Dancing for Degas by Kathryn Wagner

1859: Alexandrie is a hard-working and ambitious farm girl who dreams of becoming a famous and successful ballerina in Paris. But her passion for ballet is not the only reason why the young girl wants to pursue her dream. Alexandrie’s family is very poor and is struggling financially, thus, her mother hopes that as a ballerina, Alexandrie will be able to support her family. However, when the heroine finally joins the renowned Paris Opera Ballet, she is shocked to discover the truth behind the glamorous life of a ballerina. Even though ballerinas enjoy a sophisticated life style, including expensive and exquisite clothing and jewellery, they have to become mistresses of wealthy married men in order to lead such an exclusive life. Thus, Alexandrie perceives that she must pursue this shady path if she wants to support her family financially. But the young ballerina doesn’t want to become part of this tradition of high class prostitution, and decides to concentrate on her dancing. Nevertheless, she soon becomes distracted by the attractive artist Edgar Degas, who wants Alexandrie to model for him. The aspiring ballerina agrees to do so, since she hopes that Degas’s paintings will make her famous. But as Alexandrie is spending more time with the young painter she begins to fall in love with him and she is soon forced to choose between love and her duty towards her family. Will she follow her heart or will she make the choice to become the mistress of a wealthy man in order to help her poor family? As Alexandrie finally comes to a decision, she realizes that there’s nothing more painful in life than the choices of the heart!

Dancing for Degas is a fascinating tale about duty, morals, competition, jealousy and the painful decisions we make in life. Furthermore, it’s a heart-breaking story about love and the consequences that await us if we try to ignore it. Kathryn Wagner’s novel gives us a vibrant glimpse into the eminent Paris Opera Ballet, with its shocking and entrancing behind-the-scenes and the author manages to fully capture the true spirit of the Parisian ballet and art scene, depicting their different and alluring facets. In addition, Dancing for Degas draws an authentic portrait of one of the world’s most famous artists, offering the readers a believable Edgar Degas who is willing to sacrifice everything for his passion.

I really loved everything about this book and I was sad when I finished reading it (this also has to do with the novel’s ending). When I discovered Dancing for Degas last month, I immediately wanted to read it because of the following reasons:

– As a little girl, I also dreamed of becoming a ballerina and today, I am still fascinated by ballet
– I love Paris and I visited the City of Lights a few years ago
– I am interested in Impressionism

Thus, I was eager to read this book because its synopsis piqued my interest and because the novel sounded so promising. And I must say that Dancing for Degas met all my expectations since I was immediately drawn into the world of ballet with its glamorous reputation and its scandalous behind-the-scenes.

I really liked the heroine Alexandrie and I admired her strength and ambition. I felt very sympathetic to her and to her struggles to resist so many temptations and to make life-changing decisions. On the other side, I must admit that I didn’t really like Edgar Degas because he seemed so arrogant and self-centered. While I like his work and appreciate him as an artist, I don’t like his character (of course we cannot really know how he was in real life other than reading letters and other documents about him but I think that Degas was really like Kathryn Wagner portrayed him in this book). I don’t really understand how Alexandrie could have fallen in love with him. However, the person I disliked most in this book was Alexandrie’s mother. I have never read about someone who is so selfish, cold and calculating. The heroine’s mother never thinks about anyone else other than herself and she doesn’t really care about her daughter’s life or happiness. As long as Alexandrie sends her money each month, her mother is content, regardless of how Alexandrie might have procured the money. She doesn’t mind if her daughter becomes a mistress; on the contrary, she pushes Alexandrie in this direction because she knows that her daughter will send her even more money that way. Alexandrie’s mother wants her child to sacrifice her life for the benefit of her family, at all cost. I just couldn’t believe that a mother was capable of doing such a thing, but sadly, I know that there are mothers out there who do the same thing today (we only need to have a look at the film and music industry).

Dancing for Degas is a wonderful historical novel that will appeal to Tracy Chevalier fans and to readers who are interested in art and ballet. The book is also perfect for everyone who loves a heart-warming and complicated love story. I enjoyed reading Kathryn Wagner’s novel and I felt transported to another time and place where I had the chance to catch a glimpse of what was really going on behind the scenes at the Paris Opera Ballet in the late-nineteenth century. Dancing for Degas shows the reader both the beautiful and glamorous side of the ballet and the awful and often disgusting side that comes with being a famous ballerina. Furthermore, Dancing for Degas is a bittersweet and unforgettable love story and that’s why I loved this book so much!

Note: I would like to thank the author for sending me a copy of her engaging book!

Here are some of Degas’s ballerina paintings and some of the pictures I took when I visited Paris a few years ago. I hope you like them!

Degas’s Ballerina Paintings: Courtesy of Google Images

Paris 2006:


13 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Lua
    Apr 14, 2010 @ 10:23:59

    This sounds like exactly the type of book I would love to read; passion, dancing, morals and love! It sounds especially appealing when the main characters struggle between what she wants and what she has to do to achieve it!
    I was always fascinated by ballet, all kinds of dancing really, but I’ve never thought about dancing myself… And I have to say- I LOVE the pictures 🙂


  2. Sandy
    Apr 14, 2010 @ 10:45:35

    I think the whole time period and the world of dance and art would make this a compelling and educational read. I’m not one of those people who dreamt of being a ballerina though! I did take lessons when I was young, but I am such a klutz!


  3. diane
    Apr 14, 2010 @ 11:04:51

    This sounds like a wonderful book, and I so enjoying the lovely illustrations (and photos). Thanks so much


  4. bermudaonion
    Apr 14, 2010 @ 11:36:35

    That looks like an amazing book! I love your Paris photos!


  5. vivienne
    Apr 14, 2010 @ 13:34:53

    What an amazing book. I didn’t realise the world of ballet was so seedy. It reminded me of the Hollywood lifestyle of the 50’s where all the big female stars had to sleep their way to the top too.


  6. iliana
    Apr 14, 2010 @ 16:23:30

    I love reading about artist’s lives, even if it’s fiction. This sounds really good and it also reminded me of Mademoiselle Victorine… have you read it? It’s about Edouard Manet’s muse! You might enjoy it.


  7. Nymeth
    Apr 14, 2010 @ 21:10:18

    Andreea! Must you keep reading books that tempt me so? 😛 I’m also interested in Impressionist, in Paris, and in the nineteenth century of course, so this sounds like a must read for me.


  8. Claire (The Captive Reader)
    Apr 14, 2010 @ 22:11:17

    I love Degas’ ballet paintings. I had prints of them up all over my room when I was little, even though I hated dancing! This sounds like a really interesting read – definitely one to put on the TBR list.


  9. Melody
    Apr 15, 2010 @ 00:14:20

    The premise sounds so good! I’m going to have to check it out. And I love your pics, they are beautiful!!


  10. Kathleen
    Apr 15, 2010 @ 18:33:25

    I never dreamed of being a ballerina because I was too clumsy when it came to dancing. This book sounds wonderful and the photos remind me of the beautiful work that Degas produced.


  11. Andreea
    Apr 17, 2010 @ 13:06:10

    Thanks everyone. I hope you will have the chance to read this wonderful book!


  12. Alice Teh
    Apr 19, 2010 @ 02:19:57

    I’m fascinated by ballerinas too and the things they do are amazing. Everything is executed so perfectly, delicately, and with precision.

    Love your Paris photos too!


  13. Jules
    Dec 03, 2010 @ 05:53:08

    I read this book recently – Im a ballet dancer and thought it would be a fun read but I must say I was very disappointed! the writing was good and the characters were well rounded however the author didn’t do nearly enough research into ballet itself! I mean please she takes lessons for a few years and then is good enough to audition for THE PARIS OPERA BALLET??
    that is impossible even with the standards as low as they were back then compared to what is demanded of dancers now! I liked the story and premise but the lack of knowledge of ballet offended me as a dancer.


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