Miriam Landis is the physical embodiment of the internet hashtag #goals; a School of American Ballet trained ballerina who danced professionally with Miami City Ballet for four years, a Stanford graduate, a successful editor, a rabbi’s daughter married to a Jewish doctor with four kids, a published author, and now, an incredibly popular ballet teacher for one of the nation’s top schools, as well as a self-made entrepreneur and social media influencer. That level of accomplishment is exhausting to list, much less achieve. I was lucky enough to grab Ms. Landis for an hour to learn how she navigates it all, to discuss her books, and to find out what she has planned for the future. What an inspiring hour it was!

Ms. Landis grew up in Salt Lake City, the daughter of the only rabbi in Utah (she notes that there are a few more now). Like many kids, she notes that:

I grew up being kind of a strange fish out of water. Ballet was probably my way of escaping it.

Miriam Landis - Photo by Dan Lao.

Miriam Landis – Photo by Dan Lao.

She moved from smaller to larger studios, including Ballet West, did two summer programs at San Francisco Ballet and two at The Rock in Pennsylvania, then went to SAB at 16. Once she arrived at SAB, she stayed through graduation. After the Workshop, she received a job offer and departed for Miami City Ballet, spending four years in the corps de ballet before abruptly leaving her performance career. She returned to Salt Lake City and attended the University of Utah for a year. She was then accepted into Stanford University.

When I got there, there were two other retired ballerinas there at the same time… I think that’s why I got in! At Stanford, there had to be something that set you apart.

She began her studies as a pre-med student, feeling the need to prove that she had left ballet for good reasons.

I had a lot of teachers, like Bené Arnold, saying,” How could you throw this all away? Do you know how many people in this building would kill to do what you did? And you just threw it away at 22?”

So there was a lot of that need to prove I left for a reason.

Unlike many ballet dancers who leave company life, Ms. Landis did not leave ballet entirely. She found a home with other former dancers at Stanford. She worked with legendary ballet teacher, Kristine Elliott, and started to nurture her teaching career. Though she had taught at Miami City Ballet over the summers, and a little in Salt Lake City, it was in Palo Alto that she started to find her voice.

Miriam Landis - Photo courtesy of the author.

Miriam Landis – Photo courtesy of the author.

She found medicine did not suit her after a particularly harrowing night in the emergency room and changed her major to English. It was while a Stanford student that Ms. Landis began writing what would eventually become the two books that mirror her ballet experiences. Girl in Motion and Girl on Pointe (originally published as Breaking Pointe) are young adult novels that roughly follow Ms. Landis’ trajectory through the dance world. They are filled with just enough insider ballet innuendo for those who follow these sorts of things and are engaging enough on their own for those who don’t. The books were originally published in 2010 and 2012 respectively, then updated and rereleased in 2023.

When asked if the books are autobiographical, the answer is nuanced. Though based on her personal experiences, the character is not her, and through the revisions, she was able to let go of some of the anger. However, the most theatrical moments were those closest to her experience. (No spoilers, but there is a dramatic fainting scene, last-minute cast changes, and romantic liaisons that rival any Hollywood movie!)

The books were initially written as a combination of therapy and a reaction to dance media such as Black Swan and the cult classic Center Stage. Center Stage started auditioning right after she left New York and featured many of her SAB friends. They hoped it would tell the real story of life in the ballet world.

There was this collective feeling leading up to the movie coming out, of like, “Finally, THIS is going to tell our story, THIS is going to show what it’s like!”

"Girl in Motion" by Miriam Landis - Courtesy of the author.

“Girl in Motion” by Miriam Landis – Courtesy of the author.

And then it didn’t. All of the clichés were still there.

So a lot of that was the impetus for oh, gosh! I really need to write about this stuff  [Ballet and dance company life], because if I don’t write about it, who’s going to write about it? And I don’t even know how to write about it, but I don’t like the way that it has been portrayed.

She found happiness as an English major. Her extended ballet network was instrumental in moving her toward the next stage of her career; an editor. Maya Adam, a former dancer with the State Theater of Saxony in Germany, and now a doctor, was part of her tight group of ballet ex-pats at Stanford.

Maya had a friend from Dresden Ballet who was an associate editor at Simon and Schuster in New York. I had been writing the sex column for the Stanford Daily. It’s anonymous, but Maya knew I was writing it and she came to me, right before I quit pre-med. She goes, “I want you to talk to Emily, I think you should, you know, be writing.” And so she set me up with Emily and I did an internship at Simon and Schuster after my junior year. That was in the office of Alice Mayhew. I would attribute a lot of my success or moderate success in life to having just been in the room with people like Edward Villella and Alice Mayhew. Like, you just watched those people breathe, and that’s how you learn.

Book Cover - "Girl On Pointe" by Miriam Landis, courtesy of the author.

Book Cover – “Girl On Pointe” by Miriam Landis, courtesy of the author.

After her internship at Simon and Shuster, Ms. Landis returned to Stanford for her senior year and graduation. It was then back to New York to cover for the aforementioned Emily while she was on maternity leave. From there, she moved on to an assistant editor position at Hyperion, where she worked under their top three editors. It was during this time that she first flirted with publishing the book. She had an agent, divided it into two books, and shopped it around. She was told over and over that ballet is too “niche” and that it didn’t have the appeal of something like the Twilight Series. Her greatest success at that time was an excerpt printed in Dance Spirit Magazine. New York started to wear her down and she was tired of being broke. She was offered a job with Amazon Publishing in Seattle. She accepted it, headed west, and “put the books in a drawer.”

I stayed about four years on the Amazon books team. So I kind of got this like, pocket of every part of the publishing industry.

After marrying and a long struggle to conceive, she is now the mother of four children; eleven-year-old twins, an eight-year-old, and a six-year-old.

It took us quite a few years to get pregnant. We have four kids now. So that joke is on us! But you know, ballet prepares you to do hard things.

Miriam Landis - Photo by Dan Lao.

Miriam Landis – Photo by Dan Lao.

They moved to Mercer Island where Ms. Landis started to work at a local bookstore Island Books.

I walked in there, went to the owner, and said, I’d like you to give me a job. I needed a flexible job. I had no retail experience. But I said, let me build your website. I can blog for you. I can host book clubs. And that is what I ended up doing for them for over 10 years.

Seattle is where all of the threads of Ms. Landis’ experience have been sewn together. She credits her husband with really supporting her growth and work. He encouraged her, though she had been away from ballet for ten years to start teaching again, first at a smaller school in Seattle and then with a position at PNB. He was also the one to pull those books out of a drawer and to suggest uploading them onto Amazon’s self-publishing site, CreateSpace. While at Amazon, Ms. Landis had been part of the books team, so had familiarity with all of the tools. After initially hesitating, perhaps in part due to some residual East Coast publishing snobbery, she gave in. It was completely an in-house production; Ms. Landis edited and her husband designed the cover.

We put them up on Amazon. And those books have sold! The original one sold over 10,000 copies. Which is insane.

It seems that there is a market after all for wholesome tales about ballet dancers who are in the corps de ballet and that detail all of the hard work that it takes to get there.

So okay, I have these two books. I blogged for that bookstore forever. And then during the pandemic, I had four kids on Zoom. I was losing my mind. So I started writing again.

Book Cover - "Lauren in the Limelight" by Miriam Landis, courtesy of the author.

Book Cover – “Lauren in the Limelight” by Miriam Landis, courtesy of the author.

She wrote what she calls a “practice novel,” for adults, which she shopped around with no success. She then decided to write another ballet novel, this time for younger readers, resulting in Lauren in the Limelight.

With Lauren in the Limelight, Ms. Landis took a different approach. The targeted audience is younger (ages 9 and up). It has beautiful illustrations by Jill Cecil. While this book is not autobiographical or based on real events, it engages all of her identities, drawing on her experiences as a teacher, a mother, and a citizen of the world. It deals with the issues present-day kids deal with; bullying, racism, homophobia, grief, and divorce, but all written with the sensibility for a younger audience. It is written from the viewpoint of not only the titular Lauren but also of her ballet friends, Serena and Bryan. It is charming, inspiring, and daring. I loved it and would highly recommend it.

After hearing the same negative feedback about ballet being too niche, Ms. Landis took matters into her own hands by taking over TikTok, Instagram, and by forming her own publishing house. She had a former agent and editor edit the book. She created a book trailer. She took steps to systematically grow her Instagram following. Her following eats up both her videos breaking down ballet technique and previewing her books. Through her new publishing house, Rhododendron Press, she published Lauren in the Limelight and reissued revised versions of Girl in Motion and Girl on Pointe. Her substantial Instagram following has led to large and enthusiastic open classes at PNB, often numbering over 50 dancers of all ages and abilities. Ms. Landis has proven, over and over, that ballet is simply a voice for humanity and that is, in fact, not niche at all.

What’s next? She points to Zibby Owens and her publishing house as a possible future goal.

She’s kind of a model for what I started to do. She started her own publishing company. She’s a writer, she opened a bookstore in LA, and she has a podcast called Moms Don’t Have Time to Read Books with Zibby.

Life is long, I’ve surprised myself every decade.

At this moment, she is raising four children, teaching, and nurturing her creativity. And of course, writing a new book.

To learn more about Miriam Landis, please visit her website.

Written by Nancy Dobbs Owen for LA Dance Chronicle.

Featured image: Books by Miriam Landis – Collage by LADC.