Beach Reads: 4 Recently Released Novels Set in the Dance World

There’s no shortage of dance-based nonfiction on seemingly endless topics, but fiction shelves have seen a recent influx of stories set in the studio and backstage. Whether you’re craving an escapist romance or a historical thriller, a dreamy fantasy or a piece of contemporary literary fiction, these novels keep one toe in the dance world as they paint vivid imagined realities.

Nocturne by Alyssa Wees

The outline of a ballerina balancing in fourth position stands out against a black background dotted with stars. She reaches to the outline of a white dove. In her bodice is a depiction of a couple before a grand white house and a bed of roses. In looping white text: "Nocturne, Alyssa Wees"
Cover image courtesy Penguin Random House.

Set in 1930s Chicago, this darkly romantic fantasy follows Grace Dragotta, an orphan who rises to become the prima ballerina of the fictional Near North Ballet. Her world takes a turn for the uncanny when the troupe’s new, mysterious patron takes an interest in her career, and the fairy tales and folklore of the ballets she dances are revealed to hold more than a sliver of truth in reality. Pitched as Phantom of the Opera meets Beauty and the Beast, Alyssa Wees’ lyrical second novel explores grief, friendship, and the power of art to soothe, heal, and build a path forward in the wake of life’s inevitable tragedies.

Dances by Nicole Cuffy

A modernist illustration of a Black ballet dancer from the shoulders up. She is shown from the side. Her face is turned from the viewer, arms in a high fifth. The text reads "Dances: A novel, Nicole Cuffy"
Cover image courtesy One World.

At a fictionalized New York City Ballet, 22-year-old Cece Cordell is catapulted to a new level of visibility when she becomes the first Black ballerina promoted to principal in the company’s history. From the outside, she seems to be at the pinnacle of everything she’s ever wanted, but her interior life reveals a more complex landscape: nagging perfectionism, a constant questioning of whether she truly belongs, the daily physical negotiations of life in ballet, the shifting nuances of her relationships—in particular, her memories of her older brother, who had encouraged her interest in dance as a child but vanished from her life shortly after she landed her apprenticeship. At turns lyrical and raw, grounded and ephemeral, Nicole Cuffy’s debut novel offers a finely etched character study of a dancer learning to embody her whole self.

Pas de Don’t by Chloe Angyal

A brightly colored illustration shows a ballerina in an orange tutu balancing in fourth position on pointe. Beside her is a male dancer in practice clothes and a therapeutic boot. They hold hands behind their backs as they look at each other with a smile. In the distant background, Sydney Opera House is visible. In white letters: "Pas de Don't, Chloe Angyal"
Cover image courtesy Chicago Review Press.

Chloe Angyal, author of the incisive Turning Pointe: How a New Generation of Dancers Is Saving Ballet From Itself, brings her deep knowledge of the ballet world to a romantic comedy set at two fictional elite companies. When her onstage partner and fiancé is caught cheating with a young corps member, New York Ballet principal Heather Hays takes a guesting gig at Australian National Ballet—the only company willing to hire her without her “American ballet royalty” ex—and meets Marcus Campbell, a soloist working his way back after a horrific onstage injury. Sparks fly as Marcus shows her around Sydney, but there’s one problem: Pas de Don’t, the nickname for the company’s strict no internal fraternization policy. Like many of the best works in the genre, Pas de Don’t uses romance to explore a broader range of experiences— grief, healing from emotionally abusive relationships—while also celebrating the power of dance and unpacking pervasive issues in ballet culture, including unhealthy power dynamics, sexual harassment, and sexist double standards.

The Spectacular by Fiona Davis

An image of Radio City Music Hall is washed in neon light. Splashed across in neon letters is "Fiona Davis, New York Times Bestselling Author of The Magnolia Palace" and beneath it, "The Spectacular."
Cover image courtesy Dutton.

Marion Brooks risks estrangement from her father, sister, and soon-to-be fiancé when she bucks expectations of what a pretty young woman in the 1950s should do with her life and accepts a gig as a Rockette. But when the infamous “Big Apple Bomber” targets Radio City Music Hall, Marion is drawn into the investigation alongside psychologist Dr. Peter Griggs, placing her exhilarating and exhausting new life as a Rockette at risk as they race to unravel the bomber’s identity. Inspired by the real-life “Mad Bomber” case and steeped in the storied history of the Rockettes, Fiona Davis’ intricately woven thriller is, at its core, a love letter to Radio City Music Hall and the families found and made backstage. 

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