The Old Ballerina
Coffee House Press. 1999
My book tour for The Old Ballerina included a Manhattan Barnes and Noble where, after my reading, four elderly, elegant women approached the signing table, not with books, but to talk to me. (They’d already read the book, I would learn.) I knew right away they were dancers and I nearly went into a panic. Here I was, author of a book about dancers and ballet, and I had never even been in studio. I am musically tone-deaf. I am not a graceful mover. I only have rhythm for words, phrases, prose. My experience of seeing staged ballets was minimal–although my reading background was immense, including years in my youth at my town’s library, absorbing dance reviews in The New Yorker. Also I’d seen many videos and I’d been more or less obsessed for a while with George Balanchine. But, I was only a novelist. Was I about to be found out by these four dancers? (They need to be called dancers, even though their professional years were long over, because it’s not something you stop being.) Was I going to be scoffed at for mistakes, for being a terrible fraud? And one of the women said, “We’d like to know, who did you study with, and where have you danced?” Of the quite a few very good moments in my life so far as a writer, this is still number one.
“Light and lovely, The Old Ballerina is a valentine to the transformative power of art.”
“Who says all ballerinas must be beautiful and young? Ellen Cooney tells a story about dance and its restorative powers…Irene Kamsky is an elderly former ballerina suffering from orthopedic problems who earns her living teaching ballet. When her beloved protegee leaves her, a heartbroken Kamsky starts a class for teenaged boys (some of whom are real troublemakers). As the boys learn to love ballet, her passion for art and creativity is rekindled. Feisty, eccentric, and independent, Kamsky is an inspiring protagonist.”