“The Ballerinas” by Rachel Kapelke-Dale

This recently released novel harkened back to an early interest of mine. Right after I stopped binge-reading Walter Farley’s Black Stallion series (middle school), I started reading about ballet. Much later, I read biographies of wonderful dancers, like Suzanne Farrell and Gelsey Kirkland. 

The Ballerinas brought me up to date on the strange, wonderful and very, very insular world of ballet. 

Kapelke-Dale includes sexual politics that wasn’t obvious in the older books. Gender is ALL. Male dancers are few, highly privileged and likely to feel “entitled”. Aspiring ballerinas are numerous and fiercely competitive. The men continue to grow and develop much longer than ballerinas, who “freeze” at about age 16. Retirement is mandatory at age 42. Partnered dancing (the pas des deux) accounts for much of the chasm between men and women. 

(I wonder what’s happening with transsexual dancers? Kapelke-Dale didn’t tackle this.)

The Ballerinas follows the lives of three dancers, classmates at the school of the Paris Opera Ballet, and an older woman who raises one of them. “Life balance” is not a concept for dancers, who rise to stardom only if extremely obsessive. One of the dancers becomes a choreographer, which I found fascinating.

Obsession leads to drama. I didn’t foresee the climax of this book, which I won’t share.

If you want something exciting, fast paced and thoroughly contemporary (published 2021), read this book!

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