Raising the Barre

Big Dreams, False Starts, and My Midlife Quest to Dance the Nutcracker


By Lauren Kessler

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This item is a preorder. Your payment method will be charged immediately, and the product is expected to ship on or around November 24, 2015. This date is subject to change due to shipping delays beyond our control.

Like generations of little girls, Lauren Kessler fell in love with ballet the first time she saw The Nutcracker, and from that day, at age five, she dreamed of becoming a ballerina. But when she was twelve, her very famous ballet instructor crushed those dreams — along with her youthful self-assurance — and she stepped away from the barre.

Fast forward four decades. Lauren — suddenly, powerfully, itchingly restless at midlife — embarks on a “Transcontinental Nutcracker Binge Tour,” where attending a string of performances in Chicago, New York, Boston, and San Francisco reignites her love affair with the ballet–and fuels her girlhood dream.

What ensues is not only a story about The Nutcracker itself, but also an inside look at the seemingly romantic — but oh-so-gritty — world of ballet, about all that happens away from the audience’s eye that precedes the magic on stage. It is a tale told from the perspective of someone who not only loves it, but is also seeking to live it. Lauren’s quest to dance The Nutcracker with the Eugene Ballet Company tackles the big issues: fear, angst, risk, resilience, the refusal to “settle in” to midlife, the refusal to become yet another Invisible Woman. It is also a very funny, very real look at what it’s like to push yourself further than you ever thought you could go — and what happens when you get there.


  • "[Kessler] inspires readers as she realizes that 'you can't feel the thrill unless you take the risk.'"
    Publishers Weekly
  • "[Kessler's] book is eloquent, funny and so inspiring that readers might want to 'attempt the impossible' too."
  • "With a funny and warm writing style, Kessler describes a history of doubts, from the poking comments of her early dance teachers to her powerful drive to succeed in Eugene Ballet Company's performances--by any means necessary."
    Eugene Weekly
  • "Kessler has a wonderfully self-conscious mettle as well, not to mention a deft hand with the evocative expression of her inner feelings. She provides a useful vest-pocket history of ballet, and in particular, and she ably captures the abundant physical punishment...An amusingly shrewd memoir of following a lifelong dream."
    Kirkus Reviews
  • "This delightful story of one woman's personal quest will be enjoyed by anyone who thinks age is just a number, but Nutcracker fans will find it especially appealing."
    Library Journal
  • "Kessler brings the reader along on a 250-page journey that's brutally challenging, hilariously funny and incontestably inspiring as she tries to morph from fit-but-not-ballet-fit mother and writer to lithe and limber Aunt Rose."
    PBS's Next Avenue
  • "Breezy...Inspiring...Kessler's experience...will resonate with lots of readers...Self-reflective and funny, Kessler has an infectious enthusiasm, and her struggle to balance family, work and her time on social media will be amusingly familiar to many."
    Washington Post
  • "[An] adventurous immersion into the subculture of ballet, this is a great, inspirational story for someone who is looking for a push to take that leap and do that thing they have been putting off for a really long time. If Kessler can do it, you can do it."
    Oregon ArtsWatch
  • "Kessler's book is well structured, generates suspense and culminates with amusing stories of performance mishaps and the rigors of touring."
  • "Remarkably informative, inherently fascinating, surprisingly instructive, exceptionally well written...Refreshingly candid...A compelling read from beginning to end."
    Midwest Book Review

On Sale
Nov 24, 2015
Page Count
272 pages
Da Capo Press

Lauren Kessler

About the Author

Lauren Kessler is the author of nine nonfiction books, including Counterclockwise: My Year of Hypnosis, Hormones, Dark Chocolate, and Other Adventures in the World of Anti-aging, as well as My Teenage Werewolf: A Mother, a Daughter, a Journey Through the Thicket of Adolescence. Her journalism has appeared in the New York Times Magazine, Los Angeles Times Magazine, O, the Oprah Magazine, Ladies’ Home Journal, Woman’s Day, Prevention, and Salon. An international speaker and workshop leader, she is the creator of two graduate programs in narrative journalism.

Learn more about this author