Blue Tights by Rita Williams Garcia 1988
IQ "She pulled shape out of her very being as though she could extend both inside and outside and beyond her physical limitations. She carved her contractions out of love not being made all the way, babies not being born, and Mama's testimony of girlhood gone by. She delivered each phrase with clarity and continuity, transforming the twists and inclinations into the dance she knew." Joyce pg. 138
In Blue Tights, all Joyce Collins wants to be able to do is dance. She's not a big fan of ballet especially because the teacher is always picking on her. Well, she also wants to be cool. Being cool means that Joyce can hang out with Cindy and Jay-Jay, the two most popular girls in the school and it means that maybe, just maybe, Andre "the lady-killer" Miller will be interested in her. Joyce's ballet teacher essentially tells her that Joyce's butt is too big for her to be a ballet dancer. Joyce is crushed and goes looking for other ways to be dancer. She discovers not only an African dance troupe, but her African heritage. Finally, she has found a style of dance where she is accepted and excels.
I liked the idea behind this book, but I just couldn't get into it because of the main character. Joyce got on my nerves. She had flaws, but they were ones that were never noticed therefore they weren't resolved. Of course, flaws can't be fixed easily and what some people see as flaws, other people see as good things, so I guess that could go either way with Joyce. Joyce is considered uncool, mainly because she has a big butt which makes guys think she's easy so they spread rumors about her and then the girls don't want to associate with a "slut". This makes Joyce a sympathetic character, because (as is often the case) she's more innocent then people expect. However, Joyce was too desperate for me. She was always throwing herself at all the wrong people; the stuck up popular girls at school and guys that were clearly only after one thing. At first I was able to understand why Joyce wanted to fit in, most of us do want to fit in. But after awhile, it just got tired. It becomes evident to the reader that these people are jerks and I grew increasingly frustrated that Joyce was too myopic to see it. Also, she's amazingly self-absorbed. She has a high opinion of herself and she's so off base sometimes. It's all about her and I didn't enjoy reading about someone with that attitude. Finally, the narration was a bit confusing. The author would essentially switch up the point of view and get into other people's heads to show the characters' thoughts, and it was not a smooth transition. I was never completely sure if the observation was Joyce's or another character's.
Joyce did have redeeming moments, sometimes she would wake up and do what needed to be done. She has an attitude and she's funny and I can appreciate her vulnerable moments. I sympathized with her over being confused about her very mature body (as her mother observes "her daughter who was capable at age ten of cooking, cleaning, getting a man to look twice and making babies." pg. 114). Granted, I've never had to deal with that but I can imagine the pressure she must have been under and the stress her body would have caused. The dancing scenes were right on; especially when the dance teacher is constantly urging Joyce to "tuck that butt under", it took me back to my dance days when that's all the teacher would tell me. This book articulates how difficult it can be for a girl whose thick and who wants to be a ballet dancer to gain respect in the ballet world. I enjoyed the descriptions of African dance as well, I was able to imagine it and I was proud of my heritage just reading about it. The best is when Joyce is describing how dancing makes her feel. Any true lover of dance will be able to relate. Besides the dancing scenes, I also thought the not-romance was excellent. I wasn't expecting the end result and it's very different from other books I've read. It's sweet, but at the same time, a bit uncomfortable. You'll have to read to find out what I mean :)
Blue Tights helped pave the way in the YA genre for books about African American dancers (this is a guess, it's the oldest book I've found that deals with AA dancers but there could be another). The characters can't be placed in a box and while Joyce will drive you crazy, her story is heartwarming and she does mature mentally. While this book was written in the '80s, the issues addressed here are still (sadly) prevalent today, especially in the African American community. The dance scenes are well done and any dancer will will appreciate them. It's a nice coming of age story with a few unexpected twists.
Disclosure: From the library
PS I really like this cover. Not just because there's an African American girl on there but because it's so colorful. Joyce wears an orange leotard and blue tights and that's accurately depicted on the cover. Also it looks like she's standing on a drum (very important) and there's a ballerina in the background. All these aspects of the cover are actually mentioned in the story (which is not always the case).