I never danced seriously myself and didn't watch ballet; it was too slow, and there are no words. Then my kids started to take ballet. It very quickly turned into something serious. My elder daughter danced with great dedication for many years, taking class six days a week. All those classes came with parent observation—endless classes where you watch a room full of girls point their feet again and again while I sat on plastic chairs and wooden benches. But slowly (really, it took me years), I began to find the beauty of it. The more I learned, the more I appreciated the art. But—don’t tell my kids—class is still hideously dull to watch.
One of the things that made me grow to love it so much was the passion that of everyone involved: students, teachers, performers. Even the receptionists. Everyone there thought no amount of time, effort or money was ill spent. It’s easy to get caught up in the obsession.
That kind of passionate dedication makes for fascinating characters in a book. And for even more drama in romance, the dancers are ending their dance careers for one reason or another.
Ballerina Bride by Fiona Harper is probably my favorite ballet book for the way it portrays the life of a dancer. Allegra should be at the top of her career, but she’s floundering—personally, professionally, and artistically. Harper nailed that love/hate relationship that many dancers have with their art.
It might look effortless from the outside, but from the inside it was hard and demanding. It was beautiful, but it wasn’t pretty or nice. A fierce kind of beauty that asked for you very soul in return for greatness, and then devoured it without compunction.
Allegra loves ballet; it’s been her whole life. I loved the way this book captures the very insulated world of a ballet company. It’s not until she falls for Finn—the star of the survivalist TV show she’s signed up for—that she’s able to figure out how to have a life outside of ballet.
Sarah Mayberry’s Amorous Liasons is the story of a ballerina who never figured out how to have that outside life and then an injury ends her career. Maddy finds herself the owner of “a broken body and broken dreams” and high tails it to Paris (the perfect place to go when you’re broken hearted) to find her old friend. Her friend Max is also a former dancer with a secret torch for his former partner. The technical dance aspects didn’t ring as true to me, but, oh boy, did Mayberry capture the loss a dancer feels when her career ends. Even decades later, something lights up a ballet dancer when he or she talks about performing and the end of that time is difficult, even to after all that time. I loved watching her grope her way to her own happy ending.
Mindy Klasky's The Daddy Dance is the story of Kat, injured and back in the hometown where she hasn’t lived since high school. Kat comes home determined to get her strength back and go back to the ballet company she loves. There’s a lot more going on in Kat’s book than just her struggle to get strong and her developing romance with her school girl crush Rye. Kat’s family and her discovery of things—and people—she might love even more than ballet add to Kat’s conflict. But she still comes back to her mother’s dance studio and puts her hand on the barre to help her find her center.
A very different kind of end to a career plays out in Marion Lennox’s Her Outback Rescuer. Amy claims to have retired from her promising dance career due to an injury, but she's actually left to take care of her sister. It’s a huge sacrifice. She loved ballet. The hero even compares the loss of her career to his grandmother losing her beloved husband. It really is a bit like a death for Amy. She leaves the big city, leaves behind all her friends, the only life she’s ever known and travels across Australia to make a fresh start for herself and her sister. And she does it with such generosity. I never felt like the sacrifice was made lightly, but she never regretted it. It’s as much a love story of Amy and her sister as Amy and Hugh, who is facing the end to a military career he loved and the start of a new life he’d rather avoid.
Lauren Dane’s Coming Undone begins after the heroine Elise, a former prima ballerina, has accepted that her career is over. She has long since accepted that her dancing days are over. It was a bitter loss, but she’s moved on, moved across the country and opened a small ballet studio of her own. While the ballet plays a very small part in this (very hawt) book, I fell in such sympathy with Elise almost immediately because of the huge loss she’d suffered and how she had come back with such strength.
I even read Kresley Cole’s Dark Needs at Night’s Edge because of Neomie, the ghost ballerina. Okay, also because of Conrad the deliciously tortured hero.
Not enough ballet goodness for you? Did you get sucked into Bunheads or last summer’s reality show Breaking Pointe?
- First Position is a documentary that follows a handful of young dancers as they prepare for a ballet competition. It does a great job of highlighting the sacrifices, the joys and the fears of the young ballet dancer’s life.
- If you’re looking for a gritty, beautifully filmed movie, Beautiful Tragedy follows a group of young girls studying at Perm, one of Russia’s most illustrious ballet schools. The dancer highlighted in the movie is now a first soloist with the Mariinsky Ballet.
- Just want to watch some lovely ballet? One of the world’s most prestigious ballet competitions concluded last month. You can watch the performances of the finalists. Just click, sit back and enjoy as these young dancers make it all look so easy.
Julia Broadbooks writes contemporary romance. She lives in the wilds of suburban Florida with her ever patient husband and bakes ridiculous amounts of sugary treats for her teens' friends. Find her on twitter@juliabroadbooks.