Gelsey Kirkland was a Ballet dancer; born in Bethlehem, Pa. She joined the New York City Ballet at age 15, its youngest member. At age 17 she danced the lead role, specially choreographed for her, in George Balanchine's new production of Firebird. Her talent inspired many choreographers. In 1974 she joined the American Ballet Theatre as partner to Mikhail Baryshnikov.

An ambitious perfectionist, she proved difficult to dance with and, by 1984, left the ballet with severe physical and emotional problems. These she chronicled, along with scathing criticisms of Balanchine and the dance world, in the memoirs Dancing on My Grave (1986) and The Shape of Love (1990). Considered a "pariah" in the New York ballet community, she danced her comeback with London's Royal Ballet, including a command performance before Queen Elizabeth (1986). By 1992 she was back in New York teaching at the American Ballet.