Take a look at the cover and first pages
In 2019, after 15 years at American Ballet Theatre, Melanie Hamrick – accomplished dancer and partner of Mick Jagger – hung up her pointe shoes. Today, she publishes her first novel, which lifts the curtain on the dirty secrets of the world of dance.
First position follows an ambitious young ballerina named Sylvie Carter, who dances with the American National Ballet. Sylvie has big plans for her future on stage, but grew to hate the nature of her industry: ballet practice, once a source of joy, has become “endless torture”. Her dreams are further shattered when a relationship deteriorates and the weight of the resulting scandal falls solely on her. She’s sure she’ll never become a prima ballerina…until famed dancer Alessandro Russo joins the group, and she discovers that her life on and off stage becomes more tumultuous than ever.
Take a first look at the book cover below and keep scrolling for an exclusive excerpt from First positionthe first pages. To read what happens next, pick up a copy of the novel when it’s released in 2023.
I can barely see. I’m hot and cold at the same time and I can already tell that I won’t remember much from tonight. I’m glad I don’t. I look at the bottle of anti-anxiety medication on my bathroom counter and want to throw it off the hotel balcony. I’m better than that. Or at least I was.
I still am, aren’t I?
I get out of the tub and take off my soaked robe, step out of the bathroom naked and head to my bed. I sit with my legs apart for a second before looking at the zipped compartment of my suitcase. I can’t believe I’m still hiding my old diary. Everyone knows what’s inside. I can’t even believe that I have kept this. It’s humiliating to see again.
All these pages admitting to wanting me to be famous, I can’t wait to be there. Believe in me and the world around me so deeply, as if life was going to be fair. Happy, even. I’m not a bitter, jaded old hag or anything anymore, but I’m sure it’s not that girl anymore.
I unzip the pocket and take it out. What already possessed me to buy a pink newspaper?
On the first page, there are the rules.
Oh, the rules.
I read them attentively, even if my eyes see double. It’s perhaps less the reading and more viscerally, instantly remembering each one.
- Be wise. Be very good. Beyond reproach.
- Don’t reward yourself – dance with the ANB is the reward, not the dessert.
- Drink rarely, and only a delicate drink here and there. Do not take drugs.
- Do not have sex with somebody. No, unless it’s really meaningless – which is highly unlikely – avoid all of this together. (Box: when they call you a prude, tell them you’re not, but you just don’t want the drama – it’s true and it’s respectable)
- Don’t put shit in writing. Already.
- Don’t let friendships get ugly. Better to have no friends than to get involved and risk drama.
- Befriend the staff without being a brown nose. Be right above all the pettiness, they’re gonna eat that shit.
- Dance like Juliet at twenty-one.
I laugh and close the book. Jesus. I broke each of them.
I liked the word bis. It meant everything. It meant it was over, it meant they wanted more, more of what only I could give. It meant I was good. Too good to stop.
Still meant I want more. Still meant don’t stop, keep going. Still meant, I don’t want to say goodbye, not right now.
Once upon a time, I wanted to hear it. Now the word fills me with dread. I am a weary traveler in the hot sun, exhausted, desperately thirsty and terribly hungry, and I am told that the end is only a mirage – there are still miles to go.
“Bis!” Diana’s voice cries out the word. “Still!”
I take my position and repeat the phrase for the hundredth time. Sweat runs down my forehead from the exertion under the hot stage lights. I can feel a blister starting to swell and bloom on my heel. I know it’s going to mean pain, and the more I ignore it – and I will ignore it – the longer it will take to heal.
I smile. Not because everything is worth it or something like that. I smile because I have to, and if I don’t – and if I don’t convince Diana that smile is effortless – I’ll just have to do it again.
Diana is the ballet mistress, which means she’s basically like the coach, and we’re her players to get her ready for the big game. She begs After of every position, straightening every line of our body, making us bend until we almost break while remaining as straight as glass, while managing to look as peaceful and easy and effortless as a weeping willow.
Diana is screaming bis until the word begins to feel like a whip through the flesh.
Last rehearsal, Diana’s order of bis meant to make a pique arabesque fifty-seven times in a row. My feet bled at the end. Nobody cares when your feet bleed here. Honestly, seeing a trail of bloody fingerprints on the shiny hallway floor is no more suspicious than the grass and dirt in the locker room after a football game.
The week before, bis meant to do breakaways until the whole lower half of my body was numb.
If beauty is pain, then becoming art is torture.
Endless torture too. It’s taken me twenty years and counting to hold my hands properly, and every day I’m still says a finger is out of place. Usually it’s my thumb, sticking out a little too much. I see it at a rare moment when I am not thinking about the stage and my body, and the relationship between them. I hate my thumb. I hate it like it was to get me. And in a way, it is. I’m supposed to be in control of it and yet… I don’t.
My fucking thumb.
And, of course, it doesn’t stop there. I giggle or privately stare every inch of my body. It’s not just me doing this. It’s every dancer. We look at ourselves and find flaws in the mirror and in each other, like predators looking for the weaknesses of their prey.
I hate the extra millimeter around my hips that forms when I retain water before my period. The gray-blue discoloration under my eyes from practicing too late at night and waking up too early. And later I’ll laugh at my heel for daring to develop a blister when I need hard calloused skin that still looks as soft as the most stationary porcelain doll.
The music starts again, Diana is already on the verge of disliking the performance and asking for another one before we’ve even started.
Excerpt from FIRST POSITION by Melanie Hamrick, published by Berkley, an imprint of Penguin Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House, LLC. Copyright © 2023 by Melanie Hamrick.