Getty Images

Here are 8 Ballet Books to Add to Your Stuck-at-Home Reading List

Updated March 18, 2020

With daily life as we know it on hold, you may not be able to get your ballet fix from hanging out in the studio or going to the theater. But these long days spent at home are just begging to be spent neck-deep in a pile of good books. Whether you're looking for inspiration for the upcoming season or trying to brush up on your dance history, you can never go wrong with an excellent book on ballet. We've gathered eight titles (all available at common booksellers like Amazon and Barnes and Noble) guaranteed to give you a deeper understanding of the art form, or add to your stay-at-home reading list.


"Apollo's Angels" by Jennifer Homans

When it comes to exhaustive ballet records, few books cover the history of the art form quite as thoughtfully as Jennifer Homans' instant classic, Apollo's Angels. Spanning more than 400 years, a handful of continents and countless dancers and choreographers, Apollo's Angels clearly details ballet's past. Come for the history lesson, but stay for the anecdotes that make you feel like you were there. (Random House, 2010).

"Holding On to he Air" by Suzanne Farrell with Toni Bentley

Suzanne Farrell: the quintessential American ballerina who needs no introduction. We've all watched (and obsessed) over anything and everything Farrell-related, but for a glimpse into the mind behind the legend grab a copy of her 1990 memoir, Holding on to the Air. In it, Farrell chronicles her personal life, multi-decade dance career and icon status in a way that's equal parts inspirational and down-to-earth. (University Press of Florida, 1990.)

Small stack of books on a white table next to a white couch with yellow pillows on it.

Getty Images

'Writing in the Dark, Dancing in the New Yorker" by Arlene Croce

When Arlene Croce joined The New Yorker as a dance critic in the early 1970s, the American dance boom was at its peak. On any given day she'd see the likes of Mikhail Baryshnikov or Suzanne Farrell in works by George Balanchine, Martha Graham, Jerome Robbins, Agnes de Mille and Alvin Ailey. Writing in the Dark, Dancing in The New Yorker is a collection of Croce's most beloved essays, covering some of the most important moments in modern American ballet. (University Press of Florida, 2005.)

"Behind the Scenes at the Ballets Russes: Stories from a Silver Age" by Michael Meylac

Show us a dancer who wouldn't give up everything to travel back in time to join the Ballets Russes, and we'll show you a liar. Often cited as the most iconic ballet company of the 20th century, Sergei Diaghilev's touring Ballets Russes brought dance royalty (think Anna Pavlova and George Balanchine) and ballet as we know it to the West. Follow the company from 1909 to 1929 in Michael Meylac's expertly-researched account of the famed troupe. (Bloomsbury Press, 2017.)

Close up of a woman's hands holding an open book and a yellow mug.

Getty Images

"Celestial Bodies" by Laura Jacobs

What's not to love about a book that describes an arabesque as a line that "carries us from ancient sands up into the stars" or 32 fouettés as "a whisk frothing up egg whites?" In this series of poetic essays, dance critic Laura Jacobs might not necessarily teach you anything you don't already know, but then again, that's not really the point. Instead, Celestial Bodies uses ballet basics as a launchpad to create writing as decorative and alluring as dance itself. (Basic Books, 2018.)

"Marius Petipa: The Emperor's Ballet Master" by Nadine Meisner

The Sleeping Beauty, Swan Lake, The Nutcracker... Marius Petipa, the name of the man behind these masterpieces, is practically synonymous with classical ballet. In the newly published Marius Petipa: The Emperor's Ballet Master, the first full-length Petipa biography in English, we're given a behind-the-scenes look into the life of one of the most important choreographers of all time. (Oxford University Press, 2019.)

"Winter Season" by Toni Bentley

With Toni Bentley's Winter Season, another former NYCB dancer chronicles her life and work under Balanchine. Taken from a journal kept by Bentley when she was 22 and facing a challenging winter season with the company, it becomes immediately clear that while Bentley loves her profession, she's acutely aware of the contradictions and roadblocks that arise in the ballet world. If you're craving a read that feels like chatting with a very honest friend, this one is for you. (University Press Florida, 1982.)

"Bolshoi Confidential: Secrets of the Russian Ballet from the Rule of the Tsars to Today" by Simon Morrison

Powerful Tsars, a political revolution, Sergei Prokofiev, a $600+ million renovation and an acid attack—it's all part of The Bolshoi Theater's legacy. Historian Simon Morrison breaks down nearly 250 years of Moscow-based ballet in a way that's surprisingly easy-to-read, even if your grasp of Russian history is less than perfect. And if you're still on the fence, note that there's an entire chapter dedicated to Maya Plisetskaya that's worth the price of admission alone. (4th Estate, 2016.)

Latest Posts


Getty Images

The History of Pointe Shoes: The Landmark Moments That Made Ballet's Signature Shoe What It Is Today

Pointe shoes, with their ability to elevate a dancer both literally and metaphorically to a superhuman realm, are the ultimate symbol of a ballerina's ethereality and hard work. For students, receiving a first pair of pointe shoes is a rite of passage. The shoes carry an almost mystical allure: They're an endless source of lore and ritual, with tips, tricks and stories passed down over generations.

The history of pointe shoes reveals how a delicately darned slipper introduced in the 1820s has transformed into a technical tool that offers dancers the utmost freedom onstage today.

Keep reading SHOW LESS
La'Toya Princess Jackson, Courtesy MoBBallet

Join Memoirs of Blacks in Ballet for Its 2020 Virtual Symposium

Memoirs of Blacks in Ballet, founded in 2015 by writer and activist Theresa Ruth Howard to preserve and promote the stories of Black ballet dancers, is offering three weekends of interactive education and conversation this month through its 2020 Virtual Symposium. The conference, titled "Education, Communication, Restoration," encourages participants to engage in candid discussions concerning racial inequality and social justice in ballet. While it is a space that centers on Blackness, all are welcome. Held August 14, 15, 21, 22 and 28, MoBBallet's second annual symposium will allow dancers to receive mentorship and openly speak about their personal experiences in a safe and empowering environment.

The first event, For Us By Us (FUBU) Town Hall, is a free community discussion on August 14 from 3:30–4:30 pm EDT via Zoom, followed by a forum for ballet leadership. The town hall format encourages active engagement (participants can raise their hands and respond in real time), but the registration invoice also contains a form for submitting questions in advance. The following discussions, forums and presentations include topics like company life as a Black dancer, developing personal activism, issues of equity and colorism in ballet companies, and more. Tickets range from free to $12 for each 60- to 80-minute event.

Keep reading SHOW LESS

Revisiting Pointe's Past Cover Stars: Adji Cissoko (August/September 2011)

We revisited some of Pointe's past cover stars for their take on how life—and ballet—has changed.

Keep reading SHOW LESS

Editors' Picks