My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Goodreads: As a dancer with the ultra-prestigious Manhattan Ballet Company, nineteen-year-old Hannah Ward juggles intense rehearsals, dazzling performances and complicated backstage relationships. Up until now, Hannah has happily devoted her entire life to ballet.
But when she meets a handsome musician named Jacob, Hannah's universe begins to change, and she must decide if she wants to compete against the other "bunheads" in the company for a star soloist spot or strike out on her own in the real world. Does she dare give up the gilded confines of the ballet for the freedoms of everyday life?
My take: Hannah is a thinly veiled Sophie Flack, a former member of the Manhattan Ballet Company and a solid voice in Young Adult (semi) fiction. Her life experience has clearly and definitively shaped her writer's voice. Flack's story is about Hannah, a dancer. She spares no reader from the brutality of ballet. On stage, the dancers are graceful and defy gravity. They dance in unison and in perfect time. But performing is only one aspect of the job. The work is grueling and punishing, both physically and emotionally. A ballet dancer is dedicated, focused, and purposeful. When not performing, he or she is rehearsing or taking classes, working out or sleeping. Injuries are expected and constant. Puberty is a death toll. A "bra" is a four letter word.
The book follows Hannah through three seasons. Her only friends are forced into competitions against one another to have a solo or to be promoted as a soloist. When one dancer falls, another must rise to take her place and it is with mixed emotion but mostly elation. But Hannah feels conflicted. She has a small taste of life outside the theater and realizes how inexperienced she truly is. How little she knows of the city she's lived in for five years. How hungry she is to finish reading one novel. How she yearns for something more but unwilling to sacrifice what she has worked so hard to accomplish.
Her last words in the book are, "My name is Hannah Ward and I am a dancer." I feel compelled to shadow that sentiment but in absolutely no way near Hannah or Sophie's dancing experience.
My name is Nancy and I am a dancer. Every Tuesday night, I gather with about 15 other women (real women who have curves including a woman who is 9 months pregnant with her 9th child. No joke), and we dance. When our fouetté lack altitude, settle for Coupé turns. We elevé and relevé. We rond de jambe, Jeté, Pirouette, and my Pas de bourrée can only be achieved by my mouthing the term. It's three counts, just like the term. My favorite is to Piqué turn. I rarely tip over.
I am not the thinnest dancer. I am not the heaviest dancer. I am not the least talented nor am I nearly the most talented. I am not the youngest in the class although there's a pretty good chance I am the oldest in the class. My Sautés are not the highest. My leaps are abysmal. But we dance. We have no dreams or aspirations of dancing professionally. Most of us have multiple children and many of us work in other fields that we love. But for those two hours every week, we leave the world behind and enter an existence where we can. After those two hours, we go home to our sleeping families and dream of flying.
What Flack has so beautifully articulated is the not only the backstage brutality of dance, but also the magic of dance. Those who commit themselves completely give themselves to the craft and the craft owns them. Those who hang on in the fringes become 45 year old delusional dancers and addicts to "So You Think You Can Dance."
My name is Nancy and I am a dancer. Don't ruin my delusion. It's all I have.