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Dancing for Degas

3.69  ·  Rating Details ·  1,666 Ratings  ·  225 Reviews
In the City of Lights, at the dawn of a new age, begins an unforgettable story of great love, great art—and the most painful choices of the heart.

With this fresh and vibrantly imagined portrait of the Impressionist artist Edgar Degas, readers are transported through the eyes of a young Parisian ballerina to an era of light and movement. An ambitious and enterprising farm g
Paperback, 400 pages
Published March 16th 2010 by Bantam (first published 2009)
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Girl With a Pearl Earring by Tracy ChevalierThe Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar WildeThe Da Vinci Code by Dan BrownThe Birth of Venus by Sarah DunantGirl in Hyacinth Blue by Susan Vreeland
Art & Artists in Fiction
67th out of 532 books — 856 voters
The Painted Girls by Cathy Marie BuchananDancing for Degas by Kathryn WagnerWith Violets by Elizabeth RobardsDancing Through Fire by Kathryn LaskyThe Art Forger by B.A. Shapiro
Degas Fiction
2nd out of 13 books — 6 voters

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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
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Jeanette  "Astute Crabbist"
Feb 20, 2010 Jeanette "Astute Crabbist" rated it did not like it
Shelves: barf-bag, all-fiction
This is the kind of book that was made for negative star ratings, which unfortunately are not an option. I would assign this one a minus 2 stars.

This book is so bad that I just want it out of my life! I got as far as page 189, then had it sitting around for weeks. I kept telling myself I should finish it and write a review because it was a First Reads win. Dumb on my part, since I now know for certain that reviewing First Reads books has no bearing on future wins.

The first 106 pages of the boo
Christine Goldbeck
Apr 30, 2010 Christine Goldbeck rated it it was amazing
Being an artist predispositions me to read books about artists. Alas, I have found there are GREAT books, good books and no-so-good novels that re-create the lives of our master painters. "Dancing for Degas: A Novel" is a GREAT book and Wagner is a darn good writer and storyteller.

The Impressionists, visual art, dance, Paris, politics, and women's history play prominent roles in this novel, which was obviously well researched. Of course, liberties were taken. After all, this is a novel of histor
Not a lot here for discriminating readers. The first parts of the plot are predictable, and the end abrupt and not well connected to preceding events. Most of the characters are one-dimensional, and there is little emotional nuance to plumb. As historical fiction, the book lacks a really distinctive sense of nineteenth-century Paris.

Disappointing, as the situation and scenes of the action have potential. Unfortunately, this book is a great example of the "telling vs. showing" that writing teach
I found this book to be utterly enthralling. Sounds dramatic, I know, but I just couldn't put it down. The story captivates to such a extent that the outside world recedes. I was reading it on the train during my morning commute and was so engrossed that I didn't realize my train had been off-loaded due to mechanical problems, a fellow passenger had to tap me on the shoulder and tell me to exit the train.

The story is set in the late 1800s in France. The main character is a young woman named Ale
Feb 24, 2013 John rated it really liked it
Dancing for Degas by Kathryn Wagner
Genre: Historical fiction, Belle poque

It is the Belle poque ("beautiful era") in France, a period in French history occurring between 1871 and the beginning of WWI, a time of optimism and when literature, music, theater and the visual arts flourished. Alexandrie, an ambitious and talented ifarm girl from Southern France, has auditioned and been accepted as a ballerina into the Paris Opera Ballet. A student of dance from early childhood, working for her
Feb 16, 2010 Erika rated it liked it
Recommended to Erika by: Goodreads First Reads
Shelves: first-reads
I was intrigued when I won this as a First Reads, and delved into it as both a lover of historical fiction as well as someone with an educational background in art history. While I do think it had promise, it ultimately was just okay for me.

Of course it should be noted that I did receive an ARC - an uncorrected copy which still required editing. I do hope that an editor thoroughly goes through the book to clean up extraneous storylines and improve the writing. At times I found the prose a bit so
Feb 27, 2010 Kimberly rated it really liked it
Recommended to Kimberly by: First Reads win
I'm so excited that I won this book through First Reads! It is a wonderful debut novel on par with Girl With a Pearl Earring and The Birth of Venus as far as the plot is concerned. I have a background in art and I thought that Wagner did a good job of capturing the essence of an artist in Degas. While there are romantic elements to the story, it is much more of a coming-of-age novel that also encompasses French/Parisian society during the later 1800's and the role of women in it. The ballet is o ...more
Nov 19, 2013 Sterlingcindysu rated it liked it
ballet with hippo

I wish there were pictures whenever Degas' sketches or pastels were mentioned.

I was quite apprehensive reading this book--I packed it for a trip and it had to kill time on a 4 hour flight--and my friends' averaged reviews were quite dismal. I thought it was rather good, perhaps a 3.25. Unlike The Luncheon Of The Boating Party this wasn't about a single painting/pastel/sketch but just Degas' work sketching at the ballet during the 1860s. The story of a poor ballerina could have stood on its own
Jul 03, 2010 Heather rated it did not like it
Mercifully this was a quick read to page 177 when I finally got so fed up with the ridiculous banter in this book that I had to quit reading it. As someone who has a degree in art history, I am always interested in books that are based on art, especially a wonderful artist such as Degas. This book read like a high school diary of a mean mother, first time love, and petty cat fights among women. I also can't quite put my finger on how, but the writing itself is atrocious. While I respect Wagner f ...more
Feb 10, 2010 Sandy rated it really liked it
From what I have personally seen, this book is current in the way the dancers treat each other. From the outside looking in, you have no idea how competitive those woman are. All the public sees is the grace and poise radiated from the stage. I found it illuminating what is revealed about the life of dancers off the stage in Paris during this particular time period. I would hope ballet companies no loger expect woman dancers to prostitute themselves for contributions.

Forget the love story. It's
Madalina Puiu
Sep 03, 2013 Madalina Puiu rated it liked it
Tema cartii e foarte bine aleasa, urmand exemplul lui Tracy Chevalier, cel mai probabil scriitoarea mea preferata, de a recrea o poveste si o atmosfera din lumea artei. In schimb insa, Kathryn nu reuseste sa creeze un personaj complet, ii pune in carca multe drame si nelinisti, dar nu ii explica complexitatea cat sa para credibil. In multe pasaje expediaza mult prea repede si necizelat o drama, stilul de scriitura nu ma convinge deloc si nu gaseste cuvintele adecvate pentru a se exprima.

Cartea m
Baletul este o modalitate de expresie a unei stări ce, la suprafaţă, nu poate însemna decât graţie, sensibilitate, candoare – feminitatea întruchipată. Ce se ascunde însă în spatele costumelor diafane şi a zâmbetelor îngereşti nu are, de multe ori, nimic de-a face cu aparenţa sclipitoare şi desăvârşită a dansatoarelor care fac ca dansul lor să pară ceva înnăscut, ceva contopit cu fiinţa lor şi care, tocmai datorită acestei contopiri, pare ceva lipsit de dificultăţi şi de efort. Nimic mai fals de ...more
Jul 18, 2010 Cynthia rated it really liked it
Alexandrie lives in her small village of pepper growers with her family and her dreams of dancing. After years of studying dance with a local ballerina she's deemed good enough to audition for the Opera Ballet in Paris. She makes it in and a new world opens for her. Most exciting is meeting Edgar Degas and becoming his muse or at least one of them. That's where her heartache begins because the more she poses for him, the more they talk, she falls in love but Degas is determined not to have a ful ...more
Feb 11, 2010 Daphne rated it really liked it
Shelves: first-reads
This book was compulsively readable. I won the book on Goodreads as a first read book. The historical fiction art genre that this book falls into is one of my favorites.

Set mainly in Paris from 1865-1872 the story includes life of ballerinas at the Paris Opera Ballet and Edgar Degas' art from the same. The story of Alexandrie's life from a poor young farm girl, to living in Paris as a ballerina working her way up through the ranks in the ballet and her relationship with Degas was fascinating. I
Book Concierge
Alexandrie leaves her small town for Paris in hopes of becoming a ballerina at the Paris Opera Ballet. The fortunes of her family are dependent on her success, but she’s shocked to discover that she will be expected to entertain the gentlemen patrons. If she is lucky and plays her cards right she’ll become a lorette (i.e. mistress) of a wealthy man. If not, she’ll be one of the courtesans engaged in “post-performance” work that is an open secret. Her independent nature and intelligent mind cause ...more
What this book does really well is illustrate the dependence women had on men during the height of the Paris Opera. Our heroine's only options are as follows: 1) Find someone to marry, 2) Find someone who will set her up as a lorette (high-class prostitute), or 3) Sell her body every night after the show. Now, it bothers me a little bit that the author indicated that the Paris Opera was pimping out their ballerinas to the patrons on a nightly basis. There was a bit of pimping that went on, but t ...more
Feb 16, 2013 Sabina rated it it was ok
Alexandrie is a peasant girl who, after years of ballet lessons, joins the Paris Opera Ballet, with hopes of becoming prima ballerina, as well as the mistress of a wealthy patron in order to secure the financial future of her family. She falls in love with Edgar Degas who is a frequent visitor at the ballet. She models for him for years, resulting in some of his most famous works, yet in the end has to decide what she wants her future to be.

I had expected so much more from this book, although I
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Jul 31, 2010 Heather rated it really liked it
Alexandrie is a typical country girl. She helps her family with their pepper farm and doesn’t really expect much more than that. She shows an interest in taking dance lessons, which is a luxury – and that is where the conflict between her and her mother comes in. Alexandrie wants to be the best dancer she can, while her mother wants her to become a famous lorrette and send money home to her family. This tension really forms the heart of this story.

Alexandrie goes to Paris and becomes a part of t
Jan 31, 2010 Leigh rated it liked it
Shelves: goodreads-win
I won this book from Goodreads. I was very excited when it came as I was just about to finish my other book and wondering what to read next. I entered to win this book because I have always been drawn to Degas' work surrounding ballerinas. I took dance for years and was just sure that I, too, would become a ballerina. Alas, I'm not but the movement and elegance of the dance and of Degas' work still entices me.

I've been trying to step out of my regular genre of mystery/thriller books. Maybe I've
Jul 17, 2010 Kathryn rated it did not like it
Having finished all the books I brought along for my European Vacation I sorted through what my mom had available and picked this one. In the same vane as The Girl with the Pearl Earring this book seeks to tell the story behind a famous painting and the "muse" that inspired the great work. Once again for me the writing falls very flat just like Pearl Earring or The Other Boleyn Girl. The author struggles to produce characters who evoke real emotions and sensationalizes the life of Degas and the ...more
Sep 29, 2011 Jen rated it really liked it
Have you ever had a character or a story resonate so deeply with your own life that you feel as if this was you in another life? That's what this book was for me. Alexandrie is a young girl who dreams of escaping her boring life, not to mention her family, in small town France. Her mother enrolls her in ballet lessons and Alexandrie finds the one thing in life for which she will always feel passion. As she dances her way up the social ladder to the Opera Ballet in Paris, she must learn some hard ...more
Feb 07, 2010 Luann rated it really liked it
I've enjoyed the art aspects of books such as Girl with a Pearl Earring and Blue Balliett's series of children's mysteries. I am always led afterwards to read more about the particular artist and become more familiar with their work. Dancing for Degas fit right into that. I enjoyed learning more about Degas and his paintings. I also enjoyed learning about the life of a Paris Opera Ballet dancer in the late 1800s. This is a well-written piece of historical fiction - especially for a first-time au ...more
Feb 28, 2011 Wyndie rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
I am not sure why so many writers think that using first person point of view is a good idea. It is extremely hard to execute. Dancing for Degas is not successful at this. My number one problem with first person POV is that as the reader I need to fall for the main charter. I wouldn’t want to be her friend or even go out for a beer with Alexandrie.

The best word I can think of to describe the book is flat. The writing was dull, the story line was completely un compelling, and the characters were
Anne Borgmeyer
Jun 12, 2016 Anne Borgmeyer rated it did not like it
Terrible. I love this period in history and love historical fiction. This, however, was a poorly written book with a mind-numbing narrator. And to top it off, in the "interview with the author" at the end the author admitted to completely fabricating the shady practices of the Paris Opera Ballet which was pretty much the entire conflict of the story! The setting of historical fiction is NOT meant to be an alternate universe. I would think the Paris Opera Ballet would want to legally pursue this ...more
Mar 21, 2011 Eileen rated it it was ok
Shelves: fiction
This book had a lot of potential (ballet, Paris, Degas!) and I kept going hoping that some of it would pan out, but in the end, this was a disappointment. The writing is flat. The dialogue at the beginning sounded false to me, and it never really improved. The timing of events is also a little odd. Seemingly important events happen in a sentence. One day, Alexandrie is just starting ballet class, and voila, its five years later and she's the star and now she can read. Oops, we just had a war. I ...more
Jul 08, 2010 Donna rated it liked it
This was a good book, just not the book I was expecting, and that is what nagged at me while I read. I was expecting a book about Degas but what I was reading was the story of a young inexperienced girl from county who travels to Paris and rises to a leading position in the Paris Opera Ballet. While discovering her passion for dance and the dark secrets of the ballet Alexandrie does meet Degas and models for his famous ballet paintings but I felt the focus of the book was more on Alexandrie than ...more
Aug 13, 2016 Mary rated it it was ok
I am extremely reluctant to write a negative review of a book. I have never written a book. I have not enjoyed the success that comes with writing a best seller. That said: This book started out strong - a great story about a determined young woman who was different from those she was joining. After an abrupt tense change smack dab in the middle of page 107 - which is in the middle of a chapter the whole style and feel of the book changes as Alexandrie, while still determined, becomes only sligh ...more
Meg - A Bookish Affair
Dancing for Degas tells the story of Alexandrie, a young girl who becomes a ballet dancer. She goes to Paris to join the Paris Opera House where she becomes a sort of muse for Edgar Degas, Impressionist painter of all things ballerina. Subsequently, she falls in love with Degas.

I really liked the character of Alexandrie. The book covers several years of her life and it was very interesting to watch her come into her own.
Laurene Powers
Feb 08, 2014 Laurene Powers rated it really liked it
I really enjoyed this book of historical fiction although some reviews did not feel the story of the ballet was accurately depicted. The story evolved around the Paris Ballet in the late 1800s-early 1900s. Since I had no previous knowledge of the ballet, I can not attest to the accuracy but found the story fascinating. It highlights one ballerina in particular and the incredible effort involved in first being accepted to the ballet, and then the incredible effort involved to remain part of it. A ...more
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Kathryn Wagner currently resides in Washington, D.C. Dancing for Degas is her first novel. Foreign publications for Dancing for Degas include Spain, Holland, Poland, and Romania. She holds a B.A. in journalism with a minor in art and has worked as a staff writer and columnist for several newspapers in North Carolina, Massachusetts, and Virginia. She is currently at work on her next novel.
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