This is my first Drina book: I read a lot of ballet books as a kid, but these somehow passed me by. Then I found this one going cheap the other week, and decided to give it a go. It’s fairly formulaic, and the big secret’s obvious from very early on, but it’s a well-written children’s book and I enjoyed it.
Lorna Hill’s dancers are usually very nice, and Noel Streatfeild’s are usually very annoying: Drina is more of a Lorna Hill type, and is very appealing. The one thing that slightly annoys me is that the author’s rather sarcastic about other ballet books and their ridiculous ballet teachers. OK, to be fair, has anyone ever met anyone who talks like Madame Wakulski-Viret?! But this is a very standard ballet book too. Drina has a slightly exotic background, family don’t want her dance for unrevealed mysterious reasons, she misses out on a show due to sudden illness, circumstances prevent her from having more lessons but she’s determined to become a dancer anyway, she gets her chance when someone else gets injured at the last minute, the big secret is revealed, and you know that she’s going to become a prima ballerina. Fairly clichéd ballet book stuff, but it *is* well-written. And all the characters are very believable.
I did actually have ballet/dance lessons for a while. I was never going to be Veronica Weston or Posy Fossil, but I was genuinely quite enthusiastic to start off with. Unfortunately, useless fat kids like me were made to stand at the back of the class, and weren’t allowed to do anything other than chanting “Good toes, naughty toes” whilst sitting on the floor and waggling their toes, and doing a few basic movements whilst walking in a straight line. It was very demoralising – and it was really rather mean of the teacher to treat hopeful little kids like that. She could at least have let us have a go at doing something else! I gave up after a year or so. But I still liked the books!
I think the main reason that useless fat kids were only allowed to walk in a straight line was so that they didn’t take up too much of the hall. This left plenty of room for the favoured kids to do the polka. I desperately wanted to be allowed to do the polka. I can still hear the teacher chanting “Hop, polka, drop”. I practised it on my own. Assiduously. I really, really wanted to whirl around the room as if I were in a mid 19th century ballroom. No. I was never allowed out of that back row.
Not that I’m bitter about it or anything. Much. I mean, she could at least have let us try. Our mums and dads were actually paying the same for the lessons as those of the favoured polka cohort. Er, as I said, not that I’m bitter or anything … 😉 .
Things like this did not happen to people in books. OK, Caroline Scott went to the Wells and didn’t do very well there, but then she was swept off her feet by a handsome Spaniard and became a famous Spanish dancer instead, which was way better than doing the polka.
Having said which, this was after she’d magically “lost her puppy fat” when she was about 14. I waited hopefully for this to happen to me. I’m still waiting …
Jenny, Drina’s best friend, is also a fat girl and is also useless at ballet, but she’s the one who first introduces Drina to ballet classes. She’s lovely – so nice to see a positive portrayal of a “plump” girl – and very believable. All the characters are believable: there are the inevitable nasty girls who are up themselves and think they’re much better dancers than they are, but there’s no-one completely OTT. The only thing that stretches the imagination is the idea that Drina, an orphan who lives with her maternal grandparents, seems to know next to nothing about her mother and father. But that’s fairly mild compared to some of the stuff that goes on in ballet books!
So, all in all, this is pretty good, as a children’s ballet book!