I’ve had two artistic passions in my life: dancing and writing. After spending more than twenty-five years in dance studios, studying and then teaching ballet, tap, and jazz, I realized my stronger passion was for prose rather than pirouettes. Yet, I’ve always loved to read books on dance. In fact, I can still recall the excitement I felt back in elementary school when I first discovered Noel Streatfeild’s novels Ballet Shoes and Dancing Shoes. I tore through them and went on to read more of Streatfeild’s books: Skating Shoes, Theater Shoes, and others. Back then, my interest in dance brought me to Streatfeild’s books on the library shelves. But once I found them, that passion led to another–the love of reading and writing.
Just as one artistic pursuit influenced another in my life, perhaps these books on dance will have the same effect on you, your child, or your student. And, for those who prefer sitting in the audience: these books will give you a glimpse of what goes on behind the scenes of all those jetés, jives, and jazz hands.
Ballet Shoes by Noel Streatfeild
This novel was originally published in 1937 and is still going strong. It’s about three British orphans, Pauline, Petrova, and Posie, who turn to the performing arts to support their new family. The story relates their successes and failures as they come to find their true passions. It was made into a movie with Emma Watson in 2007.
Twenty years after Ballet Shoes, Streatfeild published this novel about orphans, Rachel and Hilary, who join their Aunt Cora’s dance troupe, Wintle’s Little Wonders. Misunderstandings, high drama, and a spoiled cousin named Dulcie, who is anything but the sweetness her name implies, infuse this story with humor and heart.
This graphic novel is a memoir of the author’s desire to be a professional ballerina. It portrays the journey from her childhood in Puerto Rico, where she dreamed of becoming a dancer, to her eventual debut with the New York City Ballet.
Thirteen-year-old Nate dreams of starring in a Broadway show. When he learns about an open casting call for E.T.: The Musical, he shuffles out of Jankburg, Pennsylvania and hops on a bus bound for Broadway. With a little help from a long lost aunt and his friend Libby at home, his journey to the Great White Way is eventually a rousing success.
This companion novel to Better Nate Than Ever finds Nate on Broadway, rehearsing for E.T.: The Musical. But as the second understudy for E.T., Nate finds the road to stardom littered with struggles as well as successes. From Nate’s determination to make his one spoken word (“Blurb”) a showstopper to his eventual performance, his hilarious narration doesn’t miss a beat.
This Step into Reading book is the true story of Michaela DePrince’s journey from war-torn Sierra Leone to the United States, where she was adopted by an American family and began her ballet training. The story depicts how her strength and perseverance resulted in the fulfillment of her dream of being a ballerina. Michaela was also featured in the film documentary First Position.
This beautifully illustrated biography of Cuban ballerina Alicia Alonso tells her story of overcoming partial blindness and reaching stardom in both Cuba and the United States.
One of the popular American Girl series, this book features Isabelle, who starts her first year at Anna Hart School of the Arts. Along the way, she learns not to compete with others, but to find her own personal best if she wants to succeed as a dancer.
When Alexandrea Petrakova Johnson moves from her small town in Georgia to Harlem, her mother forces her into ballet lessons. After several bouts with rivalries, clumsiness, and stage fright, Alexandrea eventually finds success on the stage. This is the first in a series, written by actress Whoopi Goldberg.
In this award-winning book, the authors tell the behind-the-scenes story of Martha Graham’s 1944 dance composition, Appalachian Spring. The story describes how the collaboration between Graham, composer Aaron Copland, and set designer Isamu Noguchi led to this iconic work.
If you have a favorite book about dance, I’d love to hear about it in the comments section. Two lucky winners, drawn from comments made from now until March 18 at midnight, Eastern Standard Time, will receive a signed copy of either Better Nate Than Ever or Five, Six, Seven, Nate.
Dorian Cirrone is the author of several books, including the young adult ballet novel, Dancing in Red Shoes Will Kill You, as well as the forthcoming middle-grade novel The First Last Day (S&S/Aladdin, May 2016). Subscribe to her blog for writing tips and giveaways at: doriancirrone.com/welcome/blog