This was supposed to be Nina Fortunova's year to win. Instead, she is divorced, without a partner on and off the dance floor. Nina takes to training a young couple, Carly and Sam. Soon, teacher and student become competitors as Nina finds a new partner in Jorge, a Latin Dancer who wants to transition to smooth and Carly gets picked up by Trey, a three time National champion. Both ladies will do whatever it takes to win, but will they take it too far?
Riveting and captivating, The Winner threw me into the exciting world of competitive ballroom dancing. I did ballroom dancing for a few years in college, which is what initially sparked my interest in the book, so I had no trouble following along with the styles, techniques and feelings evoked by each dance. However, even if you know nothing about dance, you should be able to follow along just fine without feeling overwhelmed. The scenes described in the practice studio and the competition were so vivid that I could smell the sweat and hairspray. I enjoyed reading the contrasting storylines of Nina and Carly. Nina, an older dancer who, determined to win the Nationals after working her way through the ranks and Carly, a new dancer to the scene who wants to win Nationals in a short period of time. Both Carly and Nina are determined and talented, but have very different motivations. The side stories of both Nina and Carly's backgrounds added drama to the story. Nina believes she must accomplish a great feat and be successful for her mother who sacrificed everything to come to America and give her opportunities; whereas Carly's parents are forcing her to be a special education teacher in order to better help people like her brother, Archer, who is autistic. When Carly finds a dream of her own, they are not supportive. What was highlighted most for me however, was the connection you find while dancing, especially with a partner.
"And with connection, all things were possible. One person's limits were halved and his or her prospects doubled when paired with another. Four legs rooted into the earth, allowing two hearts and two heads to reach heavenward."
The ending was very surprising and moved quickly through time seeming a little disjointed with the rest of the book. Overall, an immersive and enthralling read taking you deep into the world of ballroom dancing.
This book was received for free in return for an honest review.
BALANCING FACT AND FICTION IN THE WINNER: A BALLROOM DANCE NOVEL
By Erin Bomboy
While writing The Winner, it didn’t take long for me to realize I had a problem. A big one. There was no way to accurately reflect the world of competitive ballroom dancing AND craft a page-turning narrative. Ballroom dancing is too complex, too lively, and most of all, too cyclic to be realistically depicted thanks to word-count limitations. This meant I had to make changes, knowing that whatever ones I did make, both major and minor, were likely to irk readers who are ballroom dancers.
No matter what the story required, I refused to compromise the dancing. All steps and techniques align with the syllabus of the Imperial Society of Teachers of Dancing. Every description of dancing is true to my lived experience and those alongside whom I danced. I must add the caveat that words can never fully represent the visceral reality of dancing.
For those new to ballroom dancing, it may surprise you to learn that its vocabulary isn’t especially challenging — mostly because the steps are based on weight changes: left, then right, left again. The average person can show up at a local studio and, in just a handful of lessons, learn to execute a few basics with reasonable competence.
But that is only the beginning, which is far from the ending. Getting good, much less great, takes thousands of hours. Ballroom dancing is extraordinarily nuanced, each action consisting of tiny particulars — a tilt this way, a sway that way. Competitive ballroom dancers spend years chasing first place, whirling through a sweaty, tear-soaked loop of practicing, perfecting, and competing.
But this is boring, both to write and to read. In the interest of keeping my story taut and vivid, I condensed time. For instance, one of my characters goes from teacher-training class to having a better than good chance at winning a professional title in a little over two years — a feat that usually takes a decade or so.
When I felt it appropriate, I altered space. As an example, I moved the location of the national championship from Florida, its current location, to New York, its original location, which is also the setting for much of the novel. This kept my climactic moments from being dragged down with travel minutia.
The Winner ends with a fact-versus-fiction section, so practitioners can appreciate my reasoning and newbies can gain a fuller picture. If you do me the honor of reading, I’d love to hear what you think about this world I created that evokes, but doesn’t represent, competitive ballroom dancing in the United States.