Isabella Boylston in La Bayadère. Photo by Gene Schiavone, Courtesy American Ballet Theatre

The Well-Read Dancer: What's On Isabella Boylston's Bookshelf?

Looking for a good summer read (or several)? Dance Magazine has got you covered. So many of our favorite dance artists are secret (or not-so-secret) bookworms that we decided to ask them for recommendations—and where better to start than American Ballet Theatre principal and #BallerinaBookClub leader Isabella Boylston? She dished about the books she keeps on her nightstand, what she reads when she's in need of a little inspiration (hint: She's big into fantasy) and more.


What are you reading now?

I'm currently reading Shoe Dog, the autobiography of Nike's founder Phil Knight. Before that I read the Neapolitan series by Elena Ferrante, which was stunningly amazing.

What is your favorite book from childhood?

One of my favorite books is The Brothers Lionheart by Astrid Lingren. It's pretty heavy for a children's book, but it's so beautiful. I also read a lot of Nancy Drew, and Little House on the Prairie.

What is your go-to read for inspiration?

The Name of The Wind, Zen in the Art of Archery and any autobiography, especially by artists or entrepreneurs.

What books are on your nightstand?

There's a good stack there. What I Loved, Educated (which is the most recent book for my Ballerina Book Club!), Grit, My Life on the Road, and an autobiography by the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo dancer Vera Zorina that a friend gave me.

What is the longest book you’ve ever read?

Probably some of the books from The Stormlight Archive by Brandon Sanderson.

Is there a book that you keep picking up but haven’t been able to finish?

Crime and Punishment.

What book has influenced you most as a dancer?

Irina Baronova's autobiography is probably my favorite dancer biography. I love the way she writes. Her incredible, vibrant spirit really shines through and she tells the most incredible stories about touring with the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo. I also feel that I've been really inspired by a lot of the fantasy and sci-fi that I've read. Anything that sparks the imagination can help you to create a world onstage.

Do you read as research for specific roles?

Whenever the ballet is based off a book, I turn to the original source—for example, Shakespeare's play Romeo and Juliet. I go through and highlight anything I want to use. It's fun and incredibly helpful to give yourself lines or key words. I read Jane Eyre this spring in preparation for the ballet. I also enjoyed reading Apollo's Angels and learning about the origins of several older ballets.

What book have you reread the most?

Harry Potter!

Curious about another dance artist's bookshelf? Let us know who we should talk to next in the comments.

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Courtesy Ava Noble

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