Series: Dance Off #1
Published by Swerve on October 3, 2017
Genres: Contemporary, Romance
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The first book in a sizzling duology about dancers who find love from #OwnVoice's Alexis Daria.
Gina Morales wants to win. It’s her fifth season on The Dance Off, a top-rated network TV celebrity dance competition, and she’s never even made it to the finals. When she meets her latest partner, she sees her chance. He's handsome, rippling with muscles, and he stars on the popular Alaskan wilderness reality show Living Wild. With his sexy physique and name recognition, she thinks he’s her ticket to the finals—until she realizes they’re being set up.
Stone Nielson hates Los Angeles, he hates reality TV, and he hates that fact that he had to join the cast of the The Dance Off because of family obligations. He can’t wait to get back to Alaska, but he also can’t deny his growing attraction to his bubbly Puerto Rican dance partner. Neither of them are looking for romantic entanglements, and Stone can’t risk revealing his secrets, but as they heat up the dance floor, it’s only a matter of time until he feels an overwhelming urge to take the lead.
When the tabloids catch on to their developing romance, the spotlight threatens to ruin not just their relationship, but their careers and their shot at the trophy. Gina and Stone will have to decide if their priorities lie with fame, fortune, or the chance at a future together.
Take the Lead by Alexis Daria was a bit of a mixed bag for me. First the parts I loved:
I loved the setting. I haven’t read very many books that are set on competitive reality shows, and I don’t watch Dancing With the Stars, so I wasn’t completely sure what I was in for, but this book was a really compelling look at the inner workings of reality shows in general, and dancing shows in particular. Gina Morales is a professional dancer, currently going into her fifth season on The Dance Off, this book’s version of Dancing With the Stars. She was hoping her partner for this season would be an Olympic figure skater or a gymnast or some sort of dance-adjacent athlete, but instead she was assigned Stone Nielsen. Stone is a reality show veteran – he and his family currently star on a reality show called Living Wild, which centers on their lives in the wilds of Alaska. All nine of them – Stone’s parents and all seven of their children. Even though she didn’t get the type of partner she’d hoped for, she did ok. Stone isn’t a dancer, but he’s still a physically fit guy who clearly has some athletic ability.
The attraction between Gina and Stone was instantaneous and explosive, and it was a lot of fun to see them have to be flirty and physically close during their rehearsals, even while they tried to fight their attraction to each other. Unfortunately, though, this is where it fell apart for me a bit.
I just didn’t understand Gina’s reluctance to get involved with Stone. The producers of The Dance Off were clearly trying to force them into a showmance. Gina’s contract contained a clause stating that she won’t be involved in any of those storylines, though, and she just wouldn’t give in on this even a little bit, no matter how genuinely attracted to Stone she was. She had this clause because wanted to actively fight against the “sexy Latina” stereotype. She wanted to set an example for her nieces and any other young Latina dancer who’s watching, and she wouldn’t budge. She wasn’t wrong about the stereotype and her decision to fight against it made sense. But there’s nothing in this book to indicate any of the fallout she was worried about. She once dated a dance partner, and the entire experience went bad. But that was when she was a teenager. All teenagers are shit, and there wasn’t any lasting damage from this incident. This one crappy experience as a teenager shouldn’t change her entire life. She said over and over and over that if she got involved with Stone, her reputation would be turned to shit and she wouldn’t get any more dance jobs because she’d be seen as unprofessional and no one would want to work with her. And this was on top of her concern about playing into the sexy Latina stereotype. The problem with her theory was that she says this most often to her best friend and roommate Natasha. Another dancer on the same show, also Latina, who sleeps with literally everyone. Other competitors, producers, judges, anyone she wanted to. And none of these consequences that Gina keeps talking about appeared. No one thought Natasha was unprofessional, in fact, she had a reputation as being a hard worker and a great dancer. She continued to get work without a problem. Her reputation, as I mentioned, was impeccable. So for Gina to look her in the face and say that if she, Gina, sleeps with Stone, her reputation would be shot and she’d never work again, was ridiculous.
She told Natasha that her situation was different because when Natasha slept with a man, it was in private, as opposed to being part of a manufactured storyline, and played on the screen as part of the weekly package. Gina didn’t want that relationship to be the most interesting thing about her and Stone on the show. She wanted to win the competition because they were the best. Which… look. She couldn’t be that naive. This was her fifth season on the show. She couldn’t possibly think that the best person wins reality shows. That isn’t at all how these things work, and she’d been around long enough to know that. Most people I know have spent no time at all actually on a reality show and they know that. On top of that, she was told that if she didn’t win this season, she’d probably be let go, so it made even less sense for her not to do what she could to get votes.
And once she and Stone did give in and start dating, and the media got wind of it, there were no negative consequences for Gina. In fact, soon after the relationship was revealed, she landed her dream job, based on her talent and on her still-intact great reputation.
And Stone. It was heavily implied that even though he didn’t want anything to do with his own reality show, he agreed to it because of mysterious reasons, which appeared to come down to “the producers said it had to be the entire family or no one.” His dad kept making ominous-sounding pronouncements like “you be sure you keep your mouth shut” to Stone when no one else could hear them, which didn’t really end up making a lot of sense. There were some things the family needed to keep from the public, but Stone’s not an idiot, he wouldn’t just start blabbing. It was really strange for his dad to just randomly drop these nuggets and then walk away.
So Stone didn’t want to be on the show but was forced into it when everyone else in his family did. He couldn’t bring himself to be the lone holdout who wouldn’t help the family make this money to pay off their bills, so he agreed to do the show. And he was miserable every day. All he wanted was to be finished with it, but he couldn’t because of the contract and the guilt his family constantly put on him about it.
And again, when the situation with Stone’s family was revealed, their show was canceled and a new show was proposed, this one without Stone. So, like Gina, he got exactly what he wanted and rendered all of his angst moot. He ended up getting off the Alaskan show, he got Gina, he got to go back to live in the Alaskan wilderness, he got the exact life he wanted. Which was great; I’m thrilled that they got their HEA, but the fact that both of them had spent the previous 300 pages refusing to accept that it was even a possibility made the ease with which it all worked out even harder to take.
All of this sounds like I hated the book, and I didn’t. I loved the behind-the-scenes look at the dance show. I liked Gina and Stone, both individually and as a couple. Gina’s dedication to her career was inspiring, and Stone was completely on board with it and supportive. I wish I could have seen more of their actual dances, though, since most of them happened off the page. But watching them rehearse, watching them try so hard to not fall in love while being unable to stop falling in love, was charming. I just couldn’t understand where either of them was coming from and it interfered with my ability to get into the story as fully as I wanted to.