Gelsey Kirkland was born December 29,1952, in Bethlehem Pennsylvania. Her father was Jack Kirkland, a playwright, and Nancy, an actress, in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, U.S.A. She also had an older sister, Johnna.
Johnna started attending the School of American Ballet and Gelsey started soon after, starting an intense rivalry between the sisters.
As a student Gelsey, was incredibly dedicated, she was considered a workaholic. When she first started attending the School of American ballet Gelsey was not very flexible at all and worked on her stretching to achieve the flexibility required. She also took extra ballet classes and worked as a model, to pay for ballet classes, and later on quit high school so she would have more time to dance.
When Gelsey was fifteen George Balanchine asked her to join the New York City Ballet, and two years later she became a soloist. At this time Balanchine created his new Firebird, with Gelsey as the lead. Although Firebird did not become a success there was, Gelsey was amazing in the role and later on she danced the lead in Jerome Robbins� Goldberg Variations.
In 1972 the New York City Ballet toured to Russia where Mikhail Baryshnikov first saw her dance. Two years later, after he defected in Toronto Mikhail asked her to be his partner. In September of 1974 Gelsey left the New York City Ballet and joined the American Ballet Theatre as a principal dancer opposite Mikhail Baryshnikov. The partnership between Miss Kirkland and Mr. Baryshnikov was incredibly successful, they were in perfect harmony in performance.
Gelsey’s perfection was in the area of romantic ballets. She had a delicate body and precise technique. She amazed audiences and critics alike. Edward Villella described her as having steel-like legs that are doing the most fantastic technical feats while the upper body is soft and lovely as though nothing were going on underneath in Time magazine.
Unfortunately, in 1976 her complicated personal life caught up to her. She had been very concerned about her looks and undergone several plastic surgeries. She was also anorexic and addicted to cocaine. Finally she collapsed due to nervous exhaustion and a potassium deficiency and was forced to stop dancing. This kept her from appearing opposite Mikhail Baryshnikov in the movie The Turning Point. After some time she was able to return to the stage. She made a moving debut as Clara in Baryshnikov’s Nutcracker.
She met and fell in love with Greg Lawrence and they helped each other out of their drug problems and depression. He also helped write her autobiographies, Dancing on my Grave, published in 1986 and The Shape of Love, published in 1990.
Gelsey was a success when she returned to the stage, and was asked to do a Command Performance in 1986 for Her Royal Highness Queen Elizabeth II with the Royal Ballet.
Gelsey is now retired from performing and has become a teacher and coach.