Review: Phantom’s Dance by Lesa Howard

Phantom's Dance Book Cover Phantom's Dance
Lesa Howard

Christine Dadey's family uprooted their lives and moved to Houston for her to attend the prestigious Rousseau Academy of Dance. Now, two years later, Christine struggles to compete among the Academy's finest dancers, her parents are on the brink of divorce, and she's told no one about her debilitating performance anxiety and what she's willing to do to cope with it. Erik was a ballet prodigy, a savant, destined to be a star on the world's stage, but a suspicious fire left Erik's face horribly disfigured. Now, a lonely phantom forced to keep his scars hidden, he spends his nights haunting the theater halls, mourning all he's lost. Then, from behind the curtain he sees the lovely Christine. The moldable, malleable Christine. Drawn in by Erik's unwavering confidence, Christine allows herself to believe Erik's declarations that he can transform her into the dancer she longs to be. But Christine's hope of achieving her dreams may be her undoing when she learns Erik is not everything he claims. And before long, Erik's shadowy past jeopardizes Christine's unstable present as his obsession with her becomes hopelessly entangled with his plans for revenge.

Review:

When I first read the synopsis for Phantom’s Dance, I couldn’t contain my glee. A reimagining of The Phantom of the Opera, set at a ballet academy rather than an opera house? What could be better than that?!

Phantom’s Dance is told from the perspective of Christine Dadey, a young dancer who has sacrificed a great deal to pursue her dreams of becoming a professional ballerina. She’s left her home and her friends and given up having a “normal” life to attend Rousseau Academy, where she practices ballet for hours each day in hopes of winning a spot with the Academy’s dance company. For all her technical proficiency as a dancer, however, there’s something Christine is missing: creative expression. Her teachers warn that talent alone isn’t enough to earn her a position with the company, and if Christine can’t imbue her dancing with emotion and passion, she’ll never make it as a ballerina.

Discouraged, Christine despairs of ever realizing her dreams. This changes when she meets Erik, a mysterious, masked man whose looks, health, and own promising career as a dancer were destroyed in a fiery accident. Erik understands what it takes to rise to the top in the dancing world and offers to train Christine in secret.

As Erik tells Christine, “You don’t need tutoring. You need transforming.” He goes on to do just that, dancing with Christine, guiding her, and teaching her to pour herself into her work. He’s got a lot of wisdom to impart, my favorite being, “You have to stop making allowances for failure. Don’t expect to fail.” Christine blossoms under Erik’s tutelage…at least until Erik begins to reveal a darker side of himself, a side that makes Christine increasingly uncomfortable.

I enjoyed the student-teacher relationship between Erik and Christine, and there’s an amazing scene where the two perform a pas de deux together – it’s one of my favorite moments in the book. The concept of personal expression superseding simple balletic ability really appealed to me as well. There’s a great chapter in which Christine is attempting to perform a scene from the ballet Giselle. Her less-than-impressed instructor cuts the performance short and tries to impress upon Christine the importance of emotion in dance:

“In spite of Duke Albrecht’s betrayal,” she continued, “Giselle loves this man. Yet you dance like you are going to the local Wal-Mart. Where is the drama? Where is the grief and shame?”

As much as I liked the dance aspects of this book, I was disappointed by the overall tone of the story. I was hoping for the dark sensuality of the musical version of The Phantom of the Opera, but much of Phantom’s Dance ended up feeling very watered down and G-rated. This is partly due to the writing style, which is occasionally awkward and almost juvenile. Erik is to blame as well. He lacks the allure and magnetism that would have made him a more compelling character, and he doesn’t feel suitably dangerous until the end of the book, when the story takes a surprisingly dark turn.

It probably makes me sound like a terrible person to say this, but I was actually kind of relieved that this turn kept the book from being squeaky clean and bright the entire way through. It wouldn’t have been a true adaptation of The Phantom of the Opera if everything was daisies and rainbows.

“There’s no place for the scarred – the ugly – in ballet. So I come here and cower behind the curtains and remember what it was like to have once been the dancer the audience adored.”

Phantom’s Dance wasn’t the best POTO-inspired story I’ve ever read – that honor goes to Of Metal and Wishes by Sarah Fine – but it still deserves a solid 3 stars. I think it will especially appeal to readers who are interested in books about dancing, although there are plenty of great subplots, like the strained relationship between Christine’s parents and her budding romance with handsome football player Raoul, to keep things interesting even for those who don’t usually care for ballet.

I received a free copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

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