50 shades of ballet? Hamrick on a steamy novel that makes ‘Black Swan’ seem tame
Melanie Hamrick, who knows her way around a quick pirouette, had to move fast when her 6-year-old son Deveraux recently picked up a copy of her new novel, “First Position,” as she was signing books.
“I didn’t realize how well he was reading,” the former ballerina and first-time author says of her first-grader, whom she shares with partner Mick Jagger. “He opened it and I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, give me that book!’”
She suggested an alternative: “The Cat in the Hat.”
Wise move. “First Position” (get the pun?) is what they call a romance novel but might easily have been called “Fifty Shades of Ballet.” Hamrick, who spent 16 years at American Ballet Theatre before leaving to raise Deveraux, writes about a young dancer, Sylvie, who joins a prestigious national ballet company and tries to make her mark.
As the dancers move vertically up the workplace ladder, there’s also a lot of, er, horizontal action. Hamrick says she wanted to give readers a good time, but also a view of what the ballet is like “behind the gilded curtain” — a world that presents as pristine and perfect.
“You see this image on stage,” says Hamrick, 36. “But if you saw what’s in the wings you’d be shocked. There’s shouting. There’s moving sets. People having snacks, people on their phones. And then on stage, it’s just this beautiful, perfect bubble. I love showing people that it’s not always what you see.”
OK, but do ballerinas really hang out in Parisian sex clubs?
“I personally haven’t been but I have friends who have,” Hamrick says. “I can’t give away names because I don’t want people to be mad at me.”
Hamrick sat down with The Associated Press to chat about the process of writing her first novel. The interview has been edited for length, clarity and flow.
AP: You danced with one of the country’s top companies for 16 years. Why did you stop?
Hamrick: I was fulfilled in the roles I was dancing. (But) once I had a child, the balance didn’t work. At the time, only one other dancer had a child in the company. I felt that it was hard, and they didn’t really understand my need to balance being a mother and being in the studio 10 hours a day.
AP: Is that when you turned to writing?
Hamrick: It was the pandemic, and we had all that time. I was originally working on a dance show … a bigger version of the ballet (Hamrick choreographed) to Rolling Stones music. And I was so excited about it and we were looking at venues and then theaters closed. Unfortunately, ballet gets cut first from a lot of budgets. I had all these stories from the ballet, and my Mom would say, “Write them down!” and Mick would say, “Write them down!” And finally it was, “This is the time, let’s do it.”
AP: And why a romance novel?
Hamrick: The ballet world was a no-brainer. That’s what I know. And I love a good romance novel. I wondered why there’s no romance novel set in the ballet world. Ballet is so beautiful, so sexy, the dressing rooms and the tutus and the leotards. I wrote something I felt I would want to read.
AP: Fair enough. This is more like erotic fiction, though?
Hamrick: It’s the escapism. “Fifty Shades of Grey” was such a phenomenon, to embrace sex and talk about sex. And ballet is beautiful and the women are beautiful. So for me, you’re already escaping into the ballet world, so let’s go to the next level! And it’s fun.
AP: Were you also influenced by “Black Swan”?
Hamrick: Yes, “Black Swan” opened the door a bit. I loved the movie. Some people said it wasn’t authentic, but I was like, it’s authentic enough, it’s just that it all wouldn’t happen to just one person. Maybe 10 people. It’s like my book — it’s fiction, you can embellish it. You can twist it, you can do what you want with it.
AP: Back to the sex clubs for a minute — is this really a thing in the ballet world?
Hamrick (laughs): You’re in these beautiful cities. You’re young. You’re in Paris and you’re in your early 20s. You’re going to go have fun. You know, you missed out. You didn’t do the college thing. You didn’t do the high school thing, right? Now, “wild nights” are rare, but that’s what was so fun about writing this. I could make every a wild night.
AP: One serious angle you introduce is about the young women being mistreated by powerful men in charge.
Hamrick: I think it happens in every career, everywhere. I find people can relate to that. And ballet has always been such a male-dominated world — yet it’s a female-dominated workplace. But I love that it’s changing, there are now way more female directors than there used to be.
AP: How has your family reacted to the book?
Hamrick: Well, my mom read the first few chapters and said, “I didn’t know it was going to be THAT sexy!” And I was like, “Well, Mom, you encouraged me to write the book.” And she said, “But I didn’t know it was going to be like THAT!” And then I told her, “OK you’re not allowed to read anymore until it’s finished!” Mick was so supportive, he really enjoyed it. I kept saying, “Did you finish it yet?” And he said, “Give me a minute!”
AP: And what kind of reaction do you hope to get from the public?
Hamrick: I just hope people are reading the book, so I can write more (Hamrick has already submitted her second novel, focusing on Sylvie’s friend). I loved one (online) review, something like, “I didn’t think I was a prude, but this was too sexy for me.” And I’m like, “Oh, I did it! I shocked someone.” It’s so hard to shock people these days.
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