"As a dancer with the ultra-prestigious Manhattan Ballet Company, nineteen-year-old Hannah Ward juggles intense rehearsals, dazzling performances and complicated backstage relationships. Up until now, Hannah has happily devoted her entire life to ballet.
But when she meets a handsome musician named Jacob, Hannah's universe begins to change, and she must decide if she wants to compete against the other "bunheads" in the company for a star soloist spot or strike out on her own in the real world. Does she dare give up the gilded confines of the ballet for the freedoms of everyday life?"
Every now and then, I come across a book that transports me to a world that I cannot fathom, but that is real -- not imagined, but real. That's what happened when I read an advanced copy of Sophie Flack's debut young adult novel, Bunheads. Having been a dancer herself with the prestigious New York City Ballet in their corps de ballet for eight years, Flack's personal experience is surely the reason that her debut novel rings so authentic.
Not that this book is an autobiography by any means. I asked Sophie a few questions about Bunheads and she graciously provided this blog interview for The Contemps.
Sophie, thanks so much for stopping by!
1) While reading Bunheads, I felt like I was getting a private tour of the ballet world. It was so much more than what I'd ever imagined, from dancers literally sewing themselves into their pointe shoes to a brutally physical schedule that made my own body hurt just reading about it. Obviously, your background is what made this story read with such authenticity, but where did you draw the line between fiction and autobiography?
Bunheads is a work of fiction, however having spent nine years dancing with the New York City Ballet, the reader gets a first-hand account of the backstage drama, and what it takes to be a professional dancer. Staging a fictional story in a familiar space was a great opportunity to exercise my imagination. It felt a bit like an acting exercise, because I imagined that I was right there in the character’s shoes.
2) Our editor at Poppy, Elizabeth Bewley, once told me that she reached out to you after reading an article in which you were featured in The New York Times. Had you already chosen a major in English at Columbia? Elizabeth said you had kept vivid accounts of your 9 years in the ballet in personal journals. Did that help in writing this manuscript and is writing something you always wanted to do?
I had taken literature courses at Columbia but I didn’t formally declare English as my major until the following year. When I began to write Bunheads, I referred to my diaries in order to research Hannah’s voice. The diaries also helped me remember what interested me as a young corps dancer, and the struggles my friends and I were experiencing.
3) I read the same article, Sudden Finale, and noticed that you were quoted saying that you never wanted to be a "bunhead." I'm assuming this inspired the title of your debut young adult book, but tell me about that word. What does it mean in the dancers' circle? What do you expect your former colleagues will think about your book?
‘Bunhead’ is an insider term for a girl that is obsessed with ballet and always has her hair up in a bun. While dancing professionally, it was important for me to remain as well rounded as possible— I not only wanted to excel in the company, I also wanted to grow as a person. Without some measure of balance, I would not have been able to dance for as long as I did.
Thanks, Sophie! Okay readers, whether you leap, twirl, or jeté to the bookstore (yeah, I had to look that last one up), be sure to check out her book in hardcover October 10 and follow her on Twitter or Facebook to keep plugged in to the events she'll surely have in the upcoming weeks to celebrate her debut book launch!