DANCING WITH BUTTERFLIES
Washington Square, $16 paper (416p) ISBN 978-1-4391-0906-9
From Reyna Grande, the American Book Award-winning author of Across a Hundred Mountains, comes a new novel about the friendship of four women bound together by their Mexican roots and their love of Folklórico dance.
Dancing with Butterflies uses the alternating voices of four very different women in a Los Angeles dance company called Alegría to weave a story of friendship and love. Yesenia, who founded Alegría, finds herself unable to dance and seeks a miracle from a plastic surgeon in Tijuana. Elena, grief stricken by the death of her child and the end of her marriage, falls dangerously in love with one of her under-age students. Elena’s sister Adriana, wears the wounds of abandonment by a dysfunctional family and becomes unable to discern love from abuse. Soledad, the sweet-tempered illegal immigrant who designs costumes for Alegría, must make the dangerous journey north after she returns to Mexico to see her dying grandmother. Reyna Grande has succeeded in bringing the world of Folklórico dance to life, with characters whose stories are so gripping, the reader cannot help but cry along with their travails and cheer their triumphs. Ajúa!!
PRAISE FOR DANCING WITH BUTTERFLIES
"Dancing with Butterflies is a fascinating braid of stories--masterfully woven by Reyna Grande--where four women take us on their intimate journeys of identity, womanhood, and friendship on a backdrop of the ever-colorful baile folklórico and the deepest Mexican traditions. "
~Maria Amparo Escandon--Author of Esperanza's Box of Saints and Gonzalez & Daughter Trucking Co.
“Just when you think you know all about friends, Grande comes along to teach you something else about love and its mysteries, about good conversation over beers, sacrifices one makes for family, and about the joys and sins of shoe stomping pride.”
~Helena Maria Viramontes author of Their Dogs Came with Them and The Moths and Other Stories
"Award-winning novelist Reyna Grande returns with a novel full of music, motion and heart. Dancing with Butterflies is about four women whose stories and friendships are as rich as the Folklorico dance that brought them together. Grande is a novelist to watch."
~Tananarive Due, American Book Award winning author of Blood Colony
REVIEWS OF DANCING WITH BUTTERFLIES
From Publisher's Weekly, STARRED Review (9/01/09)
*Dancing with Butterflies Reyna Grande Washington Square, $16 paper (416p) ISBN 978-1-4391-0906-9
Grande's lyrical and sensual follow-up to her stunning Across a Hundred Mountains (2006) is well worth the wait. This time out, there is still the poignant intimacy of the Mexican immigrant experience, but it's richly layered into the lives of four women who discover that their passion for the vibrant tradition of Folklórico dancing binds them to their pasts, futures and one another as each faces her own test of love and loyalty. There's Yesenia, the founder of Grupo Folklórico Alegria, who, at 42, is struggling through a midlife crisis that threatens to wreck everything she's loved; Elena, a young dancer and teacher whose stillborn daughter pushes her into a forbidden love; Soledad, a gifted seamstress for the Folklórico group whose dreams of her own dress shop get derailed by a return to Mexico to visit her dying grandmother; and Adriana, Elena's impetuous younger sister, who's involved in an abusive relationship. Nothing is simple for these complex women, but the art and culture of a Mexican dance tradition is what finally saves their lives, and we're lucky to be in the audience. (Oct.)
FROM KIRKUS REVIEW (9/15/09)
Four Los Angelenas connected to the vibrant world of Mexican Folklórico dance tell their stories.
Their troupe, Alegría, dances to mariachi music, performing indigenous forms ranging from Aztec tribal steps to German-influenced polkas. After an arthritic knee ends her performing career, Alegría’s founder and star Yesenia undergoes a midlife crisis that threatens her marriage. Husband Eduardo begins to unravel when Yesenia radically alters her plump form with cut-rate plastic surgery in Tijuana (not so cut-rate that she doesn’t have to embezzle from Alegría to pay for it). Soledad, Alegría’s talented costume designer, is troubled by her lack of citizenship, her disfiguring birthmark and her younger half sister Stephanie, who receives a large malpractice settlement. Elena, 36 weeks pregnant, learns that her fetus’s heart has stopped beating; after delivering her dead baby, she no longer has the spirit to dance with Alegría or to preserve her one-year marriage. Adriana, Elena’s younger sister, has always resented her for causing their abusive father’s arrest and conviction, then going away to school and leaving Adriana with their vindictive paternal grandparents. Also a performer with Alegría, party-girl Adriana takes up with bad-boy Emilio, the company’s newest virtuoso, who beats her just as her father used to. Elena, who teaches high school in addition to dancing, is fighting her growing attraction to an earnest—and underage—student. When her grandmother’s death requires Soledad to return to Michoacán, winter home to the mass-migrating Monarch butterflies who provide the novel’s central motif (and title), all the story lines interact pleasingly and suspensefully as her friends plot Soledad’s reentry into California.
Absorbing arcana about butterflies and Folklórico traditions, descriptions of food way beyond burritos, not to mention an unflinching depiction of the immigration debacle’s personal toll, underscore the fierce humanity of these wise-Latinas-in-training.
Folklórico, traditional Mexican dance, bring together four women in Los Angeles. Yesenia and her husband lead Alegría, a successful Folklórico dance group, but Yesenia’s arthritic knee keeps her offstage and restless in her marriage. Sisters Elena and Adriana grew up dancing in Alegría, but bitterness over their difficult childhood has soured their relationship. And Soledad, the group’s costume designer, is determined to open a dress shop in L.A., even though she is in the U.S. illegally.
Tragedy strikes each of these four women, leaving Alegría’s future in doubt. Yesenia tries to reshape her body through cut-rate plastic surgery in Tijuana. Elena’s new marriage breaks up after her baby is stillborn, and instead of dancing through her grief, she lusts after an underage dancer. Adriana, missing her abusive father, chases oblivion through a series of dangerous relationships. Soledad sacrifices her career dreams to bid goodbye to her ailing grandmother, but, trapped on the Mexican side of the border, must risk her life to return to her family, to her passions, and to Alegría.
These four women, bonded by their passion for Folklórico, will learn to heal together, to keep Alegría dancing another day.
1. What does Alegría mean to each of our narrators: Yesenia, Elena, Adriana, and Soledad? For whom is the group a family, a dream, a connection to roots, or a painful reminder of the past?
2. Discuss the symbol of the butterfly in the novel. Why does Soledad love butterflies? What does they mean to Adriana? Why does Adriana choose a moth tattoo instead of a butterfly?
3. What do we learn about Cecilia, Elena and Adriana’s mother, from their conversations about her? What kind of relationship did she have with her daughters? If she were alive, what sorts of challenges might she be facing?
4. Discuss Soledad’s attempts to cross the U.S.-Mexican border. Which attempt seems the most dangerous? What drives her to keep trying to cross, again and again?
5. Why is Adriana only a mediocre dancer, unlike her sister Elena? What motivates Adriana to keep dancing? What finally inspires her to pursue her greater talent for singing?
6. Soledad’s friend Rubén undergoes a very dramatic change in the novel. How does Soledad react to her friend’s surgery? How do Rubén’s reasons for radical surgery compare to Yesenia’s motivations?
7. Adriana tells Elena, “You know, all these months you’ve clung to Fernando because of Folklórico. You’ve danced through him and now it’s time to let your own feet do the dancing.” (462) Do you think Elena was attracted to Fernando’s talent for Folklórico? Or was there a deeper passion between them?
8. Yesenia’s second plastic surgeon tells her, “The most beautiful thing about our body is that it can heal itself.” (434) Why are these words so important to Yesenia? Is Alegría able to heal itself as well? Explain your answer.
9. Although each section is narrated from one character’s point of view, there are many scenes in which two or more main characters interact. Find one of these scenes and imagine it from another character’s point of view. How does this switch of perspective change how you read the scene?
10. At the end of Dancing with Butterflies, all the romantic relationships are up in the air: Eduardo is traveling without Yesenia, Fernando is waiting for Elena to change her mind, and Ben’s crush on Adriana continues. As the four women cross the border in the final scene, why are all the men out of the picture? What is the mood at the end of the novel?
Enhance Your Book Club:
- Folklórico is not the only type of dance in Dancing with Butterflies; Elena also appreciates ballet. Take your book club to a performance in your town: folk dance, ballet, or any other type of dance.
- In the spirit of the novel, take your book club out to your local Mexican restaurant. Or if you prefer, go out for sushi, Adriana’s least favorite food. Just be careful not to mistake wasabi for guacamole, like Adriana did!
- Yesenia is able to fulfill her lifelong dream of leading a Folklórico dance group. What were your earliest dreams? Have each book club member write down a childhood “dream job” anonymously. Pull the answers out of a hat, and let your book club guess whose dream is whose.