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Raising the Barre: Big Dreams, False Starts, & My Midlife Quest to Dance The Nutcracker

3.46  ·  Rating details ·  502 ratings  ·  83 reviews
Like generations of little girls, Lauren Kessler fell in love with ballet the first time she saw The Nutcracker, and from that day, at age five, she dreamed of becoming a ballerina. But when she was twelve, her very famous ballet instructor crushed those dreams—along with her youthful self-assurance—and she stepped away from the barre.

Fast forward four decades. Lauren—sudd
Hardcover, 272 pages
Published November 24th 2015 by Da Capo Press
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3.46  · 
Rating details
 ·  502 ratings  ·  83 reviews

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Dec 04, 2015 rated it it was ok
This was hard to rate. If I was just rating her story starting with attending 6 different shows and the months up to her dancing on stage, I would have made this 4.5 stars. The behind the scenes details were fascinating and Lauren was very funny in her descriptions of the classes that she tried and her nervousness/awkwardness. Unfortunately, I had a hard time in reading the parts that didn't relate to ballet because they seemed to go on for too long and were repeated too many times throughout th ...more
Kessler is an academic/writer, not a dancer (this is important, but lest you forget, she'll remind you every page or so). She's also older than your average dancer (again, she'll remind you). But she still held one of her childhood dreams: to dance The Nutcracker. Luckily for Kessler, the artistic director of the local ballet company was willing to give her a shot at a minor role.

Most of the book cover's Kessler's preparation for actually dancing, which is to say it's about yoga and Pilates and
Kathleen Gray
Oct 26, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Thanks so much to Edelweiss for the ARC of this awesome book which resonated deeply with me. If you're a "midlife" woman thinking about change and renewal=- and if you ever liked ballet- this is the book for you. Kessler hit a real nerve as she finally fulfilled her ballet dream which was quashed when she was a child. (My mother was the one who killed mine by telling me I just wasn't graceful enough). At the same time, her exploration of our need to be perfect made me think about my own situatio ...more
Nov 30, 2015 rated it liked it
I was just curious to read this book because I am a former ballet dancer who hasn't danced in maybe 4 years now. It's so daunting to figure out how to get back in. Ballet requires tremendous discipline and a very high level of physical condition even if you're no longer performing but just taking class at a professional level. And that's exactly why I fell out of it. My career as a software engineer became so demanding that I was missing classes, and when I did find time to take a class I was ju ...more
Jun 30, 2016 rated it it was ok
Shelves: memoir, non-fiction
This is a perfectly pleasant book. It reads quite like a very long O, The Oprah Magazine article, which isn't exactly a criticism. It's breezy, accessible, self-deprecating. Kessler makes side trips into musing on middle age (which occassionally also veers awfully close to shilling territory for her recent anti-aging book), women's body image issues, and perfectionism--all of which are relevant to my interests (ha), but sometimes it felt like she was padding this particular story to make the boo ...more
Grier Cooper
Nov 30, 2015 rated it really liked it
Such a fun read...courageous, humorous and inspiring. I love the way Kessler writes, and as a former professional dancer, I can say that she's done her homework...I even learned a few new things about ballet. This is a perfect gift for ballet fans, adult ballet students, or anyone who's ever harbored the secret dream of becoming a dancer.
Feb 01, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
A middle-aged woman dancing in one of the most classic ballets seems a bit far-fetched to some, especially when you find out she hasn't danced a day since she was a wee pre-teen. Sheer determination and will to find enjoyment in something that was solely hers drove Kessler to concur the odds and get out on that stage.

Were their missteps? Sure. Bumps and bruises of the ego, not just the physical. But everything Kessler mentioned was something we ALL can relate to. And she worked through it. Nothi
Greta Faith
This book was very different than I expected it to be. I enjoy almost anything having to do with dance, but most dance books are too dark and depressing for me. I expected Raising the Barre to be a lighthearted story about a woman's desire to perform the Nutcracker in her fifties. This is partly accurate, but this story was much less lighthearted than I expected. Many chapters deal with body image, success, failure, and fulfillment. I'm definitely not saying this was a bad thing, but just be awa ...more
Tara Corpuz
Jan 21, 2016 rated it really liked it
An inspiring read of a woman forgoing "good sense" and taking back the passion she'd had as a little girl of the world of ballet, enough to train and dance the nutcracker.

I really enjoyed the candid view of the modern dancer's everyday struggles, the insight into famous past dancers stories, and even the introduction on the overwhelming affect the nutcracker has had on the world.

I found myself getting really tired, however, of how hard she was on herself--berating her performance and her body wi
Lauren Kessler proved it’s never too late to follow your dreams. She was a devotee of the Nutcracker so despite a busy schedule as a mother, university professor, and writer, Kessler devoted herself to getting in shape to dance in her city’s yearly ballet production. This is a perfect book for those of us in our midlife years yearning to realize our dreams of roller derby participation or of learning to execute a double Axel in figure skating--OK,so at age 63 I'm a little beyond "midlife" years, ...more
Mar 04, 2017 rated it liked it
A 45 year-old-woman revisits her childhood dream of dancing in The Nutcracker? I was immediately intrigued! But this book would have been a better series of articles in Rolling Stone - their detailed accounts of behind-the-scenes life keep us hungering for more. This book had lots of repetitive details and not enough juicy ones. A decent read for a true Nutcracker lover, but save the money for a ballet class instead.
Dec 30, 2015 rated it it was amazing
An amazing story about a woman who decides she wants to shake up her life and dance in The Nutcracker. This book is about overcoming obstacles and pushing yourself to accomplish things you thought were out of reach. She's funny, relatable, and you'll cheer for her until the very end.
Oct 25, 2018 rated it it was ok
This is another book I got from my ballet teacher, and really, I should have loved it - it's about a "middle-aged" woman attempting to dance in the Nutcracker, for pity's sake (my ballet class is currently deep in rehearsal for a Nutcracker performance in December).

But there was something about simultaneously self-deprecating and self-satisfied tone of the book that grated on me. Also, it's halfway through the book before the author even steps foot in a ballet studio, and even then she starts sk
My friend Sarah once told me a cool story about how her mother danced the lead in the Nutcracker, on pointe, in her 50s, as a part of a troupe of older ballet dancers. I thought that was amazing. I took ballet as a kid, for many many years, despite having no talent, an uncooperative body (falling arches, inflexible, no turnout), and always being a half beat behind the music. But I loved it and it worked for me, until I needed to actually have some skill or talent to continue. In college, I stopp ...more
Kristyn Calhoun
Jan 08, 2016 rated it liked it
Raising the Barre.
The first 5 chapters can be summed up by one paragraph from chapter 8.

"I've delved into the murky depths of why I want to do this. I've ferreted out the fears and anxieties and bolstered myself with the collected wisdom of others. I've got my you-can-do-it affirmations and mantras all lined up. I know more about the origins and permutations of The Nutcracker than any person not completing a doctoral dissertation on the subject."

Some of the facts are interesting. But I could ha
Dec 29, 2016 rated it really liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Sep 18, 2015 rated it really liked it
Kessler specializes in “immersion journalism,” diving into unfamiliar worlds and writing about it. She did it with nursing homes, basketball, and anti-aging techniques. She has done it again with ballet. At age 55, not having danced since she was a child, she decides she wants to dance in The Nutcracker with Oregon’s Eugene Ballet Company. But how can she do that at this age and stage of life? A lot of hard work and a lot of feeling old and clumsy among skinny ballerinas in their 20s. She does i ...more
Jan 24, 2016 rated it it was amazing
An amazing book about a woman who decides to pursue a childhood dream at midlife. I laughed and cried throughout this book. Kessler is funny, witty, and stunningly honest about her experiences. If you have ever taken an intermediate or advanced ballet class (much less a company class!), you know how intimidating it is to be the newcomer in the professional word of ballet.

If I had the time, I would read this book again and again. The author helped me jump out of my own comfort zone in many ways,
Jun 02, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
This non-fiction book about a middle-aged woman who decides to live her dream and dance in her favorite ballet, The Nutcracker, is a great read for those who are interested in or who love ballet. This is a very realistic look at what it takes to be a dancer in a ballet company. The author, who is a professional writer, does a good job at showing the dedication it took for her to succeed in her quest even though her time on stage was brief. For anyone who took ballet as a child (like me) and had ...more
Jan 30, 2016 rated it liked it
Author, teacher Lauren Kessler embarks on a year-long mission to train for and dance in The Nutcracker Ballet. She tells her story with humor and candor (and in some places too much detail.) Along the way she imparts life lessons learned about striving for a goal and stretching yourself out of your comfort zone to keep yourself fresh and alive (at any age.) She also objectively examines the life of dancers: their passion for the art, the grueling rehearsal and performance schedules, their strugg ...more
Dec 31, 2016 rated it it was amazing
A middle aged woman is obsessed with the Nutcracker ballet. She was an aspiring child ballerina until a pivotal age when her teacher stated her body was not ideal and she gave up. As an adult, she learns all dancers are told this, yet the successful ones have the determination to ignore that information and work harder to achieve their dream. She undertakes a year long journey to transform into a Nutcracker ballerina working, touring and performing alongside the pros. This book has prime behind- ...more
Aug 19, 2016 rated it liked it
Shelves: dance, nonfiction
I went into this book expecting to love it. I am a 30-something competitive figure skater and so I'm no stranger to trying for something that is thought to be "for the kids." But for some reason, I just couldn't seem to get into it. I think it's because this book was less about entering a new world and more about overcoming fear and inner demons and things life that. The author also mentions her other books (especially the one about middle age) quite often.
Apr 10, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
A humorous account of a woman who decides to return to her childhood passion of ballet and attempt to dance in a production of The Nutcracker. Balancing her will to improve herself while tending to the needs of her family is admirable. Her affection for the members of the troupe comes through loud and clear. This is a great read for anyone who has ever thought about trying to conquer that impossible dream one more time.
Beverly Mozzetti
I know this person.

I was a professional ballerina in NYC. I've directed many Nutcrackers since and I've heard her story many times from cast members. " I always wanted to do this and never thought I could." But Lauren captured so much with her skills of choosing the words and phrases that spoke as easily as our center allegro speaks to us. I marvel at her precise language. It took me back. I loved every moment.
Jan 07, 2016 rated it liked it
Shelves: funny-memoir-huh
Kessler is an engaging author who effortlessly mixes humor, interesting research, and her own passions. She uses her long-held love of ballet (and childhood experiences) to explore middle-age, confronting fear, taking on challenges, and the mysterious world of ballet.

Enjoyable for anyone who similarly enjoys ballet, but still worth it even if it's not your first love as well.
Aug 29, 2016 rated it really liked it
I really enjoyed this book. Although on its face it was about life inside a large ballet company, more than that it was about conquering your fears and the persistence it requires to pursue your dreams, particularly at midlife.
Dec 08, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Absolutely stellar! I had no expectations for this book. The story of a middle aged woman who embarks on a difficult physical challenge to fulfill a dream. I could not put it down, and I will get her other book immediately.
Jan 29, 2016 rated it really liked it
immersion journalist and her dream to dance some 50 years after her last ballet lesson. interesting and amusing, very accessible writer.
Jun 15, 2016 rated it really liked it
This was a book that made you think about what you could do in mid life to push yourself out of your comfort zone. The story of all the work the nutcracker ballet takes was interesting too.
Aug 04, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
5 stars!

This was so much fun to read. while I have no desire to dance the Nutcracker ever again, her resilience and dedication to getting onstage was inspiring. Highly recommend!
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Lauren Kessler is an award-winning author and immersion reporter who combines lively narrative with deep research to explore everything from the gritty world of a maximum security prison to the grueling world of professional ballet; from the wild, wild west of the anti-aging movement to the hidden world of Alzheimer’s sufferers; from the stormy seas of the mother-daughter relationship to the full ...more
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