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Fierce and Delicate cover

Renée K. Nicholson

Available now!
May 2021
PB 978-1-952271-01-4
eBook 978-1-952271-02-1



Fierce and Delicate

Essays on Dance and Illness


Renée Nicholson’s professional training in ballet had both moments of magnificence and moments of torment, from fittings of elaborate platter tutus to strange language barriers and unrealistic expectations of the body. In Fierce and Delicate, she looks back on the often confused and driven self she had been shaped into—always away from home, with friends who were also rivals, influenced by teachers in ways sometimes productive and at other times bordering on sadistic—and finds beauty in the small roles she performed. When, inevitably, Nicholson moved on from dancing, severed from her first love by illness, she discovered that she retained the lyricism and narrative of ballet itself as she negotiated life with rheumatoid arthritis.

An intentionally fractured memoir-in-essays, Fierce and Delicate navigates the traditional geographies of South Florida, northern Michigan, New York City, Milwaukee, West Virginia, and also geographies of the body—long, supple limbs; knee replacements; remembered bodies and actual. It is a book about the world of professional dance and also about living with chronic disease, about being shattered yet realizing the power to assemble oneself again, in a new way.


Part I
A Girl Who Wanted to Fly
When I Was a Mouse
Five Positions
Never Famous
Raked Stages: A Twelve-Step Program
Coda: Partnering
Out of the Blue

Part II
A Woman Tethered to the Earth
Hair: A Short History
In Sickness
A Royal in Appalachia
Certified: Dancer Becomes a Teacher
Fierce and Delicate
Six Impossible Things Before Breakfast



Renée K. Nicholson is the author of two poetry collections, Roundabout Directions to Lincoln Center and Post Script, and coeditor of the anthology Bodies of Truth: Stories of Illness, Disability, and Medicine. She serves as director of the humanities center at West Virginia University.


“Lyrical and fascinating.”
Buzzfeed News

“An elegant collection of essays from a dancer’s soul that will uplift all readers, especially those who love dance.”
Library Journal

“Many dancers wrestle with one of the central questions of Renée Nicholson’s fabulous book: How does one live as an ex-dancer? The answers Nicholson explores will strongly resonate with those who long to lift the veil that shrouds creative pursuits in unnecessary mystique. I love Nicholson’s powerful prose: how the essays circle in and out of dance, the way movement comes alive on the page, and the articulate grace with which Nicholson writes about sudden disability. In Fierce and Delicate, Nicholson teaches us how to envelop our impossible dreams with gratitude for the life we have now.”
Renée E. D’Aoust, author of Body of a Dancer

“Renée Nicholson writes with the grace, determination, and, yes, fierceness needed to succeed in the world of professional dance, so it is no surprise that Fierce and Delicate is such a remarkable and en pointe memoir-in-essays, as breathtaking and beautiful as ballet itself. Nicholson’s voice blends absolute honesty with a lovely, lyrical descriptive style, and each essay is a pure pleasure to read. Bravo!”
Dinty W. Moore, author of Between Panic and Desire