A vigorously reported critique of common policies and practices in the ballet world.



A journalist takes a hard look at social injustices in ballet and how to end them.

Angyal argues that as ballet schools and companies cope with Covid-19, they face a threat older than the pandemic. The ballet world is in crisis, “made fragile and brittle by years of inequality and rendered dysfunctional by sexism, racism, elitism, and a stubborn disregard for the physical and mental well-being of the dancers who make the art possible.” Many of the ills the author laments have been covered in some of the ballet books published since Joan Brady’s signal 1982 memoir The Unmaking of a Dancer: injuries, burnout, eating disorders, taunting of male dancers as “sissies,” and brutal treatment by Svengalis like George Balanchine. But Angyal substantially updates the story by highlighting persistent social injustices, such as relegating Black male dancers to “comic sidekick roles, the Mercutio to the white man’s Romeo,” and sidelining LGBTQ+ talent. She also shows how trailblazers have fought back with actions such as the founding of the Manhattan-based Ballez company for lesbian and gender-nonconforming dancers. Drawing on interviews with insiders who include artistic directors and principal dancers, the author is particularly insightful about companies’ “doublespeak” on issues like thinness. One psychiatrist noted that ballet masters—no longer able to tell dancers to lose weight without risking criticism—speak in code such as, “You need to be more ‘toned’.…Every dancer knows that means they have to lose five pounds.” Angyal slights some of the broader social and economic forces that have contributed to ballet’s problems, such as declining U.S. audiences for high culture and the role government regulators might play if discrimination or unfair labor practices are involved. However, she ends with clear, well-reasoned recommendations that schools and companies anywhere could adopt—a list that, in itself, might be the spark many need to make overdue changes.

A vigorously reported critique of common policies and practices in the ballet world.

Pub Date: May 4, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-64503-670-8

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Bold Type Books

Review Posted Online: Feb. 16, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2021

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A fierce, penetrating, and empowering call for change.


From the Pocket Change Collective series

Artist and activist Vaid-Menon demonstrates how the normativity of the gender binary represses creativity and inflicts physical and emotional violence.

The author, whose parents emigrated from India, writes about how enforcement of the gender binary begins before birth and affects people in all stages of life, with people of color being especially vulnerable due to Western conceptions of gender as binary. Gender assignments create a narrative for how a person should behave, what they are allowed to like or wear, and how they express themself. Punishment of nonconformity leads to an inseparable link between gender and shame. Vaid-Menon challenges familiar arguments against gender nonconformity, breaking them down into four categories—dismissal, inconvenience, biology, and the slippery slope (fear of the consequences of acceptance). Headers in bold font create an accessible navigation experience from one analysis to the next. The prose maintains a conversational tone that feels as intimate and vulnerable as talking with a best friend. At the same time, the author's turns of phrase in moments of deep insight ring with precision and poetry. In one reflection, they write, “the most lethal part of the human body is not the fist; it is the eye. What people see and how people see it has everything to do with power.” While this short essay speaks honestly of pain and injustice, it concludes with encouragement and an invitation into a future that celebrates transformation.

A fierce, penetrating, and empowering call for change. (writing prompt) (Nonfiction. 14-adult)

Pub Date: June 2, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-593-09465-5

Page Count: 64

Publisher: Penguin Workshop

Review Posted Online: March 15, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2020

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A scattershot exercise in preaching to the choir.


A British journalist fulminates against Black Lives Matter, critical race theory, and other threats to White privilege.

“There is an assault going on against everything to do with the Western world—its past, present, and future.” So writes Spectator associate editor Murray, whose previous books have sounded warnings against the presumed dangers of Islam and of non-Western immigration to the West. As the author argues, Westerners are supposed to take in refugees from Africa, Asia, and Latin America while being “expected to abolish themselves.” Murray soon arrives at a crux: “Historically the citizens of Europe and their offspring societies in the Americas and Australasia have been white,” he writes, while the present is bringing all sorts of people who aren’t White into the social contract. The author also takes on the well-worn subject of campus “wokeness,” a topic of considerable discussion by professors who question whether things have gone a bit too far; indeed, the campus is the locus for much of the anti-Western sentiment that Murray condemns. The author’s arguments against reparations for past damages inflicted by institutionalized slavery are particularly glib. “It comes down to people who look like the people to whom a wrong was done in history receiving money from people who look like the people who may have done the wrong,” he writes. “It is hard to imagine anything more likely to rip apart a society than attempting a wealth transfer based on this principle.” Murray does attempt to negotiate some divides reasonably, arguing against “exclusionary lines” and for Henry Louis Gates Jr.’s call for a more vigorous and welcoming civil culture. Too often, however, the author falters, as when he derides Gen. Mark Milley for saying, “I want to understand white rage. And I’m white”—perhaps forgetting the climacteric White rage that Milley monitored on January 6, 2021.

A scattershot exercise in preaching to the choir.

Pub Date: April 26, 2022

ISBN: 978-0-06-316202-0

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Broadside Books/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 5, 2022

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