Don't Think, Dear
On Loving and Leaving Ballet
by Alice Robb
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Pub Date 28 Feb 2023 | Archive Date 25 Apr 2023
An incisive exploration of ballet’s role in the modern world, told through the experience of the author and her classmates at the most elite ballet school in the country: the School of American Ballet.
Growing up, Alice Robb dreamed of becoming a ballet dancer. But by age fifteen, she had to face the reality that she would never meet the impossibly high standards of the hyper-competitive ballet world. After she quit, she tried to avoid ballet—only to realize, years later, that she was still haunted by the lessons she had absorbed in the mirror-lined studios of Lincoln Center, and that they had served her well in the wider world. The traits ballet takes to an extreme—stoicism, silence, submission—are valued in girls and women everywhere.
Profound, nuanced, and passionately researched, Don’t Think, Dear is Robb’s excavation of her adolescent years as a dancer and an exploration of how those days informed her life for years to come.
As she grapples with the pressure she faced as a student at the School of American Ballet, she investigates the fates of her former classmates as well. From sweet and innocent Emily, whose body was deemed thin enough only when she was too ill to eat, to precocious and talented Meiying, who was thrilled to be cast as the young star of the Nutcracker but dismayed to see Asians stereotyped onstage, and Lily, who won the carrot they had all been chasing—an apprenticeship with the New York City Ballet—only to spend her first season dancing eight shows a week on a broken foot.
Theirs are stories of heartbreak and resilience, of reinvention and regret. Along the way, Robb weaves in the myths of famous ballet personalities past and present, from the groundbreaking Misty Copeland, who rose from poverty to become an icon of American ballet, to the blind diva Alicia Alonso, who used the heat of the spotlights and the vibrations of the music to navigate space onstage. By examining the psyche of a dancer, Don’t Think, Dear grapples with the contradictions and challenges of being a woman today.