Sunday, 30 December 2012

Dancing In The Dark by Robyn Bavati

*Made Possible by! Thank you very much!
Published: 2010 (Australia) Feb 8th 2013 (NA Release Date-I have a NetGalley ARC)
Publisher: Flux Books
Website: Author Website 

Yehudit (Ditty) Cohen and her friend Sara see a ballet on TV. It is the first time Ditty has ever seen the beautiful and graceful art form, and she is beyond smitten. She is twelve-years-old and she asks her parents to have lessons. Her request is hit with a firm rejection, and she cannot ask again, ever. This is all because she is part of a haredi community of ultra-orthodox Jews. Dancing is strictly forbidden. Yet she cannot simply forget. At first she practices in secret, then it escalates, and she goes to great lengths to lie to her parents to continue dancing. She fights with her religion, her morals, and her family, and in the end, is it worth it?    

            NetGalley only gave me this tiny PNG for a cover, so making it bigger just makes it blurrier, says “Dancing In The Dark.” Really. For your cover, that’s a serious typo. There should not be typos on your cover, ever.

Dancing and Religion
            It is evident that genres like the paranormal get a lot of attention from me because, well, I like them a lot. I decided that I needed to keep up with other genres too. After all, I love being able to personally recommend books when teens ask for different subjects.
            So, I know nothing about ballet beyond the year I took when I was six-years-old. I also know very little about ultra-orthodox Judaism. The ballet parts were easy enough to read without knowing the meaning of every specific term the author throws at the reader. The Jewish terms, not so much. I had to look up many words (like “sheitel”), despite it being explained somewhat (they wear the wig because no one except her husband may see her natural hair after she is married). You know what I didn’t know? There is a glossary in the back. Because I read this book as an eBook, I had no idea, though it is possible that I would not have found the glossary in a print book either, unless it was pointed out.

           The protagonist is twelve at the beginning of the book, but on the page, she doesn’t read like a twelve-year-old. To me, she came off as being at least fifteen, but it might be that her ultra-orthodox upbringing is unfamiliar to me. It was not terribly apparent that she was steadily becoming older. The book ends when she’s seventeen (minus the epilogue). I only felt her really aging when she begins to question her upbringing and morals, but before this she didn’t act her age. Maybe she’s just so...good?   
Later in the book, Ditty and her cousin Linda begin to debate the validity of religion. I would never tell anyone that having religious faith is a bad thing, I advocate questioning the world as a whole, and I thoroughly admire the author for presenting the dilemmas that everyone, young and old, might have. If she didn’t have these religious quandaries the book would have been boring.
I found it infuriating that parents would not allow their children to express themselves in harmless ways, and I’m all for the arts. I think this kind of emotional response is what the author was going for. My inner monologue kept going “but it’s not fair!” and “if my daughter ever wanted this, I’d totally let her because I’m awesome.” But because I am a rational human being, I had to acknowledge that every day we accept the truths that are given to us in blind faith because...we just do. I don’t go outside in my bikini and make snow angels because I’ve been told all my life that I would get sick after such an act. Sure, I might not, but I have been led to believe that I will, so I won’t even bother to try. I don’t really even question it.

Community Themes
            Community is so conflicting in this book. The haredi community is for the ultra-orthodox Jews. They help each other, visit, arrange marriages with each other, etc. Ditty gets babysitting jobs with her community ties. They gather for religious holidays together. Very special bonds are formed.
            But the community is such a double-edged sword. They constantly watch each other and report on the younger members. When Ditty is caught doing something against the rules of their religion, her mother is told immediately. As a minor, it is difficult to be part of a community and not follow every single one of their rules. What if one member didn’t want to be kosher anymore? What about an adult? As a minor, the parents would punish their child to change the behaviour. As an adult, they would be gossiped about and ostracized.
            This gossiping is easily seen with Sara’s family situation. What does it matter to the community about what her father, who no longer lives in the community, does? Why would it reflect badly on his daughter? And I do have to say, if anyone is going to judge you based on your family, they are not worth your time. It happens every day, but it’s by people who cannot adequately value themselves, those who have to tally their self worth by adding other people into their lives.       

Adults As Authority Figures
            This book definitely reminded me how I felt about adults when I was a teen. In Dancing In The Dark, the parents control their kids and lie to them. Yes, these things are done in a “loving” way. Yes, they will choose who you marry, though you can say no...but you’ve been raised never to say no. They give you the illusion of choice. Then you grow up fearing people in authority. And when you’re an adult who has feared authority all your life, you continue to let other people make the choices for you. A perfect example is Sara’s mother and the Rabi. When the adults are like feel powerless to make your own choices. To have your own life.

Adults As Allies 
             Not all adults will hold the exact same position of authority in life. Some, like Miss Mitchell, will encourage you, protect you, and give you opportunities. We need more adults like these. Unfortunately, sometimes these kinds of adults can be few and far between. I did not have many until I hit high school, and then I only had two teachers who actually encouraged me to read, write, and go to university. Considering that absolutely no one encouraged me before this to make something of myself, that I had talent, that I was anything but stupid, those two people made an immeasurable difference to me. There are so many teachers and administrators and librarians who seriously shouldn’t be in their profession. Young people need more positive experiences with adults, or else they are going to grow up expecting to be treated like dirt their whole life. In turn, they will probably become a bitter adult too.

            I highly recommend this as a possible teen book club pick. It can be read by people who are not Jewish or dancers, and I have the feeling that boys would enjoy it too, if they are open to female protagonists. Teens who are interested in stories about religion, rebellion, and freedom will probably enjoy this immensely. This story is about ballet, but I did not find that it has the “sports genre” feel. It was more of a drama. It was a little slow at the beginning, but it grabbed me when she finds her love of dance, and it had moments when I genuinely ached for Ditty to have the freedom to dance without hiding it.  


  1. I have read a few other dance books in the past and I did enjoy them. If I ever see this book I will be sure to pick it up.

    1. I highly recommend it! Feb 13 is the NA release date and I can't wait to pick up my own physical copy :)