Read Ballerina: Sex, Scandal, and Suffering Behind the Symbol of Perfection by Deirdre Kelly Online


Throughout her history, the ballerina has been perceived as the embodiment of beauty and perfection-- the feminine ideal. But the reality is another story. From the earliest ballerinas in the 17th century, who often led double lives as concubines, through the poverty of the corps de ballet dancers in the 1800's and the anorexic and bulimic ballerinas of George Balanchine,Throughout her history, the ballerina has been perceived as the embodiment of beauty and perfection-- the feminine ideal. But the reality is another story. From the earliest ballerinas in the 17th century, who often led double lives as concubines, through the poverty of the corps de ballet dancers in the 1800's and the anorexic and bulimic ballerinas of George Balanchine, starvation and exploitation have plagued ballerinas throughout history. Using the stories of great dancers such as Anna Pavlova, Isadora Duncan, Suzanne Farrell, Gelsey Kirkland, and Evelyn Hart, Deirdre Kelly exposes the true rigors for women in ballet. She rounds her critique with examples of how the world of ballet is slowly evolving for the better. But to ensure that this most graceful of dance forms survives into the future, she says that the time has come to rethink ballet, to position the ballerina at its center and accord her the respect she deserves....

Title : Ballerina: Sex, Scandal, and Suffering Behind the Symbol of Perfection
Author :
Rating :
ISBN : 9781926812663
Format Type : Hardcover
Number of Pages : 272 Pages
Status : Available For Download
Last checked : 21 Minutes ago!

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

  • Donna Davis
    2019-04-27 22:04

    I had originally been interested in reading ballerina Gelsey Kirkland's 1986 expose of the ballet world, Dancing On My Grave. I've never been interested in dancing myself, having found out early that I was born with two left feet. However, middle age has found me reasonably well read in the areas at which I excel, and that has given me the freedom and interest to read about sports, ballet, and other things that have never been a part of my personal universe. I already know about my interests; now let's see about someone else's.I became more interested when I found out that the physical therapist I've worked with is a ballerina with Pacific Northwest Ballet (NW USA). I was shocked! I asked her whether that wasn't pretty terrible for the body, but she said things were changing, and indeed, although she is a slender person who walks with the distinctive grace of a ballerina, she is not emaciated, and appears to be the picture of health. So when I ran across Kelly's e-book, given me as part of a gift bundle, I decided to have a look.Kelly has done a lot of research, and for the most part (and in all ways central to the ballet), she really appears to know her field. She begins with the French "Opera rats" of the 1500s who were either recruited or often, promoted by their mothers as dancer-prostitutes during the dark times. (Its roots are in Greece, where fencing began.) The first publicly famous ballerina was La Fontaine, who starred in "Le Triomphe de l'Amour, at the Academie Royale de Musique, the first recorded appearance of professional ballerinas on the proscenium stage". However, the moneyed class of men showed up for these performances, not to watch the pretty dancers, but to choose a courtesan, and the girls were taught at early ages to preen themselves to this expectation. On the one hand, those who proved themselves desirable got to eat, and so did their families; on the other, they worked like slaves, and in at least one case, a ballerina died young of venereal disease (early 1700s). Though it was possible to live at home and not become a courtesan while dancing ballet, it was unusual. This dubious opportunity had spread across Europe by the 1700's, to Sweden, Italy, and Prussia. The French dancer Camargo created the first dancing slippers, and offered erotic promise as well as improved physical movement on the stage by moving her hemline up nearly to what fashion magazines now refer to as "ballerina length" (comparison mine, based on the photo in the book and her reference to raised skirts). Camargo also choreographed her own works, & not until I had read the full book did I appreciate how much power this represented. Guimard was the last famous French ballerina prior to the revolution.During the "second empire" of the 19th century (a backlash against the French Revolution), Emma Livry declined to wear flame-proofing on her costume because it interfered with the other-worldly appearance she wanted to project as a Romantic dancer. (Here I found myself wondering whether the word of a 14 year old ballerina would permit the exception to be made today!)At a dress rehearsal, she fluffed her gown out and was instantly consumed in flame. She was saved by a stage hand only to live out 8 more months in horror and agony, and then die of her wounds."Russian ballet was rooted in the culture of the disenfranchised," the author explains. Here is where we move off of Kelly's turf and onto mine; she all but ignores the effect of the Russian Revolution, merely noting that there was experimentation with the dance during that period, and that the revolutionary "angry mobs" were outraged when the tsar (here I would add, as brutal a dictator as ever lived) let the peasantry freeze but sent 4 military trucks full of coal to his ballerina mistress, Kschessinska. Consequently, Lenin chose her balcony, which had become a symbol of the effete ruling class, to address his audience after the revolution. (Lenin did not revel in the luxury, but had contempt for it, using her sunken bathtub as an ashtray.) Kelly does point to changes in Russia such as "emancipation of women" and "mass democratization", but does not comment much on how this changed ballet, apart from no longer pushing women into concubinage. I found this glossing over a bit strange, since she had just stated that Russia was the center stage of ballet; it could be she had difficulty obtaining more material. By 1931 (and Stalin), international ballet superstar Pavlova was able to dance her way to an early grave by dancing while very ill against her doctor's wishes.The 20th century introduced the choreographer as the new, higher power in ballet. Kelly puts more voice and less detachment into the second half of this ballet history, taking serious exception to New York's late star director, George Balanchine, whose emphasis on frailty among his dancers and caustic remarks about the appearance of individual dancers in front of others created the toxic culture of anorexia and bulimia which gradually took over the world-wide stage for ballerinas everywhere. Numerous cited instances of ballerinas starving, yet still feeling too fat, and of instance after instance in which ballerinas were simply fired from their low-paying but hard-won positions if they attempted to advocate for themselves. Gelsey Kirkland's memoir (the one I had originally set out to read, but couldn't find) says that Balanchine told her "repeatedly" to "eat nothing". Ballerinas were subsisting on coffee and chewing gum, and in addition to many other health problems, experienced more fractures because their bones had been deprived of nutrition.One small error was the author's nod to women's rights issues and their effect on ballet. I understand that her realm is not feminism, but ballet, but once she decided to include it, she needed to avoid making errors. She says in this volume that "Everywhere,women were burning their bras" but this is one case where there is no citation. This is because it is myth and legend, rather than fact. Again, she has moved out of her field and into mine (contemporary U.S. and Russian history), and offered a non-fact to bolster her own arguments.The arguments themselves are well-taken here, and are well argued in the book. Though there are progressive companies, mostly, it appears, on the US west coast and Canada, as well as Australia, where dancers are offered nutritional expertise and encouraged to envision a future without ballet, abuse and eating disorders continue. Most problematic may be that the very ballerinas who need work teaching, are those who previously starved themselves in the "old" Balanchine-rooted style, are coaching the new ballerinas and mis-teaching and mis-training them to harm their own bodies.I won't go into more detail about the latter half of the book, because something should be left to the reader. There are myriad outstanding quotations that make this a very interesting read.The jury is still out, in my opinion, as to whether there is any wholesome way for a ballerina to practice and earn a living while taking care of her body. Companies that embrace modern dance, such as Alvin Alley (California, USA) seem to fare a little better, but that is my take merely from the little knowledge I have, put together with having read this book. If the history of ballet interests you, I encourage you to read it yourself.

  • Cari
    2019-04-30 05:45

    Ballerina is a decent read, especially the first half covering the history of the art form. There's emphasis placed on individual dancers giving context to various points being made and Kelly does a fair job in her presentation. The second half covering the 20th century rambles a bit and loses focus in parts, but it still holds the reader's attention well enough that reading through to the end doesn't feel like a painful slog. My one complaint is her attempts to end on a happy note, trying to be uplifting as she claims great progress in the traditionally abhorrent atmosphere behind the curtain: no exploitation, drastic reduction in eating disorders, much increase in pay, etc. Nonsense. Certainly ballerinas now experience a much improved quality of living but there are still major, even unacceptable, practices plaguing the dance world. I could've done without the final chapter but recognize the fact that writers dislike ending on a down note and readers prefer happy (or at least happy-ish) endings.Overall a good read but probably only for above average ballet lovers.

  • Sera
    2019-04-29 03:51

    Excellent, albeit brief, history of the role of the ballerina in France, Russia and the United States. This book provides an excellent introduction into the genre and paints a horribly negative picture of what the ballerina has endured over time. Like many women, I always idealized the ballerina as the perfect human form with an incredible talent that few could master. The real story is that these woman have been abused, degraded and paid poorly. The good news is that the attitude is changing to one where where these woman are viewed as athletes. However, the changes are currently taking didn't really convince me that the sacrifice that these women had made and the resulting payoffs were worth it. I certainly won't be encouraging my 4 year old daughter to go down the ballet path, that's for sure.

  • Jenna Mazur
    2019-05-20 01:51

    Wow, great book covering how the art of ballet evolved from the start, in Paris, to present day. We learn about the different problems each century faced: prostitution, catching on fire, injury, lack of funds, suppressed rights, critical body issues and insufficient job coverage and pay. Sometimes the language is repetitive, but the ammount of research Deirdre Kelly would have had to do to create the work is astounding.

  • Katherine
    2019-05-02 22:06

    Interesting read. Much more readable than Apollo's Angels, which I'm still working my way through. This one focuses mainly the history of the ballerina. I read it quickly after the first chapter (this might be my problem with Apollo's Angels - too much about the history of kings prancing around in the 17th century France). I learned a lot.

  • Rosemary Atwell
    2019-05-04 23:56

    Canadian journalist Deidre Kelly's behind-the-scenes exploration and history of dance through the revered and enigmatic figure of the ballerina is particularly thorough, well-researched and written. The juicy subtitle aside, its contents will come as no surprise to anyone who has had any involvement with this relentlessly demanding profession. The 'tyranny of thin' ( i.e. the ideal body - preferably anorexic ) is particularly well-documented, as are other hazards, including long training, injuries and early retirement ( until recently, around forty but now closer to thirty with new contemporary choreographic demands on the body ). As Kelly says, ' It's hard, it's injurious and the pay stinks.' As a professionally-trained ex-dancer and teacher, I really enjoyed this book, but it's certainly a realistic and clear-eyed look at a beautiful, but deadly life and career.

  • Jennifer
    2019-04-25 05:52

    oh boy. not a great read for me. i know kelly's work from the globe and mail and have appreciated her columns over the years. she previously worked as the dance critic for the paper. so i went into the read hoping for good things. but i found it really clunky and awkward, the flow was totally off for me throughout the read. there were parts of the book that were very interesting, but things just didn't go deep enough for me on those occasions. i also enjoyed moments in the book talking about dancers i have had the good fortune to see perform, and particularly appreciated the canadian content. i guess, for me, the subtitle should have been a clue -- the book definitely felt totally sensational... but not in a constructive or good way. bummer!

  • Alice
    2019-05-17 22:56

    I would gladly make it a criminal offense to criticize skinniness in ballet. Skinny is beautiful, deal with it!

  • Audrey
    2019-04-28 22:54

    Very thought provoking, especially if you've made it through the refiners fire that is a solid ballet training. However, some of the most shocking and valid modern and relevant material is barely skimmed over--Baryshnikov, Balanchine, and Gelsey Kirkland. Most of the focus is on the early days of ballet and the admittedly titillating details of how ballerinas carved out fabulous lifestyles for themselves as both dancers and concubines. Disappointingly vague on the horrific Balanchine/NYCB 1970's-1980's male dominated era of ballet, though. I will be picking up Kirkland's much more honest "Dancing on My Grave" again to refresh my memory on that.

  • Jean Ramsay
    2019-05-10 02:00

    The best thing about this book, about ballet and about what ballerinas have been put through and have done to themselves, is the assurance with which Deirdre Kelly speaks of the ballerina. She definitely speaks of them as strong, self-empowered people with their own minds and their own wants in a way that is sadly lacking in most ballerina narratives. This book is a fresh take on a much beloved and much examined subject - showing the truth without belittling those she is exposing.

  • Courtney
    2019-05-15 21:56

    As a ballerina myself for 14 years this book was an amazing book of what went on so many years ago and even now for the life of a professional ballerina. Dark and enlightening to read, so many things I would have never known.This was a wonderful read and I have a new found respect for the challenging and difficult life the professional ballerina can endure past and present.

  • Natty
    2019-05-13 23:58

    A great book that shares the history of ballet and the ballerina from its beginning to present day. The author is able to share history without it being boring. Very interesting and well researched. A book I will be keeping in my collection to read again.

  • Kate
    2019-05-11 01:55

    This was a really engaging look at the trajectory of women in ballet, how they have transformed the art form, and of course, how the men in dance have tried to keep women on a pedestal - because if she's up there, you can do whatever you want to her.It's fascinating. While I've never been interested in dancing ballet myself, I do find that whole word really .... I don't know. Attractive isn't the right word, but I love to watch these elite dancers where nothing is as it seems. I go to youtube to watch various ballerinas walk viewers through how they sew* their shoes. I find it to be very calming.*sewing includes: hammering, shellacking, burning, cutting and yeah, sewing the ribbons on at the end. EVERY. DAY. Ballerinas are more hardcore than you.

  • Rod
    2019-04-22 06:00

    An informative read that explores the history and politics of ballet, and how the ballerina as "symbol of perfection" has affected (and continues to affect) the careers and personal lives of women. Readers eager to learn more about the world of ballet, including the work conditions of today's ballet dancers in Canada, will be thoroughly engaged by Deidre Kelly's book.

  • Terre Arena
    2019-05-11 05:12

    A fascinating look at the dark behind the light that is the beauty of ballet.

  • Linda Moore
    2019-05-04 06:03

    Readable and interesting

  • Jessica
    2019-05-21 04:42

    An interesting portrait of ballet's past, present, and future.

  • Sherri
    2019-05-16 04:45

    This covers the history of ballet from its beginnings as a courtly amusement to an art form. It's an easy read, not bogged down in academic language and thankfully with English translations when needed. There's gossip and some juicy stories about early ballerinas who moonlighted as courtesans. Kelly expresses her admiration for them, seeing them as businesswomen and not fallen women. Some fared better than others, opportunities varied as in any industry. Kelly also shines light on the harsh realities of a career in dance-- the low wages, still an unfortunate reality; damage done to a dancer's body and the very short career of a performer. Most of this is already known and accepted but reading example after example emphasizes it. She's not fond of Balanchine and the damage his influence had on creating generations of undernourished unhealthy dancers. Some of that damage is slowly being undone and she notes changes, such as dancers who took on the administration and won.

  • Jo Oehrlein
    2019-04-21 04:55

    More academic/research-y than I thought it would be. She really focused on prostitution/concubinage in the beginning of ballet as a profession. The focus was on France with just a little bit on Russia right at the turn of Russia -> USSR.Then, with the rise of the ballet impressario and artistic director, ballerinas become even more important on stage but are under complete control of a male impressario/director/choreographer off stage. Really focusing on Ballet Russes and then NYCB.She also attributes eating disorders and many injuries associated with ballet to the body appearance preferred by Mr. B.She talks about pay and labor disputes and how long a dancer can dance. Some of her examples here come from Canada.

  • Kay
    2019-04-26 00:46

    A nice history of ballet. Very detailed and presented in an engaging way. The shit-talking of Balanchine is refreshing, given that almost everyone else in the ballet world reveres him without question. (When in fact he was a misogynist asshat whose main goal was to control women. His choreography is stunningly beautiful, but that doesn't excuse him from his serious personal and professional failings.) I will say that this author appears to get overeager, giving you an overview of what is to come next, then backtracking and going into detail about the story, which can be irritating. But overall it was a really interesting read.

  • Susan Bazzett-Griffith
    2019-05-07 04:03

    This book read much more like a textbook or doctoral thesis on the history of ballet and the pitfalls of the dance world, from it's inception and time of concubines and prostitution to the modern day eating disorders and competitive nastiness. I found myself skimming a lot because the writing was so dry. Considering how much I like reading about ballet, and how much I did not like reading this book, I'd have to say I could only recommend it to people who have a truly academic interest in it's research, but otherwise, the cover and title were the best parts of this book.

  • Nupur Vanderlick
    2019-05-20 03:43

    Engaging and Intriguing This book contains a wealth of history on the art form that is ballet. Kudos to the author on the depth and breadth of research that went into writing this book. It shows. The photographs and illustrations in this book were telling and truly take you back in time. Ballet is beautiful because of its rich history and because of the strong and relentless women who dance and live it.

  • Kevin Neilson
    2019-05-17 00:55

    This is well-researched, but a little dry in spots. The range may be too encompassing. I found the second half, about the travails of the modern ballerina, to be the most interesting part. It's a fascinating world in which people train for over a decade, becoming highly skilled, for a tiny chance to get a job which pays a pittance and a career that will last, if lucky, for ten years, before one retires at a young age with no job skills.

  • Colleen
    2019-05-09 01:47

    Fascinating & colorful, I found this book to be well-written and incredibly well-researched. I'd recommend this book to someone looking for a history of ballet with a decidedly feminist slant, which I thoroughly appreciated. Plus, it is completely lacking the ass-kissing of Balanchine of which apparently everyone else has subscribed. An enjoyable critique of ballet history and the life of a ballerina.

  • Laura
    2019-04-30 23:44

    I read this book while I was researching for an art history paper on Degas' "Little Dancer, Aged Fourteen". I was looking for insight on what her life would probably have been like...and I got that, plus so much more. Reading about all that ballerinas went through - what they *still* go through physically, despite improved conditions in modern times - made me glad that my parents never put me in ballet as a child despite my requests.

  • Jessica
    2019-04-21 23:10

    I would recommend reading this in conjunction with Jennifer Homan's Apollo's Angels. This book was fascinating, and rightly examines the role of the ballerina. I particularly applaud Kelly's research into recent and ongoing situations. As a medieval historian, I tend to forget that situations CAN be modern haha, so I really appreciated the chapters on the current and future state of ballet. I would have liked to see a bit more historical analysis, but that's just because of my own bias!!

  • Liv
    2019-04-22 00:59

    A very easy-to-read history of an art form that has been around for hundreds of years. I learned a lot about its origins, its many challenges over the years, and just how many Canadian connections there are responsible for positively refashioning and remoulding ballet into the profession it is today. Well researched and also provides many biographical snippets of dancers over the years.

  • Christina Dudley
    2019-04-21 01:53

    Liked this quick read that is both a history of ballet and famous ballerinas and a discussion of contemporary ballerinas fighting eating disorders, low pay and depression. The historic part was fascinating, and I wanted to hear more about anorexia and Russian ballerinas, but all in all a thumbs-up.

  • Sarah Jackson
    2019-05-03 00:06

    This is an excellent book on the inside story of the ballet world. The behind the scenes of the art of ballet is usually kept secret from the public, so this was a fascinating read about the struggles dancers go through to make it look flawless and effortless. This is a good read for ballet fans and aspiring dancers.

  • Elizabeth Kiem
    2019-05-02 01:49

    Fabulous look at the dark side of an ideal. Ballerinas as prostitutes, gutter-snipes and eating disordered. And while I'm sure Balanchine was a tyrant and Baryshnikov arrogant, Kelly's got a streak of misogyny wide as a tour jets.