An Interview With Miriam Landis, Author of Lauren in the Limelight

November 9, 2023

Miriam Landis has worn a lot of hats: Dancer at Miami City Ballet. Stanford graduate with a BA in English. Assistant editor in New York City. Ballet teacher in Seattle. And now, three-time author.

Following her two previous books—Girl in Motion and Girl on Pointe, both scheduled to be rereleased in the coming months—Landis recently founded her own publishing company, Rhododendron Press, and published a new novel for ages 9 and up, Lauren in the Limelight ($29.99 hardcover). It vividly narrates the story of Lauren Lightfoot as she navigates a fundamental moment in a dancer’s life: the first pair of pointe shoes. Told through three different voices—Lauren, as well as her friends Bryan and Serena—Lauren in the Limelight not only addresses the ever-challenging, ever-changing world of ballet, it aims to be a book we all wish we had as young dancers.

Pointe recently sat down with Landis, a Pacific Northwest Ballet School faculty member, to talk about ballet, writing, and how her journey has shaped her voice as a writer today.

Tell us a little bit about your dance background.

I started out in smaller studios, then eventually landed at what is now the Ballet West Academy, then the Ballet West Conservatory. When I was 16, I went to School of American Ballet and stayed there my last years of high school. After the spring workshop, Edward Villella hired me at Miami City Ballet. I danced there for four years and left when I was 22, which is pretty young. I did a lot of big roles early on—Liberty Bell, Flower Festival—but I wanted more. It was a very closed lifestyle for me, and I felt like I wasn’t in the rest of the world. I loved what I did there, though.

Miriam Landis stands in front of a gray backdrop, holding a pair of pointe shoes in her right hand. She wears black pants, a cap-sleeved white top and tan suede pumps. She smiles for the camera.
Miriam Landis. Photo by Dan Lao, courtesy Miriam Landis.

When did you begin to write?

I always wrote when I was younger, but writing fiction really started when I left ballet and started college [first at the University of Utah, then Stanford]. I started writing a novel—it was a kind of therapy. Leaving dance is a huge break of identity, and it was me trying to figure out “Why did I do all that?” or “Who am I now?” or “Why were there all these things that no one told me about when I got into it?” I wanted to write a book for my younger self.

How did your first book come about?

When I got to New York as a young editorial assistant, I had written two manuscripts [Girl in Motion and Girl on Pointe]. There was another young assistant who was an agent, and she decided she was going to take them on and try to sell them for me. We spent a year shopping them to editors and publishers—it was right when Twilight was published, and there were no vampires in my stories. They also weren’t super-well-written because I was in my 20s and I hadn’t really studied the craft of fiction. It’s like ballet: It looks super-easy, but it’s really not.

Nothing happened. I said “Dream deferred,” and the manuscripts went in a drawer. Skip forward 10 years and my husband said, “Why don’t you just self-publish them?” We did it in the most amateur way, and those books sold 10,000 copies!

What inspired Lauren in the Limelight?

I started writing again during the pandemic. I had written blogs for a local bookstore, but I wasn’t taking myself seriously as a writer. I read constantly and I thought, I’m going to get up and do that!, like we all do when we watch dance. My four kids are PNB School students and my twins had just turned 11. I wanted to hit an age group that I hadn’t before: the year they go on pointe.

I knew an illustrator from childhood, Jill Cecil, and we had a friend in Utah who owned a small studio. We had one crazy weekend where I flew to Utah, and the kids in that school acted out the whole story. We took photos to illustrate from—it brought the kids in the story to life. 

An illustration of a pair of pink pointe shoes without ribbons or elastic attanched. Two bunches of pink ribbon rest next to the shoes at the top of the illustration.
Illustration by Jill Cecil, courtesy Rhododendron Press.

What message do you hope readers take away from this book?

The initial message I want to impart is that you have to work hard to achieve your goals. If you’re going to get everything you’re going to get out of ballet (or anything else), you really have to do the work. That is Lauren’s lesson. From there it evolved. At the photo shoot, I was so moved by the boy who played Bryan. We see how the ballet world is shifting today—the color of tights and shoes, the nonbinary roles—and that seemed incredibly important. His character started to take over. I really thought about that age and those kids, and they became more real to me and told their own stories, because I understood their motivations and who they truly were.

How does your dance life feed your writing?

Everything I write about dance is very authentic; hopefully that comes through in the book. For all of my complex feelings about ballet, it made me who I am, and I love what my kids are getting out of it. I also feel like it’s our responsibility to be looking out for what’s next. Thinking about the hill I’ve come over as a dancer—feeling silenced, being judged, frequently scared to put myself out there—I started thinking, If not me, who? It was really important to me to put out books that are not negative. They could be complex and address issues, but they needed to be the kind of ballet world that I want for my kids, one where there would be space for everyone.

Dancers can have the chance to meet Landis and hear all about Lauren in the Limelight at book signings and events throughout the country. Click here to find one near you.