The Double Life of Dana / The Secret Life of Dana

  • The Double Life of Dana– Mandy: #306 (25 Nov. 1972) – #317 (10 Feb. 1972)
  • Reprinted as The Secret Life of Dana – Emma: #49 (27 Jan. 1979) – #60 (14 Apr. 1979)
  • Artist: Claude Berridge

Plot

Dana Fenton, an orphan, has always dreamed of becoming a ballerina. Even now that she has left the orphanage she grew up in and has gotten a decent job and comfortable lodgings, it is not enough to satisfy her. So when she sees that there are auditions for a scholarship with a Ballet Company and a maid’s job in a prestigious ballet school, she takes the leap to follow her dream. She quits her job and applies for the in-house maid job, in the hopes that while she could never afford to go to school there, she may be able to learn by watching. Madame Rochelle proves to be a tough employer, meaning Dana will certainly be working hard to earn her place. At the same time she has to try and find time to go to Belmont Company audition. She arrives at the audition, but seeing Madame there with two pupils, she is afraid she will lose her job, so she dons a wig and makeup and gives the fake name ‘Ann Smith’ in order to keep her secret. The judges see potential in her and she gets in to the next round along with the two pupils from the ballet school, Janice and Ella.

secret life dana1Dana’s double life makes things difficult at time, such as Madame telling Dana to wait by the phone so she can tell everyone the results of the next audition. Of course as Dana is also meant to attend the audition she has to figure out how to do both things! She manages to attend the audition then rushes to pay phone outside and calls Madam pretending to have misunderstood the instructions. She then has to rush back to the school, and actually lets air out of Madame’s tyres so she will beat them back.

Also making life difficult for Dana, are her two rivals, Janice and Ella, who are snobbish and like to make more work for Dana. When Madame entrusts Dana to take the girls to next audition (which is a stroke of luck for Dana as she wondered how she was going to get to someplace so far away), the girls don’t listen to Dana and call her skivvy expecting her to be their personal maid. Luckily Miss Norris and old friend of Madame’s has also been sent to check on the girls and she helps Dana keep them in line. They still continue to cause more trouble,  back at the school making muddy prints over the floor Dana just cleans, they turn even more against Dana when Madame sticks up for her and make them re-clean the floor! Then later at an audition, they leave room a mess and carelessly leave clothes near an electric fire. Dana  in her ‘Ann Smith’ disguise finds the dressing room on fire and helps put it out, before having to run off before her identity is discovered. Janice and Ella blame Dana for the fire and their clothes getting destroyed. They decide to return the favour by destroying her clothes. So her ballet costume isn’t discovered, she has to chase them out of her room, which causes more trouble with Madame. While Madame doesn’t blame her for fire, she does think she should have been attending her duties more carefully, she also is suspicious of the girls being in Dana’s room but does tell Dana any more trouble and she’ll be dismissed.

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Due to the fire, the audition has been rescheduled and Madame offers the school as a new venue. Dana has to be extra careful not to be discovered and uses a traditional mask to hide her face completely. More questions are being asked about, who this mysterious Ann Smith is! While Madame doesn’t suspect Dana, Janice and Ella are beginning to wonder if she and Ann are the same person. Ella even opens a trapdoor at an audition in the hopes of not letting Ann slip away, she doesn’t seem concerned that she could have caused her some serious injury, if not for Dana/Ann’s quick reflexes allowing her to leap out of the way in time. Her secret is discovered by an unlikely person Myra Dean, a famous dancer, who is now blind. When she visits the school, Dana helps her twice, one time as ‘Ann’ and Miss Dean recognises her work-rough hands. Although she hints to Madame, that Ann and Dana maybe the same person, Madame dismisses the thought and Myra doesn’t try to persuade her, instead she becomes Dana’s ally.

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A  mistake signing a girl’s autograph book, leads Janice and Ella to also discover Dana’s secret.  At the last audition, using Dana’s friendship with Miss Dean against her, the girls send Dana to the wrong place. She only just makes it to the right place at the end, with no chance to change into Ann Smith. Myra Dean confirms her identity and Dana is allowed to dance, even though she doesn’t have time to even change into ballet clothes. Dana wins the scholarship and Madame Rochelle is shocked to find her own maid is Ann Smith. Seeing her dance she knows Dana deserves to win and she will also being having words with Janice and Ella about their involvement in the audition mix-up. Dana is delighted she can now pursue her dream and no longer lead a double life.

Thoughts

Dana while she certainly hasn’t the easiest time, it’s not as hard as other characters in similar positions, leading double life (such as “Ballerina on a String”). She is actually a very upbeat person and she is in charge of her own choices, as she is not forced to do the things she does. She left comfortable lodgings and a shop job, to work at the school, because she wants to follow her dream.

Madame Rochelle has a reputation as a slave-driver and none of  her other maids stayed very long. She certainly works Dana hard but she is not cruel and does treat her fairly. She even puts her trust in Dana to chaperone the other girls. When she knows of the tricks the girls play, she assesses situation and doesn’t automatically favour her students over her employee, as seen when she makes Janice and Ella clean the muddy prints and not taking their side when she finds Dana yelling at them as they were in Dana’s room.

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While she does treat her with some respect, at the same time she does not see Dana’s potential, viewing her only as maid. This bias blinds her to the clues in front of her, such as finding Ann Smith looks familiar, nearly catching a girl practicing late at night to audition music (and it not being Janice or Ella), she doesn’t even question that the mysterious Ann Smith gets a letter to the school and ignores the hint her old friend Myra Dean gives.

secret life of dana

So while the work is hard the main difficulties Dana has, is keeping her identity hidden while getting to auditions and the bigger problem of the spiteful girls. Of the two girls, Ella is more dangerous than Janice, she is the leader of the two and the most suspicious. She also opens the trapdoor on Dana and while she passes it off as an accident, she should really have more repercussions. She is not happy to be shown up by Ann Smith, and even less happy when she finds out that Ann is actually the ‘skivvy’ Dana. Even without Dana in the competition, Ella’s thoughts are shown to be quite big-headed, she expects to win over her supposed friend Janice too.

While Dana has joined the school to learn of ballet, we don’t really see much time focused on seeing how she benefits from this and how she improves. Instead most episodes are dedicated to her trying to attend an audition and keep her secret. Although as she keeps getting through to the next stage her “unpolished potential” must be getting better. The competition for the scholarship isn’t very clear, there’s seems to be a lot of auditions happening but it’s not clear how many stages there are and how many people auditioning. In the first stage the 3 girls get through, but as we never really get to see other competitors this leads to the impression that there are only three in the running all the time! In the last audition there appears to be five competing but again wonder how many auditioned initially in the first stage and how wide an area did the competitors come from? Still other than the questions of how the competition is ran, the story keeps a nice pace and the main characters are each distinctive both in personality and design. The art throughout is very nice and expressive. Berridge seems to be quite a varied artist, doing many different type of stories, I’m not aware of any other ballet story that he’s done, but he does a good job here.

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One thought on “The Double Life of Dana / The Secret Life of Dana

  1. Lucy Seaton of “The Secret Scholar” in Mandy must have had it even harder – trying to crib as much learning as she can to win a scholarship while working as a skivvy at a Victorian school.

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