7 Ways the Novel Cantique TOTALLY Nails the Adult Ballet Experience

"Freely and Lightly" hand lettered watercolor print inspired by the ballet novel Cantique

Dancer reading the ballet novel Cantique by Joanna Marsh

"But first, ballet" hand lettered watercolor print inspired by the ballet novel Cantique

We have been reading Cantique in our ballet book club, and there's a lot to love about this novel — it's a modern day love story filled to the brim with ballet and peppered with bits of historical fiction. But the thing we love most about this novel is...

All of the relatable adult ballet moments.

Cantique has helped adult ballet students all over the world feel a little bit more understood.

Here are seven truths about adult ballet that Cantique communicates perfectly...

#1) We (adult ballet students) would rather be dancing than doing just about anything else.


Main character Colette is a passionate ballet student who would rather take a ballet class than watch a ballet:

Colette loved to go to the ballet, but always chose more classes over tickets when money was tight. She realized she hadn't seen a live production in well over a year. (p. 37)

Although adult ballet students are some of the most obsessed balletomanes you'll ever meet, at the end of the day, we are honestly more interested in our own dancing than we are in watching performances.

This isn't because we are self-involved — it's because we feel an earnest need to make the most of the dancing years we have left. We have to use our time, and our money, wisely.

#2) We are ALWAYS dancing, whether we are in class or not.


We love to dance ballet so much that we dance EVERY opportunity we have — even if it's in the middle of the work day, in the middle of a hardware store, like Colette in Chapter 7...

Bonnie left first to take her break, leaving Colette alone at the front of the store. Resting her hand on the counter, she bent her legs into a demi-plié and rolled through her feet before stretching up to relevé. She was checking her alignment when she heard the doorbell sound. Her heels snapped back into the floor. Irritated, she looked up to see who had interrupted her. (p. 46)

Just as Colette does ballet at the hardware store counter, adult ballet students everywhere just can't help but use stolen moments throughout the day to work on little elements of ballet technique — or even to bust out a quick combination.

Tombé, pas de bourrée, glissade down a hallway? Don't mind if I do!

Colette also practices piqué turns down the hardware store aisles — that is, until she almost knocks over an end cap and envisions the entire store crumbling to the ground. She then decides to be more careful about her hardware store dancing.

#3) We struggle to fit ballet class into our busy schedules.


Anyone who has ever gone straight from work to ballet class can relate to the following mishap...

Once Colette arrived at Westmoreland, she had to rush to get ready. There would be no slow, warm-up ritual tonight — no foam rollers or tennis balls or stretches. She crammed her hair up into a makeshift bun and changed in a bathroom stall. The ribbon of her wrap skirt grazed the toilet water. (p. 209)

Okay, PAUSE! Has this ever happened to you? HAS THIS EVER HAPPENED TO YOU? Because I have to say, this book has brought me a great deal of comfort...

I now sleep better at night knowing that I am not the only person whose ballet skirt ribbons have grazed toilet water.

Seriously, I thought I was the only one!

#4) Many of us long to wear pointe shoes but aren't sure if we ever will.


Adult ballet students wistfully longing for pointe shoes? It happens more often than you think. This passage of the book really strikes a chord with many of us:

'Oh, I don't think I'll ever dance en pointe,' Colette replied, trying to hide a sudden sadness in her voice. Like the young girls at Westmoreland, Colette had felt a longing to earn her first pair of pointe shoes, but she seemed to be waiting for permission that she assumed would never be granted. Pointe at her age? There was no need for that. Her gaze fell back to the shoes. 'I'm probably too old to start.' (p. 195)

Far too many of us struggle to find pointe instruction, even when our ballet technique is proficient and our muscles are more than strong enough. We end up second guessing ourselves, wondering why we want to dance en pointe in the first place.

But we shouldn't invalidate ourselves like that.

Pointe work is an important part of the ballet experience, and it's entirely possible to learn pointe as an adult.

LET IT BE KNOWN: Adults students can pursue pointe work safely, with solid technique, when given the chance. 

Glad we cleared that up! But I digress...

#5) Many of us develop a small obsession with dancewear.


Part of what draws us to ballet is the beauty of the costumes — and although we may not perform all that often, what we lack in costumes we can make up for with...dancewear.

We might just buy ALL THE DANCEWEAR.

Our heroine Colette wears leotards, tights, and wrap skirts to class to help feel her more like a dancer:

She would tie a chiffon skirt around her waist after she arrived at the studio. A skirt would help her feel like a real ballet dancer. Long ago, Colette had found that if she looked the part, then she could feel the part. And if she felt the part, she could trick herself into dancing well. (p. 7)

Colette would not dream of dancing in sweatpants (though her boyfriend James often dons yellow sweatpants, much to her chagrin).

#6) We have conflicted feelings about our love of ballet.


This next one might be the MOST relatable moment in the entire book. In a moment of complete honesty, Colette opens up to James about her complex relationship with ballet. Regarding her dancing, she says...

It’s frustrating that I can’t be better. It took me about twenty-three years to find something that I’m actually passionate about. I love ballet, but what am I supposed to do with it? ...I’m too old, too inexperienced to offer anything to this world of yours, yet I would give anything to be a part of it. Now, here I am with an education that I don’t care about and an entry-level job that has nothing to do with it. Still, all I can think about is ballet, of all things. And I’m twenty-six! How dumb is that? ...Do you know what it’s like to be so passionate about something that you can do absolutely nothing with? (p. 136)

Well, if that doesn't explain the plight of the adult ballet student, then I don't know what does!

But we carry on, yes? We keep dancing. We work through our moments of self-doubt, and we find a way to make ballet an important part of our life, no matter what.

#7) Ballet is in our soul, and it is part of who we are.


We push ourselves to keep dancing, even when it's hard, because ballet feels like coming home:

The music began, and Colette felt a sense of relief and wonder come over her. Why did she love class so much? Why did these repetitive movements still seem to bring her such comfort — such delight, even after all this time? Now especially, she knew that she somehow belonged there in that studio, no matter how good or bad her dancing turned out to be. Ballet was in her soul, and these last few, extraordinary months seemed to have affirmed that fact. (p. 182) 

When we dance, we feel like all is right with the world, and we will dance for as many years as time allows. 

Who else thinks we need more books like Cantique that communicate the adult ballet experience in an honest, authentic, and reltatable way? Our fingers are crossed for a sequel.

If you would like to discuss ballet books with like-minded people in a friendly place, consider joining the Ballet Book Club on Facebook — we would love to have you!


This blog contains affiliate links, which means if you click a link and make a purchase, I may earn a small commission at no extra cost to you. 

If you haven't read Cantique yet, what are you waiting for? Grab a copy here.

And if you read the book and loved it, check out The Cantique Shop on Etsy, where you'll find watercolor prints inspired by the novel. (There are only a few left!) I have these prints hanging in my living room — I framed them with this set of frames, and honestly, these prints are the prettiest decor in my house. (See the photos at the top of this post!)

I hope you enjoyed this glimpse into one of my favorite novels. Stay tuned to find out what we'll be reading next in the Ballet Book Club!

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