Book Review: Dances by Nicole Cuffy

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

There were aspects of Dances by debut author Nicole Cuffy that I found beautifully compelling, but overall, I didn’t love it as much as I hoped. Read my review below and find out why I only gave the book three out of five stars.

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.

What is the story?

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. []

My thoughts:

I really enjoyed the way this story was woven around dance as if the book itself was a ballet unveiling itself scene after scene. Dances felt very honest, and because of this, there was quite a bit to like about the writing and the protagonist. The book’s first half held my interest as it moved between CeCe’s personal and professional life and between her past and present, but as it veered into the latter half, I found myself getting bored. Overall, it was a good read, but for me, it wasn’t a memorable one.