TxtingMrDarcy Reads: “Center Stage” Edition

Bunheads”~ Sophie Flack*

Book Description (From Amazon): On-stage beauty. Backstage drama.

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?

Soundtrack: “Soldier” ~ Ingrid Michaelson

The solitude and personal strength portrayed in this song really speak to me when I think about Hannah’s drive and sacrifice. She totally isolates herself because she feels that she has no other choice if she wants to totally commit to her dream.

Best Enjoyed With: Kale Chips. Seriously, reading about the ballerinas’ crazy diets left me starving.

This book is a sweet little read that I zipped through in about 24 hours. It’s as light as the tulle of a tutu, but contains some layers that give it a satisfying fullness in the end.

Hannah has dreamt of being a professional ballerina for as long as she can remember. It didn’t seem like much of a sacrifice to her to move to New York at age fourteen to purse her passion full time, but after years in the corps de ballet at the Manhattan Ballet she’s starting to notice all of the things that she’s missing out on. Like free time. And dating.

When she meets a cute college student named Jacob, the contrasts in their lives are thrown into sharp focus, and she’s forced to make a choice between continuing to give 100% to ballet or attempting to squeeze a “real life” into her insanely packed schedule.

I have to admit, what I found most interesting about this book is the fact that it’s apparently semi-autobiographical. Sophie Flack was a member of the New York City Ballet for nine years, and is currently attending Columbia University.

The characters and drama (or relative lack thereof) ring with a note of truth, but there’s none of the ridiculous melodrama that’s come to be associated with dance in popular media. There’s competition among the dancers, mention of crazy diets and loads of bitchiness, but nothing terribly over the top. The dance scenes are clearly written with an insider’s eye for detail, and the description of the dancers’ various physical ailments and fatigue is eye-opening.

My only gripe is that there should probably be a glossary of common dance terms in the back. Flack tosses them around as though she assumes we all know what they mean, but it made it difficult to picture the dance scenes in my head without understanding the nuances of the steps. Like some of the novel’s “pedestrians” (anyone outside the dance community) I can’t tell the difference between a piqué and a bourrée. On the other hand, I could totally see young girls who are in love with dancing adoring this book.

Hannah is a difficult heroine to like- she’s so incredibly driven that it can come off as being self-absorbed (a complaint of one of the main characters.) I could relate her, after majoring in music myself and spending years consumed with performances and practices. Similarly, her character development made her even more sympathetic to me. Being a performer takes a far thicker skin than I have naturally, and years of competition and critiques wore me down to the point where I needed to step away and assess whether I really had the drive to pursue singing as a career. Obviously, I didn’t.

The supporting characters are relatively one-dimensional, each given one defining characteristic with which to stand out. Daisy binge-eats when she gets upset, Leni is perpetually cheerful despite knowing that she’ll never get promoted, Zoe’s an upper-class snot and Bea is… from Nebraska. As a first novel, it’s a decent effort, but unfortunately I chose to read it after Shadow of Night.

Two and a half broken-in pairs of toe-shoes.

*Not related to or to be confused with the new show on ABC Family starring Sutton Foster

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