic tale of a 1960s dancer who catches fire during a rehearsal when her airy skirt passes by an open flame.
In her earliest history, the ballerina was a courtesan, always ruled by the whims of directors, even succumbing to impossible standards in body shape through starvation.
“Ballerinas not only sacrificed a lot of themselves,” said Kelly. “In their history they have had to leap over many obstacles that stood in their way. I hope to show she is an extraordinary being. She is deserving of greater attention by the public.”
A book about dance was a natural progression for Deirdre Kelly – Canada’s consummate dance critic. Since childhood, Kelly has looked up to the ballerina coupling the poised, pirouetting prima ballerinas with flying fish and galloping horses in her imagination. When it came to a book about dance, ballet was her first choice.
In fact, it was a choice made on the road to Collingwood from Blue Mountain.
An author was being interviewed on the radio about a book they had written about salt.
“I thought, ‘that’s so basic,'” said Kelly. “So what’s simple about dance? The Ballerina … I could see it immediately.”
Kelly took an unconventional approach in her research, combining history with pop culture and media references. What she discovered was at times shocking, and always complex.
Ballet, Kelly discovered, is a masquerade, as schizophrenic as the black and white swan in it’s own infamous Swan Lake.
Kelly takes her readers from Ballet’s earliest history and feminization – ballet was initially a dance by men- to the George Balanchine ideal for dancers more like greyhounds, lean and fast with long legs and small heads, to the dancers of today.
“It was exhilarating to read about this era where the female artist was so dominant in creating her own destiny,” she said. “I walked away from my research in awe.”
Kelly writes about ballerinas in an effort to revive works long forgotten, resurrecting names and reputations of dancers through the ages.
“[The ballerina] deserves even more credit, because in spite of all these obstacles, she still sparkles on the tiny tips of pointe shoes on stage,” said Kelly. “For me they are a feminist aspiration … They embody a full potential of feminine strength, control and determination.”
Deirdre Kelly will be at the L.E. Shore memorial library on Sunday, October 28 at 1 p.m. for a book talk, signing, and question and answer. Her books, Ballerina and Paris Times Eight are available for purchase at Jessica’s Book Nook downtown Thornbury.
 

Reprinted from Simcoe.com

 Oct 23, 2012 – 10:31

How Fattening Up Will Save Ballet –Reprinted from the Huffington Post

Author, “Ballerina: Sex, Scandal, and Suffering Behind the Symbol of Perfection”

How Fattening Up Will Save Ballet

Posted: 10/18/2012 12:01 pm

 

I’ve been dancing as fast as I can around a rather delicate question of late.

If the ballet world is as riddled with perils as I present it in my new book, “Ballerina: Sex, Scandal, and Suffering Behind the Symbol of Perfection,” then why is it I continue to allow my own daughter to participate in an art form with a well documented history of putting females at risk?

I admit that it’s sometimes a conversation stopper.

I don’t want to appear as a hypocrite; nor do I want to come across as blindingly naive.
After immersing myself in more than 500 years of dance history in order to write my book, I know perhaps better than most that ballet has tended to make victims of the very women it looks to idolize on the stage.

From the beginning of ballet’s history as a professional art form in 18th century France, ballerinas have doubled as courtesans and as human blow torches when their flimsy costumes caught fire on the crude lighting apparatuses used to highlight their stage identities as frail creatures of the air during the Romantic era.

In the 20th century, the more menacing backstage peril became institutionalized starvation as ordered by artistic directors entranced by the thin ideal promulgated by the Russian-born choreographer George Balanchine when he helmed the New York City Ballet until his untimely death in 1983.

While my book lifts the curtain on some of the unsavoury practices that have tended to go unchecked in for the sake of art and beauty, it ends on a positive note, showing that ballet is now changing – and for the better.

Ballerinas are today allowed to be curvier than they have been since 1963 when Balanchine first was granted the lucrative Ford Foundation grant which allowed him to create ballet in his own vision – that is populated by long, lean, leggy ballerinas such as he had known and bedded in St. Petersburg.

Medical experts have, since the 1970s when Balanchine-inspired eating disorders first started decimating the ballerina population, quite forcefully determined that ballet’s tyranny of thin is detrimental to dancers’ health.

Many companies world-wide, among them the Australian Ballet which prioritizes injury prevention as a management strategy, have taken heed of the warnings and are changing how they train dancers for the future. Dancers are encouraged to admit they have weaknesses, physical or otherwise. This is a big breakthrough for an art which has long defined itself as a chase after perfection. Ballerinas today are again embracing the breasts and hips which first made them objects of desire way back in the day. They are turning their backs on the radical cosmetic surgeries and punitive dieting that stripped them of their identities as full-fledged women in the modern era.

That’s good news for the art form as a whole. Ballet is now guaranteed to have a future in the 21st century. It is literally fattening up. It will survive.

But that’s not the reason why I encourage my nine-year old to twice weekly don her ballet slippers and pony up to the barre alongside other ballerina hopefuls, dressed head-to-toe in pink.
Despite knowing all the dangers lurking in the shadows of ballet, I still think of it as a sublimely beautiful art form – the feminine mystique personified.

I can still remember the first time I thought so: I was probably around three; I hadn’t started school and couldn’t yet read or write. But I could draw and my main subject matter was the ballerina, which I drew over and over again, depicting her in a glittering white and fluffy tutu.
The costume was key. It’s what set the ballerina apart from all other females, making her seem both regal and remote.

This wasn’t your run-of-the-mill princess fantasy: For me the tutu was the ballerina’s armour. It enclosed her, isolating her among the general female populace as something rare and unique. It made her seem forbidding to the touch. Add to that her pointe shoes, made of shining satin but as sharp as steel – a veritable weapon of the foot – and the ballerina emerged as a woman invincible: a Warrior Queen.

I was instinctively drawn to the ballerina’s aura of power and would have liked to have emulated it had I been allowed by own mother to start ballet class at a young age.

But my mother, who loved jitterbugging more than jetés, thought ballet limiting; she thought I ought to do more with my life. And so I became a dance critic, fulfilling that often repeated criticism of critics that those that can’t do end up writing about it.

Still, I never lost that fascination with the ballerinas as an enduring symbol of female power. Even in ballets as pale and delicate as Giselle, I see the ballerina as being in command of her world, exuding erotic energy along with muscular strength and control.

On stage, at least, she looks second to none, a woman at the height of her powers. Nothing can diminish her, except, as I have now pointed out, for the backstage reality of her profession – low pay, early retirement, constant threat of injury and flighty artistic directors who would keep them forever silenced if not for labour laws.

I wrote the book not to knock the art of ballet as much as to restore dignity to the ballerina as an artist in her own right. I trust I have done that by presenting a long line-up of ballerina greats who, by daring break through ballet’s rigid rank-and-file, became trailblazers who pushed the art forward for other ballerinas who have followed.

So to me ballet is no sissified pursuit.

It is an outlet for female strength and autonomy. It is where women artists can lead and dominate. Where the ballerina is in control of her body in determining her own destiny.

I find that empowering. I know my daughter does, too.

Ballerina: Sex, Scandal, and Suffering Behind the Symbol of Perfection, © 2012, by Deirdre Kelly. Published in 2012 by Greystone Books: an imprint of D&M Publishers Inc.