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Synopsis

A Globe and Mail top 100 book of 2012

"A fascinating, well-researched, and insightful book...this is an important story to tell." -- Sabina Allemann, former principal ballerina, San Francisco Ballet

"A literary dance of narrative and emotion that pirouettes between rage and sorrow, backstage bleakness, and transcendent beauty." -- Elizabeth Abbott author of A History of Mistresses

A controversial look at the brutal backstage existence of some of the world's most celebrated ballerinas.

Throughout her history, the ballerina has been perceived as the embodiment of beauty and perfection. She is the feminine ideal -- unblemished and ethereal, inspiration incarnate. But the reality is another story. Beginning with the earliest ballerinas, who often led double lives as concubines, Deirdre Kelly goes on to review the troubled lives of nineteenth-century ballerinas, who lived in poverty and worked under torturous and even life-threatening conditions. In the twentieth century, George Balanchine created a contradictory ballet culture that simultaneously idealized and oppressed ballerinas, and many of his dancers suffered from anorexia and bulimia or underwent cosmetic surgery to achieve the ideal ethereal form. At the beginning of the twenty-first century, ballerinas are still underpaid, vulnerable to arbitrary discrimination and dismissal, and expected to bear pain stoically -- but much of this is beginning to change.

As Kelly examines the lives of some of the world's best ballerinas -- Anna Pavlova, Marie Camargo, Gelsey Kirkland, Evelyn Hart, and Misty Copeland, among others -- she argues for a rethinking of the world's most graceful dance form -- a rethinking that would position the ballerina at its heart, where she belongs.

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