“Outside the Limelight” by Terez Mertes Rose

We all know about ballerinas whose stories are exceptional. But what about those are aren’t principal dancers? What about the ones who don’t struggle up from unusual circumstances to become household names? What about the ones who do everything by the book and dedicate their lives to ballet only to remain in the corps for their entire careers?

“Outside the Limelight” is the story of two sisters, Dena and Rebecca, who dance in the same company. Rebecca is the older and more beautiful of the two, while Dena is the younger and more talented, and is promoted over Rebecca. Until she has to undergo a potentially career-ending surgery.

This book is about ballet, and balletomanes like myself will find the detailed and life-like descriptions of company class, rehearsals, performances, and the crushing grind of exhaustion and injury that all dancers face, to be reason enough to read this book. However, readers who wouldn’t know the difference between Sleeping Beauty and the Sugarplum Fairy shouldn’t be put off: mainly this is a story about sibling rivalry (and love), and the toll that being in a highly competitive profession, where hard work can’t substitute for talent and stars peak young and fade early, takes on your body, mind, and spirit. Dena has to deal with months of rehab and the possibility that her promising career might be cut off before it’s even truly gotten underway (as someone dealing with my own health problems right now, I found this aspect of the novel particularly compelling), while Rebecca has to face the fact that she’s never going to be promoted out of the corps or gain the love of the older, powerful man she has a crush on. Dance may be their life for both of them, but both of them come to understand that there’s more to life than dance, and they need to transform from submissive and confused little girls to assertive women who can fix the problems in their lives, including their own broken relationship. The ending is bittersweet but still hopeful, and the reader is left with the feeling that these two women will find fulfilling lives no matter what happens with their ballet careers.

My thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for providing a review copy of this book. All opinions are my own.

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