Joanna Davidson Politano is the award-winning author of Lady Jayne Disappears, A Rumored Fortune, Finding Lady Enderly, and The Love Note. She loves tales that capture the colorful, exquisite details in ordinary lives and is eager to hear anyone’s story. She lives with her husband and their children in a house in the woods near Lake Michigan.
In this interview, Joanna talks about her latest novel, In A Midnight Dance. She brings the theater and the beauty of dance to life in this gripping tale of moving beyond fear to embracing one’s future. Mystery and romance make the perfect dance partners in this evocative story.
FF: Please provide a brief summary of A Midnight Dance.
In the Victorian ballet theater, Ella Blythe experiences an unexpected midnight dance with the company’s principal dancer and is determined to dance with him one day on the stage. When she returns as a trained dancer years later, will he remember her? Does she have a chance at a happy ending, or will her life continue to parallel the tragic story of Craven’s ghost dancer? Faced with her family’s past in the theater, and her own looming secrets, her future takes a turn not even she can predict.
FF: What was the inspiration for your new novel?
My sweet daughter has fallen in love with ballet, so I took her to a live performance when she was four. She was enthralled—but to my surprise, so was I! I was inspired to capture the energy and vibrancy of live ballet theater and to portray the surprising history of dance. The more I researched, the more my story changed in surprising ways, but I loved exploring ballet, something very new to me.
FF: Similar to the Phantom of the Opera, mystery and romance make the perfect dance partners in A Midnight Dance. Can you explain how these themes intertwine?
Both characters hold pieces of themselves back, for different reasons. They’re both guarded, but as truth comes out, unspooling in a gradual, rather delicious sense of mystery, there are quite a few surprises for each of them that twist the story all over. Becoming vulnerable, and inviting the same in return, is a vital part of romantic love. There’s something about gradually, organically uncovering the truth of a person, and being pleasantly surprised at what lies below the surface, that leads to the deepest, most authentic form of falling in love, and I wanted to offer my characters this chance to really see each other. Life in the theater, acting out someone else’s story, closing the curtain on the gritty parts, shapes their hearts and expectations. There’s nothing like truth and reality to melt away the misconceptions, both good and bad.
FF: Why did you choose the theater for the setting of A Midnight Dance?
When I set out to write about a ballet dancer, I needed to capture the grandeur and energy of theater life. I set most of my scenes within the theater to really showcase the opulence of it and give a taste of all the life and strength in the art form of dance.
FF: You seem to have a great understanding of the beauty and symmetry of ballet. How did you learn so much about this art form?
Honestly, I read a lot of books about ballet, especially those focused on the romantic era of dance. I watched my little girl dance and learned from what she was picking up in class. Then, experiencing live ballet performances moved and inspired me so much that I could see entire scenes playing out in full color in my mind. Reading about ballerinas of the past, and everything dancers have to endure, gave me much respect for those who pursue such a life. I also tried dancing ballet myself in order to truly feel the movement, and I came to deeply appreciate an art that takes a great deal of strength and precision, while also being graceful and whimsical.
FF:The main protagonist, Ella Blythe, is haunted by thoughts of the tragic story of the Ghost of Craven Street Theater. How are their stories similar?
First of all, they’re similar women—humble and elegant with a touch of modesty unusual to Victorian dancers. They have an honest love for dancing in general. The biggest similarity is in their pursuit of romance. Craven’s famed “ghost” falls in love with her dance partner, the male principal. While Ella is still attempting to climb toward principal status herself, she has definitely fallen for the male principal and sees her story hurtling along the same track. She knows Craven’s ghost’s story—and the former ballerina’s romance—ended tragically, which leaves her with a foreboding that hers will as well. Even the men they love are similar, dark and guarded with mysterious disappearances for days at a time. When events out of her control begin to parallel that famed dancer of the past, she fears everything will run the same course and her story will end in tragedy as well.
FF: The underlying theme behind is moving beyond fear to embrace one’s future. Can you explain how this plays out in your novel?
Ella’s fears are multiplied by many warnings throughout the novel—from those who have already lived out their lifetime on the stage and those who know Ella well. As she finds out more details about Craven’s ghost and her story, she does everything she can to make a hard turn in a different direction at every point she can, but nothing trumps God’s sovereignty in her life. That’s the deeper theme in the novel—moving beyond fear to a place of belonging. To dependence on God’s strength rather than her own. There’s a point in the book when she is instructed to “let go” of the trapeze she’s swinging on, and she’s in a dark room with no idea what will happen if she falls—or if she will. But even in that blindness, she must trust one who knows better than she does—one who has no intention of letting her fall.
FF: Each of your novels are set in the Victorian era. Why do you prefer this particular era?
Perhaps because Dickens was one of my favorite authors. He sensationalized Victorian England, and the people living then, but that little slice of history is rich with buried secrets, abandoned old houses, surprising love stories, and strong people. Sifting through the real stories and horrors of Victorian England, no writer will ever run out of material! Life was so different, from poorhouses to the great class divide, but in the end, humans are still humans and the same longings and instincts follow us through history.
FF: What do you hope readers experience when reading your book?
I hope they experience what I did when I sat in my first live ballet performance—a profound awe for the life, color, movement that is ballet. The strength of movement, the poise and control, brought my entire cast of characters and plot to life. It’s an immersive, highly romantic read, and I hope it sweeps readers back to the vibrancy of Victorian theater and allows them to live out its beauty!
FF: What are you working on next?
Next up is a novel about a concert pianist who views all of life in terms of music. She enters the world of the asylums, but not without her music—and an incredible experience results.
A Midnight Dance
Joanna Davidson Politano
Genres: Historical, Romantic Suspense
Release Date: September 7, 2021
All theater romances are tragedies. Ella Blythe knows this. Still, she cannot help but hope her own story may turn out different than most–and certainly different than the tragic story of the Ghost of Craven Street Theater. Yet as she struggles to maintain her tenuous place in the ever-shrinking ballet company, win the attentions of principal dancer Philippe, and avoid company flirt Jack, Ella cannot deny the uncanny feeling that her life is mirroring that of the dead ballerina.
Is she dancing ever closer to the edge of her own tragic end? Or will the secrets that are about to come to light offer release from the past?
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