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Allegra Kent

Check out the awesome author video with Allegra Kent and her editors!

Dancer, author, and teacher, Allegra Kent is one of New York City Ballet’s most celebrated ballerinas. She danced many performances created for her by the twentieth-century’s most famous choreographer, George Balanchine, including the star role in Swan Lake. At thirteen she was accepted into the School of American Ballet, on scholarship, and moved to New York. Allegra became a permanent member of the New York City Ballet at age fifteen. In 1956 she became a soloist and in 1957 she became a principal dancer and also danced in the Broadway musical Shinbone Alley. She went on to perform countless performances until her last appearance in 1981. She has written two books for adults as well as articles for dance magazines.

Allegra has three grown children. She lives in New York City, where she is currently an adjunct professor at Barnard College. This is her first book for children.


Behind the Scenes of Ballerina Swan

Legendary prima ballerina Allegra Kent and Caldecott Medalist Emily Arnold McCully share their inspiration behind Ballerina Swan, the encouraging story about perseverance, hard work, and achieving your dreams.

Allegra Kent

Q: How closely does the story of a swan who wants to become a ballerina mirror your own entry into ballet?

A: When I was nine and in boarding school, I discovered my favorite classes of the week were the folk dance sessions. Whirling and twirling to exuberant music lifted my spirits. I found these dance moments were so much fun and thought “I must become a ballerina.” The odd thing was that I had never seen a ballet, but that wasn’t going to stop me.

I asked my mother to take me out of boarding school so that I could study ballet, and she did. The ballet school she selected was Bronislava Nijinska’s. When my mother and I questioned the secretary, we found out that the school had no beginners’ ballet class, only the advanced levels with many GIs present. I took my first classes ever with veterans of World War II. I was in despair. Everyone knew what they were doing except me. But the landscape of sound and movement stirred something in me—a magical realm. After class, I thought for a moment and then decided to proceed. I suppose the lesson I learned was, don’t give up too quickly.

Sophie the swan had somewhat the same problem, but not exactly. Her teacher rejected her entirely, but Sophie kept persevering. Sophie, by nature, is a highflier who knows how to soar, land, catch a jet stream, and fly forward in a formation. But it takes her a while to learn the structured dance movements of ballet that she sees in Mme. Myrtle’s classes. Sophie and I were both bewildered for a while, but we were determined to catch up—and we did.

Q: Allegra, you are the author of a few adult books. What inspired you to write this story for children after so many years?

A: The idea for Sophie’s story came to me while I was watching a swan swimming on a pond. I thought, “What if this graceful, exquisite creature decided to become a ballerina?” Usually it is the other way around. Ballerinas want to portray swan-like qualities in their dancing.

The desire to dance is inherent to all avian creatures. Their display of feathers, neckbending, and other creative choreography helps the boys beguile the girls. Ballet is usually studied by humans but can be mastered by swans if they work hard enough. Sophie’s story and my life story don’t exactly resemble each other, but it is a universal story of working very hard with discipline and perseverance at something you love—and succeeding.

Q: Are there any other parallels between you and Sophie?

A: Sophie and I both caught the attention of great choreographers who saw unique qualities in his dancers and used them in his ballets. Sophie’s choreographer, Balletski, saw Sophie’s special qualities and used them. Sophie was a swan, and he would choreograph for her as a swan. Balanchine used my special style and highlighted it in unusual works such as “The Unanswered Question” (from Ivesiana); and he created central roles for me in Episodes, Bugaku, The Seven Deadly Sins, Stars and Stripes, and Brahms-Schoenberg Quartet. He also cast me in a revival of La Sonnambula and as Odette in Swan Lake.



“Brilliantly rendered."—The Talk of the Town, The New Yorker

“Readers will root for the undaunted Sophie. . . . [BALLERINA SWAN] charms."—The New York Times

“Charming.”—Pointe Magazine

★"An enchanting tale for all, especially for lovers of ballet. Read the story, play the music and applaud."—Kirkus Reviews, Starred Review

★”A variety of dancers, including males, appears in the troupe, but none will win hearts as quickly as the titular character.”—School Library Journal, Starred Review

”McCully’s loose watercolors, and her images of a swan doing pliés and grand jetés are worth the price of admission.”—Booklist

”A satisfying success story.”—The Horn Book

“A renowned ballerina and a Caldecott Medalist combine humor and the rewards of hard work in this tale of a swan that dreams of dancing in a ballet.”—Shelf Talker, Shelf Awareness

Click here for the interview with Emily Arnold McCully.

Mini-poster available! Check out the downloadable Conversation with . . . which includes a mini-poster of the ballet poses shown in Ballerina Swan.


Books by Allegra Kent

Ballerina Gets Ready, Reinforced
Ballerina Gets Ready , Paperback
Ballerina Swan, Reinforced
Ballerina Swan, Paperback