January 11, 2012

Chance to Dance for You

by Gail Sidonie Sobat
Great Plains Teen Fiction
172 pp.
Ages 14+

Although Ian Trudeau has only outed himself to his family and best friend, Tilley, his dance skills, specifically ballet, make him a target of homophobic slurs, vandalism and violence in his very suburban high school.  Unfortunately, one of the worst offenders is Jess Campeau, a football and hockey athlete, on whom Ian has a crush.  Fortunately, Jess seems to have issues with his own sexuality, compelling him to take Ian aside on two different occasions and kiss him, while still denouncing being gay.

When Ian agrees to keep Jess' secret in return for Jess discontinuing his insults of gays and girls, he also promises to be his friend and sounding board if Jess feels he needs to talk.  That courageous offer opens a door for Jess, allowing him to get closer to Ian, while still determined to keep their relationship completely hidden.  After a romantic evening during which Jess asks Ian to dance for him, Jess discretely attends a dress rehearsal for a spring show of Ian's.  But, Jess' military dad finds a copy of the programme, furious at its implications (i.e., Jess isn't a real man) and beats up his son, who finds refuge for the night with Ian and his mom.  Surprisingly, the next day begins Jess' avoidance of Ian and his public dating of a girl, Brittany, to temper his dad's anger and drunken violence.

Hurt, angry and lonely, Ian looks for ways to reconnect with Jess.  And, although Ian is gently persuaded to recognize that he is very fortunate to have unconditional support to be himself, not everyone feels able or willing to fight for their rights to be different.  But, this lesson is a painful one for him to learn and then accept.

While many may emphasize the gay relationship in Chance to Dance for You, I see it as a love story wrapped in prejudice.  Jess learns from his father and his jock peers that he shouldn't be attracted to Ian, but he is, hence his conflict.  Ian knows the battles he faces daily, even with undeniable caring and support, but he is convinced that love can conquer all.  Gail Sidonie Sobat's storyline, so authentic in its voice and details, emphasizes the boys' attempts to resolve these conflicts while staying true to themselves and remaining unbroken, if possible.  First loves always have a way of taking a little bit away from you while almost always helping you gain something: maturity, strength, humility, insight, friendship, or wisdom. 
Read the book jacket endorsements by Brian Francis (author of Fruit, ECW Press, 2004) and Glen Huser (author of Stitches, Groundwood, 2003), Canadian authors of books in which male protagonists must deal with their differences, for their succinct and touching expressions about Chance to Dance for You.  Then, read this very real and bittersweet story that juxtaposes love with prejudice, courage with fear, and sensitivity with harshness, all to enhance our understanding of what it means to be a man.


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