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.
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.
Written with spellbinding beauty and ballet's precise structure, Dances centers women, art, power, and how we come to define freedom for ourselves.
About the Author
Nicole Cuffy is a D.C.-based writer with a BA from Columbia University and an MFA from The New School. She is a lecturer at the University of Maryland and American University. Her work can be found in Mason’s Road, The Master’s Review Volume VI (curated by Roxane Gay), Chautauqua, and Blue Mesa Review, and her chapbook, Atlas of the Body, won the Chautauqua Janus Prize and was a finalist for the Black River Chapbook Competition. When she is not writing, she is reading, and when she is not reading, she is probably dancing.
“Nicole Cuffy sweeps us into the insider world of ballet with a voice that is beautiful and authentic. This is a singular debut, and a vivid portrait of the heartbreak of growing up and confronting the tension between family and career.”—Imbolo Mbue, author of How Beautiful We Were
“Dances is a striking ode to the world of ballet, full of Cuffy’s lush descriptions of its glittery highs and its excruciating lows. Cece’s struggles with self-acceptance are achingly resonant, and this beautifully intertwined family saga and artist’s journey keeps readers en pointes, propelled through the steps of a ballerina’s whirlwind year.”—Leila Mottley, author of Nightcrawling
“Nicole Cuffy’s debut is a mesmerizing behind-the-scenes look at the world of ballet, as well as an achingly human search for belonging, in both family and art. Dances is a graceful and propulsive ode to those who fed our dreams, and how our dreams feed us.”—Kyle Lucia Wu, author of Win Me Something
“Dances is a compelling novel about the spiritual and bodily costs of the dogged pursuit of art.”—Raven Leilani, author of Luster