There is almost nothing I enjoy more than pointing out that the qualities that make a great ballet dancer can be harnessed for other things—and this book is a perfect example. Sophie Flack was a dancer with New York City Ballet from 2000 to 2009, and after leaving the company she is now studying English at Columbia University. She is also the author of Bunheads – a thoughtfully crafted novel about life in the world of ballet.
Written with an authenticity that can only be garnered by experience, Ms. Flack creates an inviting cast of characters that draws the reader in right away. The main character, Hannah Ward, is a corps de ballet dancer with the Manhattan Ballet, and the story is told through her eyes. We follow her through the ups and downs of her career as she competes for roles, pushes to improve her dancing and sacrifices much of what a “normal” life would otherwise be for her first love—ballet.
As the story evolves, conflict arises within Hannah when she meets a handsome musician named Jacob. The connection between the two of them is strong, but having a relationship with someone outside of the ballet world proves to be incredibly difficult—a fact she struggles with. Hannah begins to compare her life in dance to the idea of living life without the demands of being with the company, and knows she must eventually choose which path she will take.
Ms. Flack is a skilled writer and it’s easy to disappear into the pages of this book because she has built a solid story that rings of truth and passion. By having been an insider in this typically closed world, she is able to show both the beauty of it–and the strain. Those who have experienced life in a ballet class or company are sure to find themselves nodding in recognition with the trials and triumphs Hannah faces along the way. That said, I think that Bunheads would also appeal to those outside the ballet arena. The book provides a rare peek behind the scenes into the day-to-day life of a dancer, but not in a way that would leave other readers behind.
My absolute favorite part of this book is the way Ms. Flack crafted the circle of friends that Hannah hangs around with in the company. The dancers that she spends every day with are at the same time her closest pals—and her toughest rivals. It makes for an unusual situation, that in ballet is actually very common. Somehow you have to learn to walk the fine line between being a competitor and a confidant. It certainly isn’t easy, and here it is captured so very well.
This is undoubtedly the best fiction book on the life of a ballet dancer that I have read in a long time and I highly recommend it. Younger dancers will find a great story that they can relate to and older dancers will be transported back in time for a bit of reminiscing. This would make a perfect gift for someone who loves dance.
Hats off to Sophie Flack for taking the creativity, determination and attention to detail it takes to be a ballet dancer and writing her first novel. I look forward to the next one.
Read more about the author on the 4dancers feature – 10 Questions With…Sophie Flack