With a former career at the American Ballet Theatre and decades of experience as a ballerina, Melanie Hamrick was impeccably placed to use ballet as the stage for her first novel, a Mills and Boon romance. First Position, published this week, follows the story of Sylvie, a ballerina at the American National Ballet who meets Alessandro. A passionate and all-consuming relationship ensues and has her questioning everything she thought she knew.
Besides her career as a ballet dancer, Melanie isn't exactly an unknown - having made headlines for her relationship with Mick Jagger, who at 79 is 43 years her senior. The pair have a six-year-old son Devereaux, with whom they live on both sides of the Atlantic.
On the eve of First Position's publication. Grazia caught up with Melanie to chat all things creativity, parenting and the reality of growing up in the world of ballet.
When did the idea for the novel first strike, was First Position something you’d had the plan to write for some time?
I grew up immersed in ballet from when I was tiny, following in the footsteps of my big sister, Rachel, and then worked as a professional ballerina for 16 years. Ballet was my whole life. When I left the American Ballet Theatre in 2019 you start thinking about everything because you have more time to process. I would tell Mick lots of stories and anecdotes about the ballet and he’d laugh, I’d tell friends stories and they were always fascinated. Mick kept telling me: ‘Write it all down’ and whenever I told my ‘stories’ so many people would make that comment ‘You should write a book.’ I’d always kept journals when I was a ballerina, so writing was something I’d always enjoyed. So a year after I’d left, I gradually started thinking about how I could work my tales of the ballet into a novel, thinking about plot and characters and my perspective on the ballet world which is a bit different to a lot of what is out there. Mick definitely gave me a lot of confidence that I could actually do this, my mum was also incredibly supportive. Then once I’d made the decision then that was it. I knew I was going to write a book.
Was writing it cathartic?
Yes it was cathartic. It felt really empowering to be able to step back and write about that world which had had so many ups and downs for me. It was actually very liberating.
How entwined with your own experience is the novel?
Over the years I’ve seen my fair share of backstage antics! So let’s just say I had a lot of inspiration as a starting point! I was a professional ballerina for 16 years. The ballet world is closed off to the real world, it has its own very strict hierarchy and structure, it is beautiful, it can be crazy, it can be cruel, it’s always full of passion but it’s also – like every other world – fuelled by gossip and stories, so I had an awful lot to draw on. In terms of my own experience, it was more a viewpoint I wanted people to see of the 21century ballerina as women who are as flawed, insecure, likeable and relatable to all women but who are also all extraordinary in their own way.
What advice would you give to any parents whose daughters might want to pursue a career in ballet?
I would say to instil them with a strong sense of self-worth. And to have an open dialogue about body, appearance and nutrition because that can be the toughest aspect of ballet. No matter what age you are when you’re in the ballet studio you’re staring at yourself all day every day in the mirror in what is essentially a swimsuit it can be difficult at times so having perspective on a healthy body image. I very definitely was made to be conscious of my body. I have been told on one occasion that I needed to lose weight and I have been told I needed to put on weight. As a parent you need to be vigilant and make sure your daughter is healthy and just always make sure they know you are there for love and support.
Do you share your creative projects with Mick along the way?
Yes, I love to share ideas and bounce feedback off each other! I also love to share with my friends – particularly my ballet friends – which I do tend to do as I’m going along or thinking of a plot line to gauge their opinions. But in the end how you write and what you decide has to come from you so I like to see how they react to the finished product – that was nerve-wracking. To be honest I was more nervous waiting for my mum’s reaction than my partner’s reaction – there’s a lot of sex in the book! So far all has been good.
How would you describe yourself as a mother?
I like to be as engaging as possible. If I don’t have to work, I put my phone away and focus fully on Dev. Playing games is a big one for us! We’re very competitive and I definitely will not let him win a game of Uno! So I would like to say I’m a ‘cool mom’ but I do establish boundaries.
What’s the one thing that you and Mick are really firm on as parents?
Dev is such a great kid I don’t really need to be firm he knows he gets 45 minutes to an hour of screen time a day and sometimes he’ll just watch a bit and say: ‘That’s enough TV Mummy.’ However, Dev is strict with us using swear words! A dollar a swear word. His Pokémon collection is really growing quickly!
Can you see First Position being adapted for the screen? If so, what would your dream cast be?
It would be a dream come true to see my novel adapted for screen! I definitely have a cast in mind however I don’t want the readers to envision any character expect for what they create in their head so I’m going to keep it a secret! I do think also one of the fantastic thinks about Netflix and all the streaming channels is that they have introduced us to completely new, incredible actors who completely inhabit the roles they play and I love discovering new faces and talent so I also would love to see who a casting agent would come up with.
First Position by Melanie Hamrick (Mills & Boon, £16.99) is out 22nd June