A review of Another Way to Dance by Martha Southgate

It is believability indeed that makes Another Way to Dance such a special book. The style is natural and, if not always grammatical, consistent with the language of an exceptionally bright teenager. I can’t think of any reader who would not enjoy this book before he or she passes it on to his or her favorite niece.

Reviewed by Bob Williams

Another Way to Dance
by Martha Southgate
Delacorte Press 1996, ISBN 0-385-32191-0, $15.95, 179 pages

Martha Southgate is a young writer with an admirable background in the art of writing. She has received her MFA degree at Goddard College and taught in a variety of situations. This is her first book. The dust jacket indicates that it is for twelve-year olds and up. I belong rather heavily on the high side of that grouping but I found it enjoyable and moving.

Its narrator and heroine is Vicki Harris and the action is largely at the School of American Ballet in New York City. Vicki is fourteen and her dedication to the ballet has been a major part of her life, a life in which stability is lacking. Her parents are divorced and she finds this hard to accept. She blames her mother but she finds closeness to her somewhat chilly and formal father impossible. Instead she daydreams about Mikhail Baryshnikov. These daydreams free her from the dissatisfactions that have developed since her parents’ divorce and the shortcomings of her own life, partially resulting from her dedication to the ballet. She has feelings of insecurity regarding her own place in a profession in which most performers are white and in the world of blacks where she is often uncomfortable.

Her fellow dance student Stacey helps her to know herself better. Stacey is black and makes none of Vicki’s attempts at compromise although Stacey is ready to give up the ballet for a different career in the dance. But both girls wish for the prestigious invitation to return in the fall to the school. Their white friend Debbie seems assured of an invitation but her doubts about its inevitability open insights for Vicki and Stacey.

Everything conspires to bring Vicki to a better understanding of herself and of the worlds in which she lives. Chief among these influences is Michael. He is a young worker at a fast food restaurant, a little old-fashioned in his manners but a strong and honorable person. It is an unstressed irony that Vicki’s imaginary love, Baryshnikov, and this young man, a real lover, are both named Michael.

Racial slights occur and Vicki finds them impossible to entertain with equanimity. Her problem here, as it seems to be with the characters in Southgate’s other books, is the failure to communicate with others concerning dire events and feelings that are injurious. And effective communication must involve choosing the right person, the person capable of healing.

In a scene that is sharply observed and both comic and tragic, Vicki meets Baryshnikov. He makes a public appearance at Macy’s to promote a line of clothing to which he has lent his name. Understandably, he sees nothing special in the young fourteen-year old girl. From this low point in Vicki’s life she begins to show a better grasp of the realities and achieves a maturity of judgment that Southgate presents believably.

It is believability indeed that makes Another Way to Dance such a special book. The style is natural and, if not always grammatical, consistent with the language of an exceptionally bright teenager. I can’t think of any reader who would not enjoy this book before he or she passes it on to his or her favorite niece.

About the Reviewer: Bob Williams is retired and lives in a small town with his wife, dogs and a cat. He has been collecting books all his life, and has done freelance writing, mostly on classical music. His principal interests are James Joyce, Jane Austen and Homer. His book Joyce Country, a guide to persons and places, can be accessed at: http://www.grand-teton.com/service/Persons_Places

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