DANCE WITH ME by Heidi Cullinan
Dance With Me by Heidi Cullinan
Reviewed by Cassie
A serious neck injury ended semipro football player Ed Maurer’s career. Without the sport he loves, and stuck in a job he doesn’t like because he needs the health insurance, Ed’s at loose ends. The only thing that really makes him happy is teaching a weight training class for teens at a nearby community center. Unfortunately, the center’s malfunctioning PA system just about causes Ed’s first class to be cancelled. Desperate to make things work, Ed is forced to make nice with the resident aerobics instructor, Laurie, a stereotypically gay man who embodies everything that annoys Ed. In return for doing Ed a favor, Laurie asks for one in return—for Ed to act as his assistant for a ballroom dance class he teaches once a week. Ed accepts the bargain, and to his surprise he loves the dancing. It’s not long before he starts to wonder if Laurie’s not so bad, either.
Dancer Laurence “Laurie” Parker grew up talented and privileged, but his rising career blew up in his face due to a competition choice that turned out to be disastrous. Now he’s terrified of performing and hates teaching ballroom dance. Too bad his mother is determined that he step back into the spotlight, and the sooner the better. Ed’s insistence on needling Laurie only makes things worse…until Ed suddenly turns conciliatory. Laurie doesn’t know what to make of Ed’s new attitude. All he knows is that dancing with the big football player drives his fears away.
When Ed’s chronic pain flares up again, the pressure from Laurie’s mother grows, and the center they both care about faces increasing budget woes, can dancing help these two very different men get through their problems together?
Dance With Me is a beautifully written story of coming to terms with loss and moving forward. Both Ed and Laurie have lost a huge part of their identities: Ed due to an injury that could have killed him and Laurie due to his own choices. They’re both struggling with how to move forward with their lives without the things that defined them. Ed deals with his injury mostly by ignoring it, and by teaching his weight class. Laurie also deals with his loss by teaching. Neither of them has a truly fulfilling, or happy, life. Then their two worlds collide, and sparks fly. Ed thinks Laurie is stereotypical and snobbish, while Laurie sees Ed as a rude Neanderthal. It takes dancing together to show them they were wrong about each other, and soon they have a tentative friendship. Ed slowly begins to realize that what he feels for Laurie is more than just gratitude for dance lessons, but with the other areas of his life falling apart, he doesn’t want to risk the one bright spot. Then a drunken night ruins his attempts to hide his feelings. From there, a tentative relationship begins.
Laurie and Ed’s relationship develops from mutual dislike to love slowly, in a believable way. There are many bumps in the road for them, and they progress in fits and starts. Ed and Laurie are likeable characters, both wounded and both stubborn. Ed’s physical issues and Laurie’s mental hang-ups are deeply entrenched and hard to heal. Being together eases them both, but doesn’t fix everything. They each have a lot of growing to do before they can find their way back into life together. External conflicts with Ed’s health and job, Laurie’s dancing, and the center crop up to threaten their fragile balance.
I absolutely loved Dance With Me. It has the perfect combination of emotion and heat. The often heart-wrenching journey Laurie and Ed had to take in order to find their joy in life again had me tearing up several times, and laughing at others. Everything from the conflict to the setting and secondary characters hit the right notes for me. I don’t want to spoil the story by telling too much, so I’ll just say that Dance With Me is a book m/m fans should NOT miss. It’s without a doubt one of the best books I’ve read this year. I’m pleased to Joyfully Recommend Dance With Me.