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Find Your Inner Child With These 6 New Dance Books for Kids

Jill Randall

Whether you're getting a head start on holiday shopping, seeking books to add to your curriculum or studio lobby, or entertaining a young dancer at home, 2020 has been a banner year for dance-focused children's books.

Dance Teacher rounded up six of the most exciting—from the origin story of ballet's biggest star to celebrations of boys dancing to breaking down dances from around the world. (Bonus: Several are available in audiobook and/or video form!)


Bunheads

By Misty Copeland and illustrator Setor Fiadzigbey

32 pages; G.P. Putnam's Sons Books for Young Readers (2020)

American Ballet Theatre principal dancer Misty Copeland's latest children's book, Bunheads, is a biographical story of a young Misty. (Her previous children's book, Firebird, came out in 2014.) Told in third person, Copeland shares the story of her first dance class, her experience auditioning for a role in Coppélia as a child and earning the role as Swanilda, and her friendship with a classmate named Cat.

A delightful picture book for aspiring dancers in preschool and elementary school, Bunheads captures Copeland's instant love and curiosity for dance.

Welcome to Ballet School

By Ashley Bouder and illustrator Julia Bereciartu

64 pages; Frances Lincoln Children's Books (2020)

New York City Ballet principal dancer Ashley Bouder begins her new picture book with a letter to the reader, sharing that the story is based on her own childhood and studying with her beloved teacher Marcia Dale Weary.

Bereciartu's illustrations highlight a diverse group of young students experiencing their first ballet class. Geared towards dancers in the 3-to-7 age range, students learn the basic positions of ballet and then hear a bit about the classic story of Sleeping Beauty.

Boys Dance! (presented by American Ballet Theatre)

By John Robert Allman and illustrated by Luciano Lozano

40 pages; Doubleday Books for Young Readers (2020)

Boys Dance!, which was released as part of a new partnership between Random House and American Ballet Theatre, takes us into an all-boys ballet class. With playful rhyming text, author John Robert Allman explains the basic format of the class and some beginning ballet vocabulary.

The book concludes by highlighting eight male ABT dancers, with photos and short first-person accounts.

Black Boys Dance Too: Darnell Enters a Talent Show

By Jamal Josef and illustrator Adrian Turner

20 pages; Jamal Josef (2020)

Written by dancer Jamal Josef, Black Boys Dance Too: Darnell Enters a Talent Show also explores the journey of an aspiring male dancer—though in this one, protagonist Darnell experiences the all-too-familiar experience of being made fun of for his interest in dance. Eventually, though, preparing for the school's talent show with other boys who want to dance gives Darnell's story a happy ending. Black Boys Dance Too is a sweet and assuring book for kids in preschool to first grade.

Let's Dance!

By Valerie Bolling and illustrator Maine Diaz

32 pages; Boyds Mills Press (2020)

For young ones in preschool and kindergarten, Valerie Bolling's rhyming text explores 10 styles of dance from around the world. Maine Diaz's illustrations depict joyful children performing dances from China, Guinea and India, to name a few.

B is for Ballet: A Dance Alphabet (presented by American Ballet Theatre)

By John Robert Allman and illustrator Rachael Dean

48 pages; Doubleday Books for Young Readers (2020)

American Ballet Theatre and author John Robert Allman ambitiously published two picture books this fall. B is for Ballet uses clever rhyming text for an alphabetical journey through key ballet terms, plus choreographers, dancers and famous ballets.

Music
Mary Malleney, courtesy Osato

In most classes, dancers are encouraged to count the music, and dance with it—emphasizing accents and letting the rhythm of a song guide them.

But Marissa Osato likes to give her students an unexpected challenge: to resist hitting the beats.

In her contemporary class at EDGE Performing Arts Center in Los Angeles (which is now closed, until they find a new space), she would often play heavy trap music. She'd encourage her students to find the contrast by moving in slow, fluid, circular patterns, daring them to explore the unobvious interpretation of the steady rhythms.

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For Parents

Darrell Grand Moultrie teaches at a past Jacob's Pillow summer intensive. Photo Christopher Duggan, courtesy Jacob's Pillow

In the past 10 months, we've grown accustomed to helping our dancers navigate virtual school, classes and performances. And while brighter, more in-person days may be around the corner—or at least on the horizon—parents may be facing yet another hurdle to help our dancers through: virtual summer-intensive auditions.

In 2020, we learned that there are some unique advantages of virtual summer programs: the lack of travel (and therefore the reduced cost) and the increased access to classes led by top artists and teachers among them. And while summer 2021 may end up looking more familiar with in-person intensives, audition season will likely remain remote and over Zoom.

Of course, summer 2021 may not be back to in-person, and that uncertainty can be a hard pill to swallow. Here, Kate Linsley, a mom and academy principal of Nashville Ballet, as well as "J.R." Glover, The Dan & Carole Burack Director of The School at Jacob's Pillow, share their advice for this complicated process.

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Teachers Trending

From left: Anthony Crickmay, Courtesy Dance Theatre of Harlem Archives; Courtesy Ballethnic

It is the urgency of going in a week or two before opening night that Lydia Abarca Mitchell loves most about coaching. But in her role as Ballethnic Dance Company's rehearsal director, she's not just getting the troupe ready for the stage. Abarca Mitchell—no relation to Arthur Mitchell—was Mitchell's first prima ballerina when he founded Dance Theatre of Harlem with Karel Shook; through her coaching, Abarca Mitchell works to pass her mentor's legacy to the next generation.

"She has the same sensibility" as Arthur Mitchell, says Ballethnic co-artistic director Nena Gilreath. "She's very direct, all about the mission and the excellence, but very caring."

Ballethnic is based in East Point, a suburban city bordering Atlanta. In a metropolitan area with a history of racism and where funding is hard-won, it is crucial for the Black-led ballet company to present polished, professional productions. "Ms. Lydia" provides the "hard last eye" before the curtain opens in front of an audience.

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