Books and the Ballet

Reading Eva Ibbotson’s A Company of Swans recently made me think back to other books with a ballet theme that I’ve read and enjoyed. I was mad on ballet lessons as a kid and gobbled up anything I could read about it, from non-fictional books about the ballet itself to timeless classics by authors like Noel Streatfield and Lorna Hill. But I don’t think it was just because I loved to dance that I enjoyed those books – there is something about the world of dancing that makes for gripping stories and the perfect escapism. Maybe it’s because of the high discipline of the ballet, which means that central characters are often very strong, determined and charismatic. Or maybe it’s the passion and romance – in books like A Company of Swans, the stage and love seem to go hand in hand. Then there’s the darker side to it, the lengths that dancers are driven to by their fierce competitiveness, and the air of mystery and subterfuge surrounding the theatre that makes it the perfect setting for a murder, or even supernatural goings on. Inspired by this, I’ve put together a list of books about the ballet that I’ve either read or would like to.

The Sadler’s Wells series by Lorna Hill

There were 14 books in this series and I think I must have read them all at some point. The story starts in A Dream of Sadler’s Wells with Veronica, an orphaned child who lives with relatives in the north of England but longs to be at ballet school – and how she achieves her dream. Sadly, I think many of these charming books set in the 1950s  are now out of print.

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Ballet Shoes by Noel Streatfield

In this classic ‘career novel’ for children, Pauline, Petrova and Posy Fossil are orphans, each with their own special talent, who are lucky enough to be under the tuition of Madame Fidolia at the Children’s Academy of Dancing and Stage Training. It’s a heart-warming rags-to-riches read, but one that is set firmly in reality – one of the things I remember most vividly about this story is how the three children had to take it turns with one audition dress because they could only afford one.

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The Ladybird Book of Ballet

I read and re-read this book from cover to cover about a million times. It was only a slim book but packed with fascinating facts about the  history of dancing and the stories of all the famous ballets, from The Nutcracker to Gisele. The iconic Ladybird illustrations are firmly imprinted on my memory forever!

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Margot Fonteyn: A Life by Meredith Daneman

I’ve always wanted to get hold of a copy of this book about the life of possibly the most talented ballerina who ever danced, her career and loves. It’s quite a meaty tome, though, so perhaps I will save it for a long beach holiday!

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Dance of Shadows by Yelena Black

I reviewed this one a while back. The highly competitive world of the New York Ballet Academy forms the backdrop to this thrilling mystery with a supernatural twist, about a dancer in search of her sister who disappeared from the school.

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Bunheads by Sophie Flack

This book has been on my TBR list for a while. It’s written by an ex-ballet dancer and promises to be a very realistic take on the world of the ballet and the difficult personal choices a young dancer faces.

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The Painted Girls by Cathy Marie Buchanan

I love the idea of this book, an historical novel in the style of The Girl With the Pearl Earring that tells the story of one of the real-life models who inspired Degas’s painting Little Dancer Aged Fourteen. And, it’s set in the Belle Epoque (one of my favourite historical eras to read about).

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Dancergirl by Carol M. Tanzman

This book has just popped onto my radar – and it sounds creepy but compelling! It’s about a dancer who realises she’s being watched by a dangerous stalker when videos of her dancing start to appear online.

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Thanks for stopping by. I’d love to hear about any other ballet-themed books you can recommend.

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