Danc­ing in the Dark

Robyn Bavati

  • Review
By – October 31, 2013

Yehu­dit Dit­ty” Cohen attends Beis Han­nah School and lives with her par­ents and six sib­lings in the hare­di com­mu­ni­ty in Mel­bourne, Aus­tralia. She and her best friend Sara dis­cov­er a for­bid­den tele­vi­sion set in Sara’s mother’s bed­room and Dit­ty is exposed to the mag­ic, dra­ma, and beau­ty of bal­let. Dit­ty secret­ly checks out books about bal­let at the pub­lic library, prac­tices in her bath­room, and dreams of tak­ing lessons. But, what sort of prepa­ra­tion would that be for the Olam Haba?” her father asks when Dit­ty rais­es the sub­ject with her par­ents. Bal­let is not mod­est and her par­ents fear that she will be tempt­ed by the sec­u­lar world. Her mis­sion in life” is to be the best Jew she can be, to do mitzvos, and to help to bring the moshi­ach into the world. How­ev­er, Dit­ty can’t help her­self and starts to secret­ly attend lessons at the Nation­al The­ater. Dit­ty is a nat­ur­al and quick­ly excels at bal­let but her suc­cess comes at a steep price. She finds her­self break­ing the Sab­bath, eat­ing non-kosher food, danc­ing with a male part­ner, and per­form­ing on stage. Her bal­let teacher encour­ages her to audi­tion for the Aus­tralian Bal­let School and at sev­en­teen, after five years of lead­ing a dou­ble life, Dit­ty must choose between her fam­i­ly and her future.

Bavati por­tays the hare­di com­mu­ni­ty as rigid and inflex­i­ble, espe­cial­ly when best friend Sara is forced to sit shi­va for her father when he re-mar­ries a non-Jew­ish woman. But, she attempts to pro­vide bal­ance through Ditty’s aunt, uncle, and cousin, mod­ern Ortho­dox Jews who pro­vide sup­port and encour­age­ment. While Ditty’s par­tic­u­lar situ­ation may be unique, her strug­gle to bal­ance her own dreams against her par­ents’ wish­es and the expec­ta­tions of her com­mu­ni­ty are uni­ver­sal and some­thing that teen read­ers of all back­grounds will instant­ly relate to. Dit­ty is a mul­ti-dimen­sion­al char­ac­ter with a real­is­tic and authen­tic voice; sec­ondary char­ac­ters are well devel­oped. Ten­sion builds and read­ers will anx­ious­ly turn the pages to find out how and when Dit­ty gets caught in her lies and what she ulti­mate­ly decides to do. The sprin­kling of Aus­tralian slang and the detailed descrip­tions of Ditty’s neigh­bor­hood and the city of Mel­bourne cre­ate a strong, authen­tic sense of place. Danc­ing in the Dark, while writ­ten for teens, will also appeal to adult read­ers who flocked to Unortho­dox: The Scan­dalous Rejec­tion of My Hasidic Roots by Deb­o­rah Feld­man and I Am For­bid­den by Anouk Markovits.

Rec­om­mend­ed for ages 11 and up.

Rachel Kamin has been a syn­a­gogue librar­i­an and Jew­ish edu­ca­tor for over twen­ty-five years and has worked at North Sub­ur­ban Syn­a­gogue Beth El in High­land Park, IL since 2008, cur­rent­ly serv­ing as the Direc­tor of Life­long Learn­ing. A past chair of the Syd­ney Tay­lor Book Award Com­mit­tee and past edi­tor of Book Reviews for Chil­dren & Teens for the Asso­ci­a­tion of Jew­ish Libraries News & Reviews, her arti­cles and book reviews appear in numer­ous pub­li­ca­tions. She has been a mem­ber of the Amer­i­can Library Association’s Sophie Brody Book Award Com­mit­tee since 2021.

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