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Reviews of Dances by Nicole Cuffy

Dances

A Novel

by Nicole Cuffy

Dances by Nicole Cuffy X
Dances by Nicole Cuffy
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

     Not Yet Rated
  • First Published:
    May 2023, 288 pages

    Paperback:
    Mar 2024, 304 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Elisabeth Cook
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About this Book

Book Summary

A provocative and lyrical debut novel follows a trailblazing Black ballerina who must reconcile the ever-rising stakes of her grueling career with difficult questions of love, loss, and her journey to self-liberation, from a sensuous new voice in fiction.

At twenty-two years old, Cece Cordell reaches the pinnacle of her career as a ballet dancer when she's promoted to principal at the New York City Ballet. She's instantly catapulted into celebrity, heralded for her "inspirational" role as the first Black ballerina in the famed company's history. Even as she celebrates the achievement of a lifelong dream, Cece remains haunted by the feeling that she doesn't belong. As she waits for some feeling of rightness that doesn't arrive, she begins to unravel the loose threads of her past—an absent father, a pragmatic mother who dismisses Cece's ambitions, and a missing older brother who stoked her childhood love of ballet but disappeared to deal with his own demons.

Soon after her promotion, Cece is faced with a choice that has the potential to derail her career and shatter the life she's cultivated for herself, sending her on a pilgrimage to both find her brother and reclaim the parts of herself lost in the grinding machinery of the traditional ballet world.

Written with spellbinding beauty and ballet's precise structure, Dances centers women, art, power, and how we come to define freedom for ourselves.

Excerpt
Dances

[barre]

The princess has shed some of her earlier shyness and learned to trust her suitors. Her smile is as confident and bright as a new coin; gone is her earlier hesitation. There is plain, fresh-faced gratitude as she accepts a rose from each of her suitors. The roses are bright, white, scentless. She throws them, not cruelly but joyfully, almost ecstatically. It has been some fresh miracle, learning to trust these four princes, a dawning. No one has hurt her yet. She has not been hurt a day in her life, in fact, never so much as pricked her finger. She suspects that there is no such thing as suffering. She understands suffering in the abstract—it is what made her shy of her suitors at first, but that they have not caused her pain makes its possibility even more remote. No one has let her down yet. She can almost believe there is no such thing.

I am the princess.

My reality is dual: I am Aurora, the white princess, just turned sixteen, who knows no suffering, and I ...

Please be aware that this discussion guide will contain spoilers!
  1. "I stood out because of my blackness," Cece says. "And I was determined then to obliterate it, to render my blackness irrelevant with perfection." Why does Cece feel she has to "obliterate" her blackness in order to succeed in the world of ballet? How does this shift throughout the book?
  2. Throughout the narrative, Cece's perception of herself seems at odds with the way the media, the public, and younger dancers see her. Why is it so hard for her to see herself as influential and successful, even after Kaz promotes her and she becomes the first black female principal in the New York City Ballet? What—if anything—helps her to finally believe it?
  3. Cece says, "I am not conditioned to see myself as a damsel in distress. I...
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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

A substantial debut, Dances reveals Cuffy as an author not just interested in characterization and circumstance, but the deeper implications of narrative. Cece's language — ballet terminology mixed with her sometimes matter-of-fact, sometimes wry descriptions — brings to the page a deft representation of the forces at war inside of her that still have the ability to resolve into something intentional and harmonious. She has created a life in a world not made for her, but who is she in this unlikely place where she has willed herself into existence?..continued

Full Review Members Only (836 words)

(Reviewed by Elisabeth Cook).

Media Reviews

Elle
Mesmerizing.

Oprah Daily
Cuffy's prose pours into Cece—head, heart, and body—and creates a moving portrait of an artist seeking to know herself and stretch the boundaries of her craft.

The Millions
This debut novel by the author of a decorated work of short fiction, 2018's Atlas of the Body, is an examination of the physical and spiritual costs all artists must pay in the pursuit of their art.

Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
The closest thing most of us will ever experience to actually dancing the ballet and to life in a dancer's body.

Publishers Weekly (starred review)
An African American ballerina battles racial profiling and personal demons in Cuffy's brilliant debut novel...Readers will be enchanted.

Author Blurb Imbolo Mbue, author of How Beautiful We Were
Nicole Cuffy sweeps us into the insider world of ballet with a voice that is beautiful and authentic. This is a singular debut, and a vivid portrait of the heartbreak of growing up and confronting the tension between family and career.

Author Blurb Kyle Lucia Wu, author of Win Me Something
Nicole Cuffy's debut is a mesmerizing behind-the-scenes look at the world of ballet, as well as an achingly human search for belonging, in both family and art. Dances is a graceful and propulsive ode to those who fed our dreams, and how our dreams feed us.

Author Blurb Leila Mottley, author of Nightcrawling
Dances is a striking ode to the world of ballet, full of Cuffy's lush descriptions of its glittery highs and its excruciating lows. Cece's struggles with self-acceptance are achingly resonant, and this beautifully intertwined family saga and artist's journey keeps readers en pointes, propelled through the steps of a ballerina's whirlwind year.

Author Blurb Raven Leilani, author of Luster
Dances is a compelling novel about the spiritual and bodily costs of the dogged pursuit of art.

Reader Reviews

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Beyond the Book

A Short Glossary of Ballet Terms

Ballet dancers standing en pointeDances by Nicole Cuffy is a novel filled with the mechanics of ballet. Through the first-person narration of her protagonist Cece, Cuffy portrays the everyday rhythms and realities of dance, creating patterns and scenes with its terminology. While the physicality of this language is an art to be enjoyed in itself, having even a cursory knowledge of a few words for various poses and movements can help readers visualize the action Cuffy describes on the page: "And croisé fondu to the front, croisé fondu to the back, plié—use the floor—passé, and développé à la seconde, arabesque, into retiré and rond, double rond with plié, sous-sus, pas de bourrée into fifth, and pirouette, and ...

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Read-Alikes

Read-Alikes Full readalike results are for members only

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