Review: Dance With Me by Heidi Cullinan

dance with meReviewed by Janell

World-class dancer meets semi-pro football player in this male/male romance by Heidi Cullinan. This book was originally published in 2010, and the author notes in this second edition that, back then, the world was a very different place for LGBT rights. She didn’t alter the novel to reflect modern changes, making it “both contemporary and historical.”

Five years ago, Laurie was on top of the dance world. Then, he convinced his boyfriend that they should dance together at an International Ballroom Championship. Two guys dancing together did not go over well with the judges, and Laurie’s boyfriend dumped him. Since then, he’s been teaching at a small studio, vowing to never dance professionally again because of the flashbacks.

One year ago, football was Ed’s life. Then he took a hit, got his neck twisted up, and now he’s lucky to just live with chronic neck pain instead of paralysis. He works a desk job that slowly kills him with immobility, and he doesn’t know what to do with his life now that football’s not a part of it.

Laurie and Ed intersect at a community center. Laurie is teaching dance aerobics in the gym, and Ed is teaching weightlifting down the hall. Laurie’s music is too loud, the center is too broke to fix the sound system; there is glaring and sniping. Ed hates Laurie’s rich, suburban, gay stereotype vibe, because it projects to the world that gay men are girly, and Ed is not girly. Laurie naturally thinks that Ed’s a dumb jock. But, they strike a desperate bargain: Laurie will turn down the music if Ed will help him teach ballroom dancing to some old folks.

Their attitudes change once Ed sees Laurie in white ballet tights. I think we can visualize. Suddenly he’s on the repressed lust train heading straight for drunk confession station, and Laurie’s all, you’re gay?

Once they get involved, Ed spends a lot of time feeling unworthy. Laurie is beautiful, and talented, while Ed is a has-been with a crap job. Laurie, meanwhile, clings to Ed as his safe space while his mother is pressuring him to perform and his father ignores him and his freaky older godfather invites him to hot tub orgies. (I get that it’s helpful to have an older gay mentor character, but I’m prudish enough to admit that I did not enjoy a certain dinner party scene).

This is a story of two individuals learning how to move into the next phase of their lives after soul-crushing defeat. I liked that they each learned how to solve their own problems with the support from the other. This isn’t a “love will make all your problems go away” book. It’s more like, love gives you the emotional strength and support to face up to the real problems in your life. Ed needs to face up to his injury, and Laurie needs a career that’s not based on avoidance. They manage this while slowly building a relationship and moving past their insecurities.

I’d call this a sweet story. No earth-shattering angst or drama, just very real characters figuring out what to do with the rest of their lives.

Rating: B

Click to purchase: Amazon

Dance With Me
by Heidi Cullinan
Release Date: July 26, 2011

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