An incisive exploration of ballet’s role in the modern world, told through the experience of the author and her classmates at the most elite ballet school in the country: the School of American Ballet.
Growing up, Alice Robb dreamed of becoming a ballet dancer. But by age fifteen, she had to face the reality that she would never meet the impossibly high standards of the hyper-competitive ballet world. After she quit, she tried to avoid ballet—only to realize, years later, that she was still haunted by the lessons she had absorbed in the mirror-lined studios of Lincoln Center, and that they had served her well in the wider world. The traits ballet takes to an extreme—stoicism, silence, submission—are valued in girls and women everywhere.
Profound, nuanced, and passionately researched, Don’t Think, Dear is Robb’s excavation of her adolescent years as a dancer and an exploration of how those days informed her life for years to come.
As she grapples with the pressure she faced as a student at the School of American Ballet, she investigates the fates of her former classmates as well. From sweet and innocent Emily, whose body was deemed thin enough only when she was too ill to eat, to precocious and talented Meiying, who was thrilled to be cast as the young star of the Nutcracker but dismayed to see Asians stereotyped onstage, and Lily, who won the carrot they had all been chasing—an apprenticeship with the New York City Ballet—only to spend her first season dancing eight shows a week on a broken foot.
Theirs are stories of heartbreak and resilience, of reinvention and regret. Along the way, Robb weaves in the myths of famous ballet personalities past and present, from the groundbreaking Misty Copeland, who rose from poverty to become an icon of American ballet, to the blind diva Alicia Alonso, who used the heat of the spotlights and the vibrations of the music to navigate space onstage. By examining the psyche of a dancer, Don’t Think, Dear grapples with the contradictions and challenges of being a woman today.
Alice Robb has written for Vanity Fair, The Washington Post, The Atlantic, and The New Republic, among other publications. Her first book, Why We Dream was recommended by The New Yorker, The New York Times, Today, Vogue, TIME and The Guardian, and has been translated into seventeen languages.
"Don't Think, Dear is a feminist interrogation of ballet. It’s also, in its way, hopeful." — Washington Post
"A beautiful, difficult, and compelling memoir.” — Vanity Fair
“Don’t Think, Dear is powered by a fundamental love of the art form while exposing the toxic culture that runs through it.” — The Guardian
"[Robb’s] timely book is a critical yet personal examination of classical ballet – a performing art highly dependent on the talent of women – filtered through the lens of 21st-century feminism… she brings a welcome academic rigour to a subject clearly born of deeply held emotions." — The Times (UK)
“At once a tribute to the art form that shaped her and an exploration of a “beautiful pain cult,” this engaging book will appeal to dance lovers and anyone interested in the entangled nature of patriarchy, race, and ballet. An elegantly incisive, meditative work." — Kirkus Reviews
“Insightful… Robb provides searing glimpses of life behind the curtain, and captures her appreciation for ballet’s “hyperfeminine trappings.” This will deepen readers’ understanding of the insular world of ballet.” — Publishers Weekly
“A rigorous yet loving examination of a childhood passion told through a feminist lens. Don’t Think, Dear is full of clarity, even about questions that will never get completely clear answers.” — Rebecca Traister, New York Times bestselling author of Good and Mad
“I don’t think I’ve ever felt so seen by an author: Alice Robb says aloud the conundrums I’ve been wrestling with since adolescence but wasn’t able to put into words. Her storytelling prowess and sharp analysis help contextualize my own experience in the ballet in a way I didn’t realize I needed. I wouldn’t trust anyone but Alice Robb in handling a subject so close to my heart.” — Sophie Flack, author of Bunheads and former dancer with the New York City Ballet
"Neither romanticizing or decrying the dance world, Robb beautifully explores the push-pull of masochism and perfectionism—preoccupations not just relevant to aspiring dancers, but to anyone who's ever pursued an almost-impossible dream." — Ada Calhoun, New York Times bestselling author of Why We Can't Sleep and Also a Poet
"Alice Robb has written an enlightening and deeply readable book about the world of professional ballet -- and through it the way young women in general shape their bodies and psyches to meet the expectations of an unforgiving world. Robb, who carries her reporting lightly, is a born storyteller, one of those writers who grab your interest and keep it." — Daphne Merkin, author of 22 Minutes of Unconditional Love
“Don’t Think, Dear is an extraordinary book full of poignant storytelling and profound insights. Robb masterfully weaves memoir, reportage, and criticism into a superbly crafted meditation on ballet and its broader cultural impact.” — Marisa Meltzer, author of Glossy and This is Big
“Here is a memoir, a love letter, a cultural history, and a long-awaited reckoning of the most iconic feminine ideal. Robb's intimate and frank examination of ballet's legacy—both in and outside of studios and performance halls—shows us all the many ways it continues to shape our lives and bodies. Chapter to chapter, this book is both brutal and beautiful, like its subject.” — Sarah Gerard, author of Sunshine State and True Love
“[Robb] captures ballet’s romance as well as its dark and traumatic side." — Library Journal
"Robb brings analysis, intelligence and a feminist lens to this insightful book." — Pointe Magazine