The Old Ballerina

The Old Ballerina


by Ellen Cooney

Published by: Coffee House Press

208 Pages, 5.80 x 8.80 x 0.80 in

  • Hardcover
  • 9781566890861
  • Published: September 1999


In her third novel, Ellen Cooney tells a story about the creative process, and about how art can and must happen anywhere and everywhere, including a small mill town, outside the academy and outside the confines of the art institutions of the city. In a world of corporate homogeneity and the mass-marketization of culture, the story of Mrs. Kamsky is emblematic of the independent voice and the creative spirit, the little artist that could.

Grieving the defection of her protge and recovering from a hip injury, Mrs. Kamsky unexpectedly renews her passion for life and for dance when she teaches a class of teenage boys, including one who's recruited for ballet lessons as punishment for breaking a classmate's leg in anger. Ellen Cooney tells a story about the artistic drive to create, alternately narrated by the central character's closest friends, her loving and demanding students, her discontented protge, and her inquisitive neighbors.
With prose that performs pirouettes and plis, The Old Ballerina tells a story about teaching and learning, the individual and the community, and above all, the healing power of the arts.

"Light and lovely, Cooney's third novel (after Small Town Girl and All the Way Home is about the way one superb ballet teacher, indomitable, aging Irene Kamsky, touches the lives of her students and alters her community. From a dance studio in her ranch-style home, located in a suburb north of a nondescript town, she and her art shape the stories of many characters, each narrating his or her own chapter in this slender novel. Among the unpretentious ballerina's admirers (all refer to her, respectfully, as Mrs. Kamsky_ are her devoted assistant, Margaret Dunlap, who gets the job under false pretenses, but learns to love her employer, doing everything from caring for Mrs. Kamsky's arthritic hip to monitoring her record collection; tortured Lisette, Mrs. Kamsky's legendary student, once a serious ballerina until foot injuries forced her to become a teacher herself, and who drinks to drown her sorrows; and Mrs. Kamsky's current class of "boy ballerinas" who describe, in first-personal plural, their feelings before and after their first public performance. While its plot is sli