One of our recommended books is The Ballerinas by Rachel Kapelke-Dale


Dare Me meets Black Swan and Luckiest Girl Alive in a captivating, voice-driven debut novel about a trio of ballerinas who meet as students at the Paris Opera Ballet School.

Thirteen years ago, Delphine abandoned her prestigious soloist spot at the Paris Opera Ballet for a new life in St. Petersburg––taking with her a secret that could upend the lives of her best friends, fellow dancers Lindsay and Margaux. Now 36 years old, Delphine has returned to her former home and to the legendary Palais Garnier Opera House, to choreograph the ballet that will kickstart the next phase of her career––and,

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Dare Me meets Black Swan and Luckiest Girl Alive in a captivating, voice-driven debut novel about a trio of ballerinas who meet as students at the Paris Opera Ballet School.

Thirteen years ago, Delphine abandoned her prestigious soloist spot at the Paris Opera Ballet for a new life in St. Petersburg––taking with her a secret that could upend the lives of her best friends, fellow dancers Lindsay and Margaux. Now 36 years old, Delphine has returned to her former home and to the legendary Palais Garnier Opera House, to choreograph the ballet that will kickstart the next phase of her career––and, she hopes, finally make things right with her former friends. But Delphine quickly discovers that things have changed while she’s been away…and some secrets can’t stay buried forever.

Moving between the trio’s adolescent years and the present day, Rachel Kapelke-Dale’s The Ballerinas explores the complexities of female friendship, the dark drive towards physical perfection in the name of artistic expression, the double-edged sword of ambition and passion, and the sublimated rage that so many women hold inside––all culminating in a twist you won’t see coming, with magnetic characters you won’t soon forget.

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  • St. Martin's Press
  • Hardcover
  • December 2021
  • 304 Pages
  • 9781250274236

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$27.99 indies Bookstore

About Rachel Kapelke-Dale

Rachel Kapelke-Dale is the author of The BallerinasRachel Kapelke-Dale is the co-author of GRADUATES IN WONDERLAND (Penguin 2014), a memoir about the significance and nuances of female friendships. The author of Vanity Fair Hollywood’s column “Advice from the Stars,” Kapelke-Dale spent years in intensive ballet training before receiving a BA from Brown University, an MA from the Université de Paris VII, and a PhD from University College London. She currently lives in Paris.

Author Website


One of the “Biggest Mysteries and Thrillers for the Rest of 2021”–Goodreads

One of “21 Must-Read Books to Cozy Up with This Fall” –Brit + Co

One of the “Top Winter Debuts”Library Journal

“This highly readable, dramatic look behind the curtains is an unqualified success.”–Booklist

“A well-crafted thriller for fans of Megan Abbott’s.”–Publishers Weekly

“Deliciously observed emotional tangles”–Library Journal

The Ballerinas deftly uses the professional dance setting to explore the complexities of female friendships and the lingering impacts of ballet’s patriarchal culture as it hurtles toward the bloody conclusion promised on the first pages.”–Dance Magazine

“You’ll never look at ballet the same.”–Book Riot

“Forever shaped by their friendship and the most grueling artform in the world, three friends navigate love, secrets, ambition and the pursuit of artistic perfection within the hallowed walls of the world’s most prestigious ballet school and company. Engrossing, deft and insightful, I loved THE BALLERINAS—from its provocative opening pages, to its blistering climax, to its exactly right final scenes.”–Cathy Marie Buchanan, New York Times bestselling author of The Painted Girls and Daughter of Black Lake

“Wonderfully atmospheric, THE BALLERINAS is a twirling dream of a story exploring the sacrifices and pain of creation, the shrinking of women and the pressure of always being on show.”–Araminta Hall, author of Our Kind of Cruelty

Discussion Questions

1. Consider the significance of the question on page 2: “But how much is pretty worth?” How does this question come into play throughout the novel?

2. The novel’s structure alternates between Delphine in present-day Paris, and in the past, as she progresses through her years in the academy. How did the structure of the novel inform your reading experience and your understanding of the plot and narrative world overall?

3. On page 34, Delphine thinks, “But when you spend that amount of time onstage, being watched just feels right. That sensation—everyone is watching, everyone is waiting—had mostly vanished in Russia, but it was back now.” In what ways does the theme of being watched versus being seen appear throughout the novel? What are some other themes that you picked up on as you were reading?

4. Compare and contrast Delphine, Lindsay, and Margaux’s characters, and discuss the evolution of their friendship over the years. In what ways are the particular limitations of friendship revealed through this trio? How do the characters’ memories of their friends hold them back from becoming the women they want to be?

5. On page 65, Delphine thinks, “. . . compared with St. Petersburg’s oversize grandeur, Paris felt like a dollhouse. St. Petersburg’s wedding-cake mansions were an oil painting, Paris’s hôtels particuliers a watercolor. St. Petersburg’s skies were Technicolor, Paris’s a muted pastel. Petersburgians were hard, unyielding, while Parisians were—something else.” Compare and contrast St. Petersburg and Paris and their significance in the novel. What do the two cities mean to Delphine? What do each of them represent in her life?

6. On page 118, Delphine thinks, “Did Lindsay now know that you could love someone and they could still betray you, that you could give everything you had and still not be enough?” Consider the relevance of that thought to the secret that Delphine and Margaux are keeping. How does keeping this secret define their relationship and create tension within the novel?

7. What role do men play in the novel? Consider primary male characters like Jock, Dmitri, and Daniel, and secondary ones like Delphine’s father and Louis. In what ways do men in the novel—even the ones who are meant to be “good”—ultimately end up being a disappointment? How does each of these character arcs contribute to the theme of female rage?

8. Consider Delphine’s words to Nathalie on page 126: “There’s an inherent indignity in being in a woman’s body. It’s an exercise in constant humiliation.” In what ways did you see this sentiment manifest throughout the novel? Does the meaning of this change in the context of her words on page 41, “A ballerina is a perfect woman. Thin. Beautiful. Invisibly strong”?

9. The Ballerinas pulls back the curtain on the elite and rarefied world of ballet. Whether or not you are familiar with this world, was there anything new that you learned through reading the novel that surprised or intrigued you?

10. Compare and contrast Delphine’s mother and the other maternal figure in her life, Stella. What roles do each of these women play in her life? How do they influence the woman Delphine ultimately becomes? In addition, in what way do the teachers and more senior company members, such as Nathalie in POB serve as parental and authority figures for Delphine and the rest of the trio?

11. How are Delphine’s Tsarina and Crybaby ballets significant in the larger context of the novel? In what ways might Delphine be projecting her personal experiences onto each of these ballets? In your opinion, is it possible for an artist to create without projecting these experiences?

12. Consider the epigraph from Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead by Tom Stoppard at the beginning of The Ballerinas. After finishing the novel, why do you believe the author chose to open the novel with these lines?

13. Examine the scene of Lindsay’s birthday dinner, including the fatal moment at the end. What emotions did this evoke for you? In what ways do you see the entire novel building to this moment? Overall, how did the ending of the novel make you feel? What do you think the future holds for Delphine, Lindsay, and Margaux, beyond what the author tells us?




– September 1995 –

Margaux stumbled into my dorm room, groaning as she fell back against the wall. “I hate the yellow.”

“You love the yellow.”

She scanned my body. “It’s not fair. You’re so pale, you look great in pastels. So basically, you’ll be there looking perfect until we graduate, and I’ll be over here looking like—like—”

Like she had the stomach flu. But even at thirteen, I knew better than to finish the thought for her. Every year, we had a new leotard color, and every year, it was a pastel that washed her out. With her brown hair and hazel eyes, her warm beauty looked better in anything else: reds, golds, oranges. She was a Summer, one of our magazines had told us the previous year. With my black hair and blue eyes, I was a classic Winter.

“You’ll get to wear white in a couple of years.”

But we both knew it wasn’t as easy as just waiting. About a quarter of our class disappeared each year after exams. Those final summer days were both exhilarating and heartbreaking as girls—friends—sobbed outside the gates where the school posted our results. We hugged them. We patted their backs. And all the time, our insides were soaring because it wasn’t us. We were still the right shape and size, still good enough.

I threw down my brush with frustration. “Will you do my hair?”

Margaux came over and started scraping the thin black strands into a bun, then let it fall as she grabbed a bottle of hair gel. My hair was too fine to stay up all day without it, and none of us had time between classes to dart back to the dorms. Margaux’s hair never fell out of its bun.

We headed down to the studio together. Ready to see who was there, ready to dismiss them as temporary. Four of our classmates had been thrown out the previous June. The school didn’t have to keep the classes the same size, but they nearly always did, taking students who’d auditioned to fill the empty spaces. This would be the last year that anybody was added to our class, though, because the school didn’t take anybody older than thirteen. Past that point, it was too late; the Paris Opera Ballet style, that famous POB touch, would never be natural to them.

“Only three new girls,” Margaux whispered as I opened the studio door.

“Yeah,” I said grimly. “But if they’re any good, three’s enough.” Enough to jeopardize everything we’d worked for, to push us from the top of the class into the great mass of mediocrities.

There’s a compact between the company, the Paris Opera Ballet, and the academy. Around 150 dancers in the company and perhaps ten have trained anywhere else. But those are always midcareer artists, foreigners. The school trains the vast majority of POB dancers from the youngest possible age, then we join their elite ranks.

Maybe we join them. Maybe some of us will. POB takes ten times more students than it can ever accept into the company, in the hopes that just one will yield the desired results. Which means attending the school is necessary if you want to join the company—but it’s not enough.

Even at thirteen years old, each and every one of us was sure we would be among the chosen. But we kept a hunter’s watch on the competition anyway. We entered the studio with wary eyes and curtsied to the teacher, Marie-Cécile. There were Aurélie and Mathilde, Corinne and Talitha. Some new girl with an overbite so severe that they’d never let her into the company if she didn’t get serious dental work done, fast. POB likes them pretty. A mousy girl, on the small side, staring down at her legs as she stretched, unwilling to look back at us.

And then there was Lindsay.

Twelve, thirteen. It’s the age when everyone’s just legs and eyes, and her wary gaze landed on ours. Beautiful, I thought. It was the first time I’d ever consciously thought that about somebody my age. It was also the first time I recognized that someone was unequivocally prettier than I was. Lindsay had so much hair that her blond bun looked like it was containing an explosion; enormous blue eyes; velvety rose-petal skin.

Class began. She seemed good at barre work, but you can’t tell anything until you get into the center. It’s too hard to really watch someone else at the barre: you’re all lined up and you flip around to work both sides for each combination, the exercises of strung-together warm-up steps. I could actually study her technique only half the time.

I heard my mother’s voice. Focusing on others won’t get you anywhere. Focus on yourself.

But Lindsay was all I could see.

She took a place at the front of the class; she wasn’t ducking out from Marie-Cécile’s gaze just because she was new. Running through the sequences of steps, she had an easy grace. Unlike Mathilde and Talitha, she made it through even the hardest combinations without losing her breath. But it wasn’t until adagio that I saw how good her extension was: she could raise her leg within inches of her head with a pure, steady strength.

She was better than any of us. Better than either me or Margaux, who consistently ranked first and second in our class.

Then we changed our shoes for pointe work and I saw we wouldn’t have to worry.

“Ladies,” Marie-Cécile called, clapping her hands. “Back to the barre, please.”

We’d been en pointe for only a year by then, but we all had our routines down flat. Bandages around the toes—no, I prefer medical tape—put a blister pad there for prevention, but only after you have the callus—coat it all with lambswool. But Lindsay hadn’t mastered it yet. Piles of fluffy wool and American Band-Aid wrappers around her, she sat there frantically trying to stuff her toes into shoes that were just too small for all the shit she was trying to put in there.

“Stop dawdling, Miss Price.”

Lindsay looked up, eyes wide, as Marie-Cécile put her hands on her hips; Margaux and I exchanged glances. It was never good when Marie-Cécile called you out directly. That posture was the only warning sign you ever got before she really lost it.

We all watched as Lindsay tried to shove the overstuffed shoe onto her foot, to pull the back of it up over her heel. As it dangled uselessly off of her toes, she glanced up again.

“Well,” Marie-Cécile said. “Perhaps we should all come back in half an hour, once you’re ready?”

The giggle broke through the eight of us like a wave. And there: there it was. The first time we really saw Lindsay. Glowering up at us all—her gaze frantic, still, but hateful now, too.