PublishersWeekly
 (August 9, 1999)
The Old Ballerina
by Ellen Cooney

Light and lovely, Cooney’s third novel (after Small-Town Girl and All the Way Home) is about the way one superb ballet teacher-- indomitable, aging Irene Kamsky-- touches the lives of her students and alters her community. From a dance studio in her ranch-style home, located in a suburb north of a nondescript town, she and her art shape the stories of many characters, each narrating his or her own chapter in this slender novel. Among the unpretentious ballerina’s admirers (all refer to her, respectfully, as Mrs. Kamsky) are her devoted assistant, Margaret Dunlap, who gets the job under false pretenses, but learns to love her employer, doing everything from caring for Mrs. Kamsky’s arthritic hip to monitoring her record collection; tortured Lisette, Mrs. Kamsky’s legendary student, once a serious ballerina until foot injuries forced her to become a teacher herself, and who drinks to drown her sorrows; and Mrs. Kamsky’s current class of "boy ballerinas" who describe, in first-person plural, their feelings before and after their first public performance. While its plot is slight, the novel is full of warmth and insight. Cooney’s not-quite-articulate characters are clumsily eloquent, whether it is Margaret describing her first glimpse of male dancers ("If I never saw the moon before, not even in pictures, and no one had told me that it existed... would I know what it was?") or the boys explaining how they learn to really listen to music ("the notes of the music are going into us in the part of the brain where we know basic things"). Though it favors abstraction at the expense of cohesion, Cooney’s small novel is a valentine to the transformative power of art. (Sept.)

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