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Sex, Scandal, and Suffering Behind the Symbol of Perfection

Regular price $29.95 CAD
  • ISBN: 9781926812663
  • Tags: Deirdre Kelly, Literary Non-fiction, Music & Performing Arts,
  • Dimensions: 6.5 x 9.5
  • Published On: 09/07/2012
  • 264 Pages
  • ISBN: 9781771640008
  • Tags: Deirdre Kelly, Literary Non-fiction, Music & Performing Arts,
  • Dimensions: 6 x 9
  • Published On: 10/11/2013
  • 264 Pages

A Globe and Mail top 100 book of 2012

. . . spellbinding yet harrowing . . . —Publishers Weekly

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. Also available in hardcover.

Deirdre Kelly is a journalist, author, and internationally recognized dance critic for Dance Magazine, the Dance Gazette, and the Globe and Mail, where for sixteen years she was the paper's dance critic on staff. A contributor to the International Dictionary of Ballet and the online arts group Critics at Large, she is the author of the bestselling memoir Paris Times Eight. Her articles on dance have also appeared in Elle, Vogue, Chatelaine, and Saturday Night. She lives in Toronto with her husband and two children.


"[Deirdre Kelly] vividly describes the treatment of women in ballet from a historical perspective." -Broadway World

" . . . fast-paced and fascinating . . . a pleasurable read for any balletomane." -Library Journal

" . . . her detailed account of how ballet transitioned from being a means of teaching aristocratic boys and men proper form for fencing and military manoeuvers to an avenue of social advancement for lower-class women is engaging and informative . . . Ballerina is an entertaining book . . . the conversational tone and an abundance of tabloid-worthy gossip makes this a worthwhile read for avid fans of dance looking for an accessible and fun, if not exhaustive, history of ballet." -Dory Cerny, Quill & Quire

"Ballerina is a literary dance of narrative and emotion that pirouettes between rage and sorrow, backstage bleakness and transcendent beauty. A terrific book." -Elizabeth Abbott

"Deirdre Kelly fosters a greater appreciation of this most iconic of female dancers." -Vanessa Harwood

"Deirdre Kelly has been obsessed with dance and the ballerina since she was three years old . . . Now, in her new book, Ballerina: Sex, Scandal, and Suffering Behind the Symbol of Perfection, she pulls back the curtain and gives us a rare peak behind the scenes at what it means in the past and the present to be a ballerina." -Critics at Large

"Deirdre Kelly's new book delivers on its juicy title, providing a thoughtful history of the ballerina as social construct of the idealized woman." -Maclean's

"A concise, often chilling history . . . filled with sex, scandal, heartbreak, and beauty." -Katrina Onstad

"A fascinating portrait . . . the ballerina emerges as a true sexual Gothic heroine." -Susan Swan

"A revealing insight into the need for an environment . . . protecting the physical and psychological well-being of the artist." -Margaret Illmann

"After the dancers take their final bows, peek behind the theatre drapes by reading Deirdre Kelly's controversial new book Ballerina: Sex, Scandal and Suffering Behind the Symbol of Perfection." -FASHION Magazine

"Ballerina features the powerful and dramatic stories of some of the industries greatest dancers." -The Dance Journal

"In a painfully riveting book, Canada's dance critic Deirdre Kelly sheds new light on the private struggles of ballerinas." -Flare Magazine

"Kelly exposes, with rich detail, the underbelly of the world that only those with a true calling to dance en pointe could endure. . . . Read this book. You will never look at a ballet production through the same eyes again." -Portland Book Review

"Kelly . . . [is] fresh and adept when summoning the art's spellbinding yet harrowing earlier centuries." -Publishers Weekly

"Much like the mesmerizing figures that inhabit the world of ballet, the beauty of the art form attracts us but the unknown allure what goes on backstage forever holds our intrigue. It's this vast and often dark history that Canadian arts writer Deirdre Kelly delves into and brings to the surface in her latest book, Ballerina: Sex, Scandal and Suffering Behind the Symbol of Perfection." -Elle Canada

"This provocatively titled, impeccably researched history of the ballerina romps through centuries' worth of ballet's dirty little secrets . . . There are many engrossing stories in Ballerina. Ballet lovers will not be disappointed by this compelling read." -Cindy-Marie, Winnipeg Free Press