Read an excerpt from First Position by Melanie Hamrick

First Position. Image courtesy Berkley
First Position. Image courtesy Berkley /

Ballet is one of those sports that never gets the attention it deserves. First Position by Melanie Hamrick is trying to change that, though.

I don’t know about my fellow readers, but I rarely read a book featuring a ballerina or dance as a sport. Honestly, I can only think of a handful yet this latest release from Berkley is hoping to change the conversation.

If you didn’t know, Melanie Hamrick is a ballerina, dance teacher, mother, and writer. That’s why I’m so excited to be able to share an excerpt from her debut novel as I’m sure she has an inside look at a world none of us even know about.

Of course, I’d like to thank not only Melanie Hamrick but Berkley for this excerpt as I know this book has gotten some great comparisons and I’m sure some of my fellow readers might want to dive into it.

Read an exciting new excerpt for First Position by Melanie Hamrick!

First Position by Melanie Hamrick
Melanie Hamrick. Credit Andres de Lara /

"I push through the outer stage doors and begin my walk of shame up the grand, red velvet aisle of the empty theater.“Let’s go, let’s go,” Diana says, with snapping fingers. The pianist begins the music and I hear the gentle shuffle of the dancers’ feet as they scramble to places behind Jocelyn.Diana’s voice wafts through the theater like smoke that hangs instead of drifting away.I pull on my sweats violently and tug hard at my bun to let my hair fall loose down my back.I think of Giselle, the namesake of the ballet, and how she went mad over a guy.I can’t help but laugh as I pull out my phone to numb myself with pointless scrolling. I pick a row without looking and take a seat. I am not yet allowed to leave. I have to wait until the end of the act before I go. It won’t take long, not nearly as long as our section. If Diana wants to see Jocelyn’s solo again it will be to merely applaud her perfection and only because she liked it so much.“Is something funny?”There’s a figure in the row behind me.“What?” Then I remember that I had laughed out loud. Like a crazy person. “Oh, that. No. Nothing is funny.”I clear my throat and look back down at my phone. I am grateful to have it as a shield. It serves as a do not disturb sign. It serves as an escape without the energy of reading or watching something that takes attention. It serves as relief without hangovers or withdrawal. It’s justnothing. That might be everyone else’s problem with it, but it’s exactly what I appreciate about it.“May I?” He is silhouetted at the end of my row.Nerves surge in my chest. I gesture: Sure, why not?He makes a noise that may be an exhale or a laugh, but I can’t tell. I have to resist sarcastically echoing his own words back to him, Is something funny?He stops a few seats from me and watches the stage. Maybe he isn’t actually joining me. Maybe he just wants a better view.I squint at his profile and my body tenses before my brain can react. It’s been a long day—my eyes are bleary from performing so intensely, my brain is scrambled, my body worn, so I’m not sure I trust myself, but something about him seems too familiar. Something about him—his frame, his profile, his essence or something—is ringing a bell somewhere in the back of my mind.He turns away from the stage, toward me, and he comes closer, stopping two seats from me and sitting down. He has so much confidence, he’s so at ease.He looks like Robert Graham in his younger days, but with a better hairline. He has a mischievousness to him. A playfulness in his eyes.Ballet doesn’t have time for much of that.He pushes up the sleeves of his black sweater, eyes back on the stage. He exposes unexpected, winding tendrils of a tattoo with lines as fine as thread. He rubs his fingers together absentmindedly, and a muscle twitches by his elbow.I can tell by his form that he is a dancer, but I only know because I’m in the world. A girl ata bar would just think he has an amazing body.He gets up, and for a moment I feel a plunge of regret that I didn’t say anything interesting and instead sat here dumbly. But then he moves to the seat directly beside me.I take a small breath of distance back from him, afraid—idiotically—that he will feel crowded by me.“She looks to be a bit tough on you,” he says, his voice low but not quite a whisper.It takes me a moment to realize that I’m embarrassed by what he has said.“Diana?” I ask.He gestures at her. “Your mistress?”“Yes, her—yes, her name is Diana.”He nods and considers. “You were upset by what she said, no doubt.”He has an accent. At first it seemed light enough that it could have been regional or just the low volume and the big room. But now that I am practically in his lap, now that the heat from his skin is punctuating every word by wrapping itself around the different parts of me, I can tell that he has a somewhat strong accent. I would guess Italian or Spanish. And definitely sexy.For some reason, my default is to defend her shit as reasonable. “It’s rehearsal—she’s got to be hard on us.”“Seemed she was only hard on you.” He looks at me. “Right?”“Yes, just . . . then she was, but it’s fine.” I open my mouth to say more but lose all conviction one way or another. I shrug, not sure if I am actually defending myself or Diana.“She must see something more in you. If I had to guess, I’d say there’s a lot more to you than what I just saw.”My eyes shoot to him. I’m not sure what to say. Is he being a dick?I look back to the stage, where Jocelyn is performing beautifully, and where Diana is nodding in time to the music, watching her. Ugh.The stranger and I sit there for minutes. I feel tense, suspended in air.Finally, I say, “I don’t think it’s fair for you to say anything when all you’ve seen is— I don’t even know how much you saw.”“I saw enough.”I’m not going to say anything.As is becoming more common these days, my anger drags me back into the fray like a haggard doll in the care of a sadistic child. “Look, ballet is my life. It has been since I was four years old.” I waver, suddenly aware that he has not asked for an autobiography and I’m sounding like a babbling fool. “I have passion.” Who am I trying to convince?“She did not tell you that you don’t have passion. Not at all. And neither did I, by the way.” He remains expressionless. “She said you’re in your head. This is not a damning insult.”“Well, I don’t know—how am I supposed to read that? In my head? Whose head should I be in?” He doesn’t answer before I rail on. “Maybe it’s just that she hates me, and it’s really that simple.”He laughs. “You’re doing it now.”I think he will elucidate, but he doesn’t. He just gives a little grin and then runs his hand through his hair. It’s that amazing, thick, shining chestnut color with loose natural waves.“I am not all in my head.” I turn away from him, away from his head, focusing back on the stage. This conversation is over, I think. But instead, I find myself turning back to him, wordsfalling out in a hissed bravado before I can catch them. “I have to be in my head! If I’m not, then my form falls apart. Or it would. I have to be on the stage, in the music, and I have to be thinking in my head. Of course I do.”“It’s hard,” he says simply.I am now deeply offended that this stranger thinks he has any right to tell me why ballet is hard. Ballet is blood, sweat, and tears—all of which are to be hidden at all costs. Ballet is hard, yes, but he—whoever he is—is not going to tell me why.I sit back again. This isn’t a conversation I need to have. I don’t owe this guy anything. He just pushed on a bruise that was already sore and I reacted. I’m not going to give him the satisfaction of any more reactions.My body is a coiled spring.“I can tell you have passion,” he said easily, clearly unaware of—or undeterred by—the turmoil of reactivity thirteen inches away from him. “I watched you for only a little while up there, not even alone, and I know you can be much better than you are. Even better, I should say.”At first his eyes stay on the stage, even as he turns his head toward me, and then with a slow blink, he looks me in the eye.I can smell him. Is it cologne or just him? The notes are clean, maybe a little woodsy or smoky but not aggressively so. It could be soap and body heat.The softness of his sweater—is it cashmere?—lightly touches the skin of my upper arm and I find myself not wanting to move.“I can tell you have passion in the worst way,” he goes on, oblivious to my mental argument.His consonants slur together slightly from his accent. “The worst kind of passion is the kind that is fighting to get out but is being barred by something its owner thinks is necessary. As if to be passionate is to be weak, or to be foolish, or to be uncivilized. As if passion is not the only thing that has ever made it possible for brilliance to be translated from one to the other. Passion is not a detail of talent. It is the synthesizer, the vehicle, the translation, the magic drug that makes it possible for talent to not only be seen but to be felt.”My god, maybe he’s brilliant.Excerpted 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."

I didn’t want to waste any time since this is a slightly longer excerpt than normal but if anything, it gives you enough of Melanie Hamrick’s writing style to get you intrigued. Considering that she’s a dancer herself, this book is bound to be full of things most of us don’t know or haven’t ever thought about.

Coupled with that pretty cover, this would be a great beach read for this summer. Whether you’re headed on vacation or just headed outside on a walk, First Position is worth adding to your summer TBR.

First Position by Melanie Hamrick is out now wherever books are sold. 

What do you think, my fellow readers? Will you be picking up First Position by Melanie Hamrick? Let us know in the comments!

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