Dancing in the DarkDancing in the Dark by Robyn Bavati

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Initial reaction: “Dancing in the Dark” was, indubitibly, a beautifully told story of a young woman’s coming of age and quest to pursue a dream of dancing. However, in the spectrum of faith and abiding by her family’s strict rules, she has to pursue her dreams in secret, and begins to question the foundations she’s been taught for much of her life. I really enjoyed the novel in so many ways, from the smooth, easy prose, to the intimacy of Ditty’s experiences, but I was left with a few conflicting feelings about the novel in the aftermath. I hope to expound upon those in the full review, but I still consider this story, collectively speaking, as a favorite.

Full review:

“Dancing in the Dark,” in many ways, was an eye-opening read for me as an overarching coming of age story. While it was a look into the life of a young woman ambitiously striving for a love she discovered in dance and the relationships she built in that spectrum, it was also an interesting examination of the nature of faith and internal/external conflictions that may come with that, particularly in a restrictive sense of faith.

Speaking from personal experiences, I grew up in an environment with an open acceptance of and willingness to understand many different religions. Though I personally have my own beliefs and moralities in my respective faith and hold fast to those, I try to see the world in different perspectives and gain a sense of understanding of other interpretations, other values, other cultures, among other aspects. But I think a few questions that this particular book brings to light in certain measures – what if your faith conflicts with the dreams and aspirations you seek in life? What if those restrictions limit your ability to grow, change, and contribute in your society and you have to lie to yourself and others in order to do the things you set out to do? How do you explain your faith to others who don’t understand what it is? How do you find the balance between your beliefs, your adherence to your faith, and defining those in your sense of self?

I really learned much about the young woman at the forefront of “Dancing in the Dark” (Ditty), identifying not only as Jewish, but a particular division of that with its own sets of rules and limitations. When we first meet Ditty, she’s a twelve year old girl who’s spending time at her friend’s house and who happens to get into something that her faith won’t allow (they’re restrictive of TVs, DVDs, restrictions in literature, etc.) Ditty happens to turn on the TV and watches a showing of “The Nutcracker” with her friend that completely turns her world upside down – making her want to pursue the art of dance. However, her parents aren’t supportive of her aspirations and forbid her from pursuing it. Thus, Ditty makes the difficult decision to transcend her parents’ restrictions in order to pursue her interest, which lends into years of living a lie that not only surrounds multiple dimensions of her external life, but takes a toll on her from within. This is a narrative that follows Ditty over the course of five years, and granted, considering her respective faith – she starts out as a young woman with a certain naivete that some might think is – in due measure – representative of her sheltered lifestyle from the outside world. As the book progresses, it’s more of a coming to terms that she realizes the particular restrictions that she resides within and that she hates being untruthful about what she wants to do and her dedication to her faith. It’s easy to palpate her fears, anger, confusion, questionings, among other emotional mounds that arise in the course of the novel. I actually thought the way the story was told was brilliant, and I really felt for Ditty alongside her journey amid some heartbreaking turns.

At the same time, I think its important to say that this story isn’t entirely for everyone. I think if you’re from a background with a very rooted sense of faith and follow Ditty’s journey, you may not like the way she come to terms with her conflictions and the resulting measure from which she departs and comes to terms with her life in the overarching story. Ditty’s experience is by no means one size fits all, nor is it a measure to say that every person who lives in the kind of environment that Ditty does for some time experiences a break in the way that she does. Still, when following this story on an overarching note as a coming of age/coming to terms story – the questions and issues it brings across are very valuable, I think, for any reader who may peruse it. You may not agree with Ditty’s perspective, the actions/reactions she takes in turns, and how she rationalizes events, but I think the author did a fantastic job of bringing many issues to the forefront at least to think about and question. I definitely appreciated reading Ditty’s individual story and about the different people in her life in the narrative. I certainly liked Ditty’s dance teacher – she was a wonderful character and you could tell she really cared for the girl and wanted to look out for her best interests, as well as encourage her.

In the end, I was rooting for Ditty to find the path she wanted to take and I really appreciated the questions, the emotional resonance, and the overarching story this had to offer. It’s beautifully told and certainly one I would recommend at the least to try.

Overall score: 3.5/5

Note: I received this as an ARC from NetGalley, from the publisher Flux.

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