Ballerina Swan

Ballerina Swan

By Allegra Kent

Illustrated by Emily Arnold McCully

Holiday House, 2012

32 pages

 

 

Allegra Kent's Ballerina Swan is the newest book to add to your list for pre-ballet class or birthday party story-time. Little girls will love the story of dancing swan Sophie, who, after overcoming some bird versus human obstacles, gets to dance in the big performance of Swan Lake.

 

This is Kent’s first children's book. The former New York City Ballet principal and Balanchine muse is also the author of Once a Dancer..., The Dancers' Body Book and Water Beauty Book, and she often contributes to Dance Magazine.

 

Like her Ballerina Swan heroine Sophie, who doesn’t fit the perfect ballerina mold and is afraid to attend class, Kent struggled with intimidation. She was first enrolled in a ballet school for only advanced students and fought to keep up. But like Sophie, whose passion for dance kept her going, Kent's determination propelled her past her fears and motivated her to stay in class.

 

Kent includes a glossary of ballet terms used throughout the book—including épaulement, port de bras and plié—that students can practice in class. Students will also gravitate to the watercolor illustrations by Emily Arnold McCully that portray a realistic studio setting (minus the dancing swan) and capture the vibrancy of ballet class and auditions.

Technique
Nan Melville, courtesy Genn

Not so long ago, it seemed that ballet dancers were always encouraged to pull up away from the floor. Ideas evolved, and more recently it has become common to hear teachers saying "Push down to go up," and variations on that concept.

Charla Genn, a New York City–based coach and dance rehabilitation specialist who teaches company class for Dance Theatre of Harlem, American Ballet Theatre and Ballet Hispánico, says that this causes its own problems.

"Often when we tell dancers to go down, they physically push down, or think they have to plié more," she says. These are misconceptions that keep dancers from, among other things, jumping to their full potential.

To help dancers learn to efficiently use what she calls "Mother Marley," Genn has developed these clever techniques and teaching tools.

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Alwin Courcy, courtesy Ballet des Amériques

Carole Alexis has been enduring the life-altering after-effects of COVID-19 since April 2020. For months on end, the Ballet des Amériques director struggled with fevers, tingling, dizziness and fatigue. Strange bruising showed up on her skin, along with the return of her (long dormant) asthma, plus word loss and stuttering.

"For three days I would experience relief from the fever—then, boom—it would come back worse than before," Alexis says. "I would go into a room and not know why I was there." Despite the remission of some symptoms, the fatigue and other debilitating side effects have endured to this day. Alexis is part of a tens-of-thousands-member club nobody wants to be part of—she is a COVID-19 long-hauler.

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Annika Abel Photography, courtesy Griffith

When the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis last May catalyzed nationwide protests against systemic racism, the tap community resumed longstanding conversations about teaching a Black art form in the era of Black Lives Matter. As these dialogues unfolded on social media, veteran Dorrance Dance member Karida Griffith commented infrequently, finding it difficult to participate in a meaningful way.

"I had a hard time watching people have these conversations without historical context and knowledge," says Griffith, who now resides in her hometown of Portland, Oregon, after many years in New York City. "It was clear that there was so much information missing."

For example, she observed people discussing tap while demonstrating ignorance about Black culture. Or, posts that tried to impose upon tap the history or aesthetics of European dance forms.

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