Don’t Think, Dear: On Loving and Leaving Ballet by Alice Robb - review by Lucy Moore

Lucy Moore

Pointe Taken

Don’t Think, Dear: On Loving and Leaving Ballet


Oneworld 294pp £16.99

This book’s title, Don’t Think, Dear, comes from George Balanchine’s patronising instruction to his New York City Ballet dancers in the company’s mid-20th-century heyday. The book itself is about ballet and its modern complexities, looked at especially from the point of view of young women who grew up with Barbies and identify with Fleabag. Robb, who studied at the School of American Ballet in New York until the age of twelve, is the perfect guide, her insider insights balanced by the observations of outsiders and leavened with darts of self-effacing humour.

Setting out to critique ballet through a feminist lens, Robb doesn’t shrink from examining it as ‘a laboratory of femaleness’. ‘The traits ballet takes to an extreme – the beauty, the thinness, the stoicism and silence and submission – are valued in girls and women everywhere,’ she notes in her introduction. ‘By excavating the psyche of a dancer, we can understand the contradictions and challenges of being a woman today.’ It’s not something she returns to explicitly, but it’s a theme the reader carries in her mind throughout.

Mixing memoir, investigative journalism and biography, Robb guides us through the various troubling issues that plague ballet: misogyny, anorexia, masochism and dancers’ inability to be intimate offstage. The details are visceral and grimly compelling, from Tamara Rojo dancing through a burst appendix to the bloodied toe of a dancer’s

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