Childhood Memories: Books and Ballet

I have never had much interest in watching ballet, I’ve never attended a ballet class in my life – and yet I used to love reading books about ballet dancers. For my second Childhood Memories post (you can see the first one here) I thought I’d take a look at some of the children’s ballet stories that I remember reading.

One of my favourite ballet series was the Drina series by Jean Estoril. Jean Estoril was a pseudonym of Mabel Esther Allan, a British author of children’s books. The Drina series consisted of 11 books following the dancing career of Drina Adams. The only ones I owned – and I still have them – are Drina Dances in Italy, Drina Dances Again, Drina Goes on Tour and Drina, Ballerina, but I remember borrowing the others from the library.

In the first book, Ballet for Drina, Drina starts attending ballet classes much to the disapproval of her grandmother. She can’t understand why her grandmother doesn’t want her to dance – until it is revealed that Drina’s name is really Andrina Adamo and she is the daughter of the famous ballerina Elizabeth Ivory who was killed in a plane crash following a performance. Drina’s grandmother blames ballet for her daughter’s death and has vowed that her granddaughter would never be allowed to dance. Over the course of the series, we see how Drina overcame obstacles, coped with the jealousy of other girls and dealt with some devastating disappointments to eventually, in the final book, become a prima ballerina. I think part of the reason I liked these books was that they showed fame, celebrity and the ballet world in a realistic light, rather than portraying it as glamorous or romantic.

Another great book by Jean Estoril was The Ballet Twins. This one was about the Darke twins, quiet Doria and confident Debbie, who compete against each other for a scholarship at a London ballet school.

It’s sad that these books now seem to be out of print, but I suppose they would be very dated now and maybe not what kids would want to read anymore (although, as they were published in the 1950s and 60s, they were already pretty old-fashioned by the time I was reading them).

Probably one of the most famous authors of ballet stories was Noel Streatfeild. Her 1936 novel Ballet Shoes, the story of Pauline, Petrova and Posy Fossil, is a children’s classic (and one of those books that can be enjoyed by adults too) but another of her books that I loved was Ballet Shoes for Anna. The book was about a little girl called Anna who lives in Turkey. Her grandfather is a ballet instructor and is teaching Anna to dance. When an earthquake destroys the family home, she and her brothers Francesco and Gussie are sent to England to live with an aunt and uncle. The rest of the book looks at the problems the three children face in settling into their new home in 1970s England and their attempts to earn money so that Anna can continue to learn to dance.

Mary Noel Streatfeild was born in Sussex, England in 1895, the daughter of an Anglican Bishop. Apart from the books I’ve mentioned above, she wrote many other children’s books including White Boots, A Vicarage Family and Thursday’s Child, and several books for adults.

Did anyone else enjoy reading ballet books – whether or not you actually like ballet?