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Cover for The Ballerinas

The Ballerinas

A Novel

Rachel Kapelke-Dale


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Other Editions of This Title:
Digital Audiobook (12/6/2021)
Paperback (11/8/2022)
Library Binding, Large Print (5/25/2022)

December 2021 Indie Next List

“Female friendship and betrayal set against the intriguing milieu of ballet — where ambition is set against a ticking clock. The Ballerinas is a glittering story with compelling characters and an unexpected yet satisfactory twist.”
— Jann Griffiths, BookSmart, Morgan Hill, CA
View the List


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.

"Enthralling...irresistible." ––New York Times
"A standing ovation to this debut." ––E! News

Thirteen years ago, Delphine Léger 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 thirty-six 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, 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 a magnetic cast of characters you won't soon forget.

Praise For The Ballerinas: A Novel

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

"The ways in which women torture their bodies in pursuit of creative dreams make for enthralling fictional drama. This terrain proves irresistible in The Ballerinas, a debut novel set in the hothouse atmosphere of the Paris Opera Ballet academy as three students grow up, compete, forge friendships and embark on a trail of destruction...Kapelke-Dale has thought through the larger picture, and examined how trauma and asymmetries of power derail so many dancers."
––The New York Times

"A standing ovation to this debut."
––E! News

"This highly readable, dramatic look behind the curtains is an unqualified success."

"A well-crafted thriller for fans of Megan Abbott's."
––Publishers Weekly

"Deliciously observed emotional tangles"
––Library Journal

"You'll never look at ballet the same."
––Book Riot

"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

"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

"Deftly constructed and crackling with tension, THE BALLERINAS is a stunner of a novel, with electric prose and careful observations on loyalty, ambition, power, and rage within the crucible of intense female friendships. I tore through this unforgettable thriller."
––Andrea Bartz, New York Times bestselling author of We Were Never Here

"Wonderfully atmospheric, THE BALLERINAS is a twirling dream of a story."
––Araminta Hall, author of Our Kind of Cruelty

St. Martin's Press, 9781250274236, 304pp.

Publication Date: December 7, 2021

About the Author

Rachel 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.

Conversation Starters from

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?