Monday, March 11, 2013

Dancing in the Dark

As a former dancer, any book that focuses on dance will generally catch my interest which is exactly how I was drawn to Dancing in the Dark. An added bonus was that the main character, Ditty, is an Orthodox Jew.

For the first 21 years of my life I lived in what is called the Borscht Belt in New York. It was a popular tourist destination for New York Jews, particularly Orthodox. I grew up around these people when they visited in the summer but never was able to get close enough to them to understand too much of their religious practices. Much of the talk which swirled in my area about their practices I didn't know if it was fact or fiction. Still, after all these years I have some interest in the subject and it drew me more towards Dancing in the Dark.

The book is, first off, written simply and to the point. There isn't fancy prose or philosophical language. You are presented with a story, more like told the story, and that's that. For this, I was left feeling a little bored as I didn't truly feel that I was part of the story. Here is Ditty, here is her life, here is what happened... but I hadn't much emotional attachment to her. Overall, she as a character (all the characters, really) were very flat. They didn't have much substance nor much character growth.

The author claims from the very beginning that she was not raised within the Ultra-Orthodox lifestyle of which she is writing about so I only wonder how much of this is based on actual fact or assumption. As someone who knows very little about Judaism in general, I was left wondering (particularly after intense moments of "Religion Is Band and Brainwashing") how accurate or believable this story is. Maybe I'm not the right person to be reviewing this, maybe this would be better off reviewed by someone who really understands this religion.

Still, the overall vibe of the story is that this particular sect of the religion is brain-washing, belittling of women, and very controlling. Like I said, Religion Is Bad. I feel the author wanted you to feel for Ditty and cheer her on in gaining independence and doing what she wants. Forget that she's abandoning her entire family and homeless, forget that she's somehow managing to take all of these dance classes without her family knowing, forget all of the stuff that makes sense. In a way, I feel that the author used this religion as a plot device for Ditty to live out her dreams. And by her, I mean the authors.

In many ways, this book reminded me of a story I wrote when I was in fourth grade. I very much wanted to learn to dance and be on Broadway so I wrote notebooks and notebooks of this story depicting how I just so happened to get lucky enough to run away to New York City and join a Broadway show. Everything just fell right into place! But as an adult, I feel that story was created by a child with a wild imagination and no true idea of how the world works and just how tough it can be to "make it." For Dancing in the Dark, I feel it's much the same. Yes, there is the drama of this Orthodox girl going against her beliefs and wishes to do what she wants with the likelihood of losing her family in the process, but I feel that the goal of Achieving the Dream overshadows the reality of what this fictional character would really be going through if this was real life.

I enjoy dance, always have, and books about dance always attract me. But this novel fell a bit short of my expectations, which is a shame but truth, and I was left a little disappointed. What I want to know is what an Orthodox Jew feels about this tale; that is a review I want to get my hands on.
Note: I received this as an ARC from NetGalley, courtesy of Flux. I was to review this book a few months ago but due to family emergencies, I was unable to read the book until recently.

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