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Dancing on My Grave

3.76  ·  Rating Details  ·  1,449 Ratings  ·  132 Reviews
Dancing on My Grave: An Autobiography, by Kirkland, Gelsey with Greg Lawrence
Hardcover, 288 pages
Published September 3rd 1986 by Doubleday (first published 1986)
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Dec 04, 2013 Sarah rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction
Update: Lord, I'd forgotten how difficult it is to read this book. Gelsey's pain is palpable. What is, perhaps, even more distressing is reading the response here on goodreads. Gelsey never intended to promote anorexia, drug addiction, or promiscuity. She doesn't deserve such contempt from readers. My own reservations aside, it was brave of her to write so candidly about addiction and mental illness, and of the (very real) abuses visited upon her. It's clear to me that she earnestly wishes to im ...more
Dec 04, 2013 Andy rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: little girls that dream about being ballerinas
One of the greatest bad ass ballerinas of all time, Gelsey Kirkland's book is a wild testament to self-mutilation in pursuit of "ballet feet" - a sort of binding for art's sake -to "ballet body" aka anorexia and cocaine snuffling and other forms of rollercoaster recreation.
Her romance with Mikhail Baryshnikov gets a bit overwrought in places, but for the most part whether you like ballet or not I guarantee you'll bury your nose in this one for months to come.
Apr 19, 2013 Bethanne rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
It saddens me when readers rate a memoir based on their perceptions of an author’s choices and struggles.

Dancing on My Grave chronicles Kirkland’s journey to prima ballerina status while battling multiple addictions and bulimia. As you muddle through some of the more cringe-worthy details of her relationship with Mikhail Baryishnikov, you’ll probably find some of the passages in the book difficult to digest.

Still, Kirkland is brave and achingly honest in this memoir. I applaud Kirkland for her e
Apr 09, 2009 Emily rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
I think I might have liked this book IF...

#1 I knew who Gelsey Kirland was. Apparently she was a very famous ballerina and even danced with Baryshnikof (yes, I totally made up how to spell that). But she was pretty famous a few years before I was I missed out.

#2 my thighs were not flabby and did not touch each other when I stand normally. My dream is to have those strong, muscular ballet thighs. Or, if I could have the really thin kind that have a space between them. Man, my jeans woul
Aug 09, 2010 Leslie rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Feb 26, 2010 Shannon rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
My dance teacher told me about this book, and mentioned Gelsey Kirkland's hellish descent into drug abuse, eating disorders, messed up relationships, et al. I kept reading and reading, and the book was good, but I was like, "okay, so her relationships are totally messed up, but where's the coke?" Well, believe me, it takes awhile but it sure does deliver the goods!!! At one point, she actually does a line of sweet and low. I remember that was a joke in high school. Anyway, this was totally enter ...more
Feb 16, 2009 Melinda rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: ballet, sports
Bleah. Why did I want to read this book? I read it years ago when I was interested in Barishnikov's defection from Russia, and also when I was following the careers of ballerinas he danced with. Why I was struck to read it again is beyond me.

This is a pitiful story. Gelsey Kirkland was a gifted dancer, but from the beginning lost and insecure. The daughter of an older alcoholic father (he had 5 marriages and 5 heart attacks), she spends the rest of the book seeking for someone to love her.

She i
Jul 06, 2009 Amy rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Gelsey Kirkland's dancing: 5 stars. Gelsey Kirkland's memoir of dancing: meh. Some here indicate this is required reading for any aspiring ballet dancer, and I'll grant you that it will give you an eye-opening look at the dark side of the dance world. But the focus here is on a mess of a woman who would have found destruction no matter her vocation. I did find it an interesting insight into the world of Balanchine, though, so for that there was value. Beyond that, however, I think an aspiring da ...more
Cherry Radford
Aug 11, 2011 Cherry Radford rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
My favourite dancer biography, despite stiff competition. I have a massive crush on this woman; how could she dance like that (see YouTube) and write like this? Passionate, beautifully written account of her struggle with her demons (including her feelings for Baryshnikov) to achieve her dream of artistic perfection. Couldn’t put it (or the sequel) down.
Jun 13, 2010 Lori rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: girls or boys age 16 and up who love the ballet
For any ballerinas out there this book is a must read. I read this at age 12 when dance was my life. (but I would never let my 12 year old read this-there is adult material in it) The book is a memoir of Gelsey Kirkland from the NYC ballet, a dancer who I had watched every year on PBS with her partner Baryshnikov (Misha).

From Publishers Weekly:
Rarely has a performing artist probed so searchingly and satisfyingly into the wellsprings of creativity as ballerina Kirkland does in this incandescently
Rachel Swords
"Dancing on My Grave" is the first of two autobiographies of one of America's most celebrated ballerinas, Gelsey Kirkland, who is possibly best known for her role of Clara thanks to the filmed production of "Baryshnikov's Nutcracker." Though the book is no longer as controversial as it was upon its initial release, Kirkland's memories may be surprising to some- that her legendary partnership with Baryshnikov was not all smiles and glamour, and her New York City Ballet years showcase a negative l ...more
Jan 25, 2016 Mary rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I really lost patience with this book. It was at least 100 pages too long and seemed to be written too soon, before any of the wounds had healed. She wrote with a chip on her shoulder, which failed to evoke any pity from me, and I came away without a solid understanding of why she put herself through all of that in order to dance. Did she love it? If you watch videos of her dancing, it's incredible, but all you see in this book is the pain and the hurt feelings and a lot of "poor me." Plus, are ...more
Dec 07, 2007 Megan rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Dancers / Dance Enthusiasts
The true life story full of sex, drugs, and ballet.


I reread this for the first time in years at my mother's suggestion. Kirkland's description of the life/structure of life within NYCB (and the dance world in general), the physical and artistic struggles as a ballerina, and the emotional anguish caused by work, love, addiction, etc. were disturbing if only for their accuracy. She goes into great detail about the different challenges of dance (including technical aspects), so that non-dancers
This autobiography is about that famous ballerina of the 70's, Gelsey Kirkland. She is most commonly known for her part as 'Clara' in Mikhail Baryshnikov's 'The Nutcracker'. Anyway I thought this book would be simply written as most autobiographies written by those of a different trade are but it was much the opposite. This story of her life was a whirlwind of information both descriptive and devistating. I was dizzy with facts and information about the secluded world of the professional ballet ...more
Gelsey Kirkland was the biggest prima ballerina in the U.S. in her heyday, a favorite of Balanchine and a partner to Baryshnikov. In this memoir, she writes about her career in a confessional, tell-all style. Her story is sad and bitter-there is very little that shows that she got any joy out of her art at all. She also includes her struggle with anorexia and cocaine addiction and the gory details of her less-than-dreamy offstage relationship with Baryshnikov. If you're looking for a glamorous s ...more
Jan 16, 2014 Renee rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
4.5 stars. I learned much more about ballet than I expected, and I felt Gelsey was very open and honest about her struggles with confidence, eating disorders, drugs, and loving difficult people. Her passion for ballet and quest for perfection came across so well, and I liked when she showed how the reviews were positive regardless of how she felt she danced. She always had her own standards, and sometimes she was pleased with her performances. It was very interesting to see into this world. Well ...more
Jan 23, 2015 Leah rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Gelsey Kirkland’s autobiography Dancing On My Grave is a great book for a dancer looking for a piece of non-fiction. It is a very hard read as the stories she tells can be quite depressing, especially when keeping in mind they really happened to her. The subjects she touches on teach the readers, whether they are dancers or not, how insane ballet can drive a person. Ms. Kirkland is one of America’s most celebrated ballerinas of all time, and with something pretty and dainty on the outside like ...more
Jul 25, 2014 Alice rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I read this book for the first time when I was about 13. My mom was reading it so I borrowed it from her. I remember finding it long-winded and really annoying to read and while some of this was definitely down to my age, I recently reread the book and still found it annoying to read all these years later.
As someone who did ballet for ten years I found the ballet parts interesting, especially Gelsey's fascination with the Kirov and Makarova. Apart from that, I have nothing good to say.
I hate th
Aug 16, 2009 Audra rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book for me hit so close to home, Being an ex-dancer of 33 years. It told you the honest truth about the behind the scenes and a the not so pretty secrets of the ballet world and it's glorious & graceful dancers. Gelsey is one of my Heroes and just as a dancer, but as person, for me to learn how she dealt with and conquered all her obsticles. She is a true Inspiration to me & she be to all dancers. In my opinion this was a wonderful book and should be read by all in the dance world.
Sep 03, 2014 Vivian rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I found this a troubling and sad read. The torture she seemed to be continually subjecting herself to was upsetting, but I think it was something out of her control. I don't see this as a glimpse inside the world of ballet, but rather, the account of someone struggling with mental health issues. Gelsey was never completely stable as evidenced by the multiple plastic surgeries, her constant struggle with bulimia and anorexia off and on throughout this period of her life, and her inability to expe ...more
Sebastian Vasant
Jan 04, 2015 Sebastian Vasant rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I picked up this book in a pile where there weren't many choices and found it riveting. The intense story about a prima (i think) ballerina that gets addicted to much more than the dance, you feel her roller coaster of emotions on and off the stage. I wanted to be there to cheer her on, to tell her she can make it, to go for gold, and was as frustrated as she was by her pitfalls and missteps. I've never been to a ballet, have rarely watched them on tv, except for maybe a version of swan lake eve ...more
Gelsey Kirkland sure can find a way to blame everyone but herself for everything. Still, I enjoyed the book and found the political power plays behind the ballet interesting, not to mention her tortured relationship with Baryshnikov. I even liked her in spite of myself. If you have ever watched her dance with Baryshnikov, say in the Nutcracker from the 70s that PBS plays every year, you might, too.
May 01, 2014 Taylor rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: dancers, teenagers who dance
Shelves: favorites
Best dance book I have ever read. Very well written autobiography.
Angela Dong
Apr 08, 2016 Angela Dong rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: ballet
This is A powerful autobiography! I don't normally read autobiography, but I will suggest it to everyone. Gelsey portraits the actual dance or art world back in the old times. She was manipulated by three men until reaching her middle age, and they were her father, Balanchine, and Mikhail Baryshnikov. They all have one in common: to change Gelsey into someone else. This book shocks me by revealing that women ballerinas had no voices; they cannot express their expectations and ideas back in the o ...more
Nov 17, 2014 Kym rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Really?! It only took me 8 days to read this book? It feels like it has been an eternity. I typically read books faster, but I had such a hard time reading this one. It wasn't so much the crappy choices Gelsey Kirkland made throughout her life, it was her ability to act like she was responsible for screwing up repeatedly, but still sneakily whining and blaming others for her own choices. Turns out (no pun intended) that she wrote another autobiography to follow this one and I heard it is a lot b ...more
Gloria Piper
Oct 14, 2013 Gloria Piper rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction
In her autobiography, Kirkland brings us into the dark side of ballet. While still a teenager, she turns her anger against family into a drive toward stardom, the youngest of ballerinas to attain international renown. Artistic satisfaction escapes her when those she works with or under don’t share her interpretive vision. Often the ballets are stripped to the essentials of athletic performance, to the detriment of any story and its emotion.

Rather than agree to the sterile disciplines, Kirkland
Aug 20, 2008 Abby marked it as to-read  ·  review of another edition
Ooooh!!! The true life story of a professional ballet dancer, filled with sex, drugs and eating disorders. Awesome!

I just mentioned in another book I added (about the dark side of gymnastics) that I really wanted to be a ballerina as a kid. I even checked out all the books at the library about ballet, and memorized the different feet positions, and names of famous ballet dancers around the world INCLUDING the name Mikhail Baryshnikov, who apparently this author has a "difficult relationship" wit
Jun 16, 2014 Grace rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I read this book in high school at some point and would have to read it again to give it an honest rating. 3 stars for the memory of liking it, though the title turns me off like no other. I idolized Gelsey Kirkland as a kid and this book was a bit of a rude awakening for a young, aspiring dancer. It definitely factored into me saying "no thank you" to the world of ballet, and for that I am grateful.
Apr 22, 2012 Janet rated it it was ok
Shelves: biography
Gelsey Kirkland, a lyrical dancer but not an author. Okay, I get it.....dancing is hard. Working with other premier dancers (Mikhail B) and noted choreographers (George Balanchine) was difficult but where was the joy to even begin on this path.

I read this book because it was one of the books much acclaimed because of its editor - Jackie Onasis. Her tome of confessions was very shocking in its day but today it just seems sad. In reading other ballet books, Rudolf Nureyev, I have come to the conc
Emily Von pfahl
Feb 11, 2016 Emily Von pfahl rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction, memoir, ballet
While this book was an interesting and, overall, enjoyable read, it did very little to endear Gelsey Kirkland to me. Most of her problems were of her own making and despite the passage of time she comes across as being frequently whiny and petulant. Perhaps it is merely the knowledge of how she very nearly squandered her amazing talent that puts me off.
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Goodreads Librari...: Minor error in title 3 18 May 17, 2012 04:25PM  
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