Dancing on My Grave: An Autobiography by Gelsey Kirkland

Dancing on My Grave: An Autobiography by Gelsey Kirkland

4.6 11
by Gelsey Kirkland
The shattering story of a dream which became a heartbreaking nightmare for one of America's most famous ballerinas, Gelsey Kirkland, who chronicles her brilliant start as a dancer with George Balanchine, her legendary partnership with Mikhail Baryshnikov, her agonizing descent into drugs, and her struggles to rise again. Photographs.


The shattering story of a dream which became a heartbreaking nightmare for one of America's most famous ballerinas, Gelsey Kirkland, who chronicles her brilliant start as a dancer with George Balanchine, her legendary partnership with Mikhail Baryshnikov, her agonizing descent into drugs, and her struggles to rise again. Photographs.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Rarely has a performing artist probed so searchingly and satisfyingly into the wellsprings of creativity as ballerina Kirkland does in this incandescently lyrical memoir written with her husband, whom she met while knocking on the door of a drug dealer's apartment. That is only one item of scandalous interest in an autobiography that resembles Billie Holiday's Lady Sings the Blues in its startling, brutal honesty. But, unlike celebrity autobiographies that mistake ``juicy'' anecdotes for self-revelation, Dancing on My Grave is also an intellectually stimulating portrait of the artist at war with tradition, with family, friends, lovers and colleagues, but most frustratingly, with herself. The 34-year-old Kirkland, who triumphed at the New York City Ballet and American Ballet Theater in the 1970s, reveals her one-time addiction to cocaine; that her affair with dancer Patrick Bissell was predicated on their mutual addiction to the drug; that both her romantic and artistic relationships with Baryshnikov were untenable because of his adolescent and unrelenting narcissism (``How was it possible that Misha's resources as an artist, so evident in performance, were different from those of his basic personality?''); that in 1981 she committed herself to a Westchester psychiatric hospital, even as she knew that her anorexia, bulimia and drug addiction were only symptoms of deeper emotional problems. The memoir also serves as a devastating critique of the American dance establishment that cannot be ignored. New York City Ballet founder George Balanchine (who gave Kirkland amphetamine ``vitamins'' on a tour of the U.S.S.R.) emerges as patronizing, vindictive, petty but still a genius. Through the 1970s and early 1980s, Kirkland nearly paid with her life for ``the passivity and guilt instilled by the Balanchine system''a dance theater that valued speed and form over dramatic content. ``Don't think, dance,'' Kirkland was told. The ballerina's disaffection with that dictum is at the heart of this book: ``To speak through the dance, to articulate something beyond the steps, was the precise art for which I struggled.'' Kirkland spares neither the reader nor herself in this memoir full of poetic insights into art and life, and we must be grateful that the dancer, always ``seen but not heard,'' has at last given her inner soul voice in this magnificent autobiography. 50,000 ad/promo. (October 24)
Library Journal - Library Journal
Prima ballerina Kirkland and her husband have written an emotional diatribe about Kirkland's dance career. The ballet equivalent of a ``tell-it-all'' Hollywood biography, this is a horror story of pain, anorexia, emotional difficulties, and casual sex, culminating in four years of cocaine addiction that brought her career to a standstill. At odds with both Balanchine and Baryshnikov in her insistence on putting her own dramatic interpretation into her roles, she is highly critical of Balanchine's training methods and Baryshnikov's partnering skills, which she says lacked finesse both on and off the stage. Her serious accusations that ballet training produces mindless mechanical dolls, and that the rigors of the life drive dancers to drug abuse, are undermined by her shrill, fragmented tone, making this a sad self-justification. Marcia L. Perry, Berkshire Athenaeum, Pittsfield, Mass.

Product Details

Penguin Group (USA) Incorporated
Publication date:
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4.26(w) x 6.82(h) x 1.10(d)
920L (what's this?)

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Dancing on My Grave: An Autobiography by Gelsey Kirkland 4.6 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 11 reviews.
lillemette More than 1 year ago
Geldey Kirkland's, "Dancing on My Grave," is a fabulous, super-detailed insider account into the world of American (particularly New York City-oriented) ballet in the 1960's-1980's. This book is also an excellent, intimate, unflinching biography of Gelsey until 1984. She tells the reader all about her ballet career, from very early childhood until approximately age 32, about the shocking nastiness of other famous ballet dancers, and also admits many of her own mistakes, both personal and professional. This is also a fabulously-written account of Anorexia nervosa, Bulimia nervosa, anxiety, the chronic embarrassment occurring in adolescence, and drug addiction. Through it all, Gelsey shows such a brave, intelligent, fighting spirit--she truly never gave up on herself or her dreams throughout this story. Read this, especially if you are female--this book is a great comnfort.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Overcoming Obtacles to Obtain Major Goals This book in an extremely intriguing story of a young ballerina who studied at the School of American Ballet. Kirkland went through what most have nightmares about, drug addiction and eating disorders. Gelsey's autobiography really tapped into and demonstrated what the life of a ballerina looks like and the pressure professional dancers undergo on a daily basis. Gelsey Kirkland was able to overcome many complicated obstacles to obtain her goal in being a proffessional ballerina. Major themes presented in the memoir included perseverence as well as optimism. Gelsey is contantly encouraging her readers to keep pushing through even when trial and tribulations seem to become impossible to see past. Her optimism was what enabled her to accomplish her dreams. I really enjoyed how "Dancing On My Grave" in my opinion, was written in hopes of helping other dancers who may be experiencing the same troubles that Kirkland herself went through. Her story really pulls you into her heart and get to know her as both a dancer and a person. It's a first hand source that would prove to be helpful in the lives of dancers like her. One aspect of the book that I found displeasing was the way that she handled the support that people that were close to her were trying to provide. Many including doctors reach out to Gelsey throughout the book and she responds with immaturity and rage. Her attitude for a good portion of the book seems down and defeated. Despite my one dislike, I would still recommend this book for not only dancers but for everyone. It empowers you to chase your dreams even if you feel that you are passed rock bottom and cannot be saved. (297) It also allows you to discover and understand your potential as a person or in my case, as a dancer. Reading this book has brought me one step closer to achieving my dreams of dancing professionally.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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Guest More than 1 year ago
This book is about a dancer was able to rise above the struggles of being a prima ballerina in the School of American Ballet to become a role model for many young dancers. Gelsey¿s story realistically demonstrated the life of a ballerina in the American School of Ballet by depicting the everyday trials that are faced. Throughout this book, Gelsey preserved through the hard times so that her dreams were realized. Gelsey¿s story shows the pain and hardship of a dancer, but also the beauty of ballet that comes from the hard work and dedication. The pressure that is placed upon every dancer to perform at a level above the rest is clearly shown throughout this book. For this reason, Gelsey fought through pain her entire career in order to fulfill her dream of becoming a prima ballerina. The struggle of looking like a Russian ballerina for Gelsey Kirkland drove her to anorexia and eventually to become addicted to drugs. Gelsey¿s ability to overcome her addiction was inspiring. She showed strength and courage in hardship. Gelsey¿s story motivates the reader to continue with their dreams even if trials hold you back. . After reading this book a new understanding of the sacrifice and commitment a dancer must endure. This book was filled with the ups and downs of the life of a ballerina. From the highs of performance to the lows of depression, Gelsey was able to stay with ballet. Gelsey provides an example of how tolerating hardship and confusion in life will lead to success. Gelsey¿s hardships helped her to become a renowned ballerina and a leader to both older and younger generations. I would recommend this book no only to those who have ever been involved in the world of strict ballet, but to anyone who has encountered struggles in life and faced the consequences in order to fulfill goals.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book was amazing! It is so realistic, from becoming a dancer, to getting addicted to coke, to recovering. It was amazing to see how she saw herself, and her thoughts.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I loved this book. Even though I am young, and just starting to realize the pressures and pains in ballet, I am also realized how lucky I am to have found something so great. I love ballet very much, and reading Gelsey Kirkland's story made me appreciate it, and love it even more. I was brought to tears by some parts of this book, and I realized that even thought technique is very important in ballet, having a deep love for it is probably the most imortant thing to make a sucessful ballerina. Ms. Kirkland showed me a lot of things, and now I appreciate dance even more.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Probably the most interesting, true, book about being a dancer. It held so much emotion and pure truth that it just wants you to read more and at the end leaves you with a exquisite feeling. I LUVEd it!
Guest More than 1 year ago
Being a ballet dancer in ABT, myself, this amazong story will show you how much work goes into becoming the graceful vision you see on stage. Not only that, but it reveals to any dancer that you are not a bad dancer for feeling pain: it comes with this wonderful career choice. Gelsey Kirkland, one of my favorite dancers, reveals te true story of her difficult liefe as a dancer and her descent into drugs and anorexia (a common disease in ballet dancers). It will encourage anyone with problems to heal and any ballet dancer to become as much as they can be. Recommended especially to dancers! Never stop dancing, it is the only thing that will save you from the world!
Guest More than 1 year ago
I loved this book! It does a terrific job of showing the true nature of the gritty dance world. Many people say that dance is not hard and hopefully this book will show them otherwise. True to life in it's explanations of the pressures and decisions that face even many amateur dancers today. Really makes you appreciate this beautiful art form.