DANCE TEACHER magazine:
"Young dancers will find inspiration in this collection of pros' tales. In Nathan's compilation of stories, we meet 16 professional dancers who specialize in everything from ballet to Broadway.... the subjects share the challenges they encountered in their rise to success....They also touch on issues such as body image, the college debate and the benefits and drawbacks of competitions."
"In this companion to Meet the Musicians (2006), Nathan offers a chatty and informative look at 16 dancers, their childhoods, their training and their professional lives. Sidebars offer quick tips on taking class, summer activities, typical days and performance pointers. There's also an entertaining "Sugar Plum Sightings," revealing where each performed The Nutcracker and in what roles. The range of dance styles, from classical ballet to modern dance to Broadway, gives this a wide appeal, as does the pleasing diversity of the 16 men and women. Readers drawn to dancing won't necessarily pore over the black-and-white photographs, but they will find value in reading about the winning combination of childhood and adult determination, hard work, perseverance, family support and help from teachers. Brief bios at the beginning of each chapter provide appealing personal tidbits. Recommended for those interested in the lives of dancers or a career in dance."
BULLETIN OF THE CENTER FOR CHILDREN'S BOOKS:
"Having tackled the lives of musicians in MEET THE MUSICIANS, Nathan now turns to hoofers, showcasing sixteen dancers who make their living on their feet. Each chapter discusses that dancer's childhood experience with dance and their journey to becoming a professional, and the experiences are sufficiently variable, from late bloomers to early acolytes, fearless showoffs to nervous Nellies, willowy ballerinas to compact ex-gymnasts, that all interested readers should find plenty with which to identify. Nathan has a knack for choosing genuinely original and informative aspects of the dancers' lives, and chapters are bedecked with sidebar tidbits about the dancers' (grueling) schedules during rehearsal period, things they've learned about making daily class work for them, and helpful tips on performance (the book also cleverly uses The Nutcracker as a touchstone, with sidebars documenting when each dancer participated in the storied ballet). There's a big difference between loving a pastime and making it your daily bread, and this book gives revealing snapshots and helpful details about what life is like as a not-so-young dancer. All of the multicultural, coeducational group of subjects are enthusiastic about their vocation, and none of them regret their choice, but it's also clear from their descriptions of the rigor that it's not for everybody. Whether young readers are genuinely considering a dance career or just want to add a little more reality to their terpsichorean fantasies, they'll adore the backstage authenticity and lively readability here. Dramatic black-and-white photos of dancers, usually in mid-leap, decorate the chapters; a glossary, extensive annotated list of resources, and an index are included."
SCHOOL LIBRARY JOURNAL Review:
"This collective biography reveals the paths that 16 diverse dancers followed to become professionals and to join prestigious companies. Each story is unique, but there are common threads that include hard work, sacrifice, and a joy and passion to dance that overcame any obstacles encountered. Some burned out for a while. Some started late. Some faced rejection because of their body type. Ultimately, they found what worked best for them. The tone of the text is conversational, and quotes are included. The profiles begin with lists: the styles of dance studied, childhood pets and favorite books, activities then and now, etc. In sidebars, the dancers offer brief but pertinent advice about performing, taking classes and auditioning, and so on. Black-and-white photos show each dancer as a child or young adult and then as a professional. The pictures dramatically capture how talented these performers are. Anyone, whether considering a career in dance or not, will be inspired and educated by these up-close-and-personal accounts."—Carol Schene, formerly at Taunton Public Schools, MA
"MEET THE DANCERS is a perfectly wonderful book for anyone who wants to understand why pursuing a career in dance is so demanding and rewarding. Amy Nathan shows the varied career opportunities that exist for dancers, and the myriad of paths to get there. I would have been thrilled and grateful for a guide like this!"
--Amanda McKerrow, Former Principal Dancer, American Ballet Theatre
"Engaging and inspiring—dance lovers of all ages will enjoy meeting
these extraordinary individuals whose stories reveal the remarkable
world of dance and dance training. What a good idea for a dance book!"
--Eliza Gaynor Minden, Author of The Ballet Companion
For more information:
"Anyone, whether considering a career in dance or not, will be inspired and educated by these up-close-and-personal accounts."
--School Library Journal
"...fun and informative." --Pointe's e-newsletter
Cover shows Aesha Ash in a photo by Marty Sohl
Here are a few gripes that kids jotted down on questionnaires that I sent to dance programs around the country about ten years ago when I was at the very beginning stages of the research for this book on dance:
-- “I used to hate adagio because I was so horrible at it.
-- “Barre is either too easy or too hard.”
-- “All we ever do are pirouettes. Boring!”
-- “The repetition, doing the same movements day after day, gets boring, especially if the teacher doesn’t laugh.”
Starting my research with kids is something I’ve done for all my advice-giving books for young people — the two books I wrote on musicians, my reports on allowances and homework, and now this new book on dance. With all these books, I’ve polled kids first to find out what they’d like to see covered in the books.
For MEET THE DANCERS, I had some personal experience to draw on, too, having taken ballet classes as a young girl and modern dance during college and for a few years after. However, I was never a very good dancer. I was always the one lurking in the back row, never quite sure which step to do when. I knew what frustrated me about class. But what about kids who are really serious about dance — and pretty good at it, too? What bugs them about dance training? Those are the kids who would be most interested in reading the book I hoped to write, a book in which successful professional dancers offer advice to struggling young students.
To find out what issues serious dance students would like to see covered in such a book, I contacted six excellent dance programs around the county whose directors agreed to pass out my questionnaires for students to fill out before or after class. This wasn’t a formal survey with hard data to be tabulated. Instead, it was an anecdotal-type of questionnaire. It started by asking students to tell about the kinds of dance they’d been studying and for how long. Then the form encouraged them to “tell it like it is,” listing what bothers them as well as what they love about dance. I received completed questionnaires from 75 youngsters, ranging in age from 10 to 15.
As might be predicted, there were plenty of complaints about the “boring,” repetitious aspects of class. Quite a few kids reported having combination-learning difficulties. For some students, the problem wasn’t so much being a slow combination picker-upper, but feeling competitive with how well they did the steps, feeling discouraged when they didn’t do a combination as well as a classmate. Other aspects of the competitive nature of dance earned comments as well: not landing a good part in the big show, not moving up to the advanced class, interpersonal friction with fellow students, not getting into a prestigious summer program.
There was a bit of grumbling about teachers — either for being too demanding or not demanding enough — as well as concerns about the constant scrutiny that is an inescapable part of a dancer’s life, the never-ending chore, as one student said, of “correcting your corrections.”
Some students were bothered about the emphasis on being thin. Other concerns: worries about whether they’ll make it as dancers, getting the jitters during performances, and the constant struggle to find time for dance and everything else a kid has to do. Although these students loved dancing, a few admitted to being discouraged and wondering if maybe it was time to quit.
After locating a publisher, I began looking for dancers whose life stories could give kids ideas on how to cope with the concerns raised by the students I had polled. I wanted to be sure to feature some dancers whose careers hadn’t always been smooth sailing, but who had persisted and succeeded despite the bumps along the way. For advice on dancers to select, I spoke with officials at major dance companies and with a prominent dance agent. I also interviewed several dance educators. I wound up interviewing 16 wonderful artists. Some dance with major ballet companies, others are in modern dance companies, several have been Broadway show stoppers, and a few have made a splash in the world of music videos and superstar tours.
When I interviewed each of these professional dancers, I asked them to talk about how they got into dance as kids and the ups and downs in the paths they took to become pros. I also asked specifically about the concerns raised by the students I had polled.
No surprise: The pros had dealt with the same issues themselves as kids. In MEET THE DANCERS, I present these dancers’ life stories along with their practical, down-to-earth advice on how to cope with such hassles as how to make adagio and barre less boring, how to be a better combination picker-upper, how to calm performance jitters, how to deal with corrections without beating up on yourself, how to keep competitiveness from getting you down, how to handle the time crunch, and how to survive teenage burn-out.
Several dancers describe in the book how they dealt with the challenge of having body types that didn’t fit the tall-lanky-classical-dancer stereotype. Lauren Grant, now an amazing Mark Morris dancer, was heartbroken as a kid when she was turned down for a big Nutcracker performance because her “look” wasn’t right. As Lauren explains in MEET THE DANCERS: “I didn’t have the tall, slender ballerina look. I was very short. Still am. I have a muscular lower body. I felt horrible! I wanted to be a ballerina.” But she kept going and found her place in the world of dance. So did others of the book’s dancers.
ABT’s Gillian Murphy shares a special insight in her chapter on something she discovered during her training that made her a better performer. “The purely technical part of dance isn’t the main point of a performance,” she notes. “Performing is about sharing the moment with the audience, sharing the emotional development of the character.” Jamal Story, who was assistant dance captain of The Color Purple when I interviewed him, gives similar advice in his chapter: “In performance, stop worrying about what you look like, what your leg or foot looks like. Worry about that when you take class. . . . When you perform, it should be about what you’re saying.” Jamal’s advice — encouraging kids to get good enough at technique in class so they can stop worrying about it in performance — may make all those repetitions at the barre seem more bearable for kids today who may have mixed feelings about barre, just as the students did who filled out questionnaires for me all those years ago and helped get this book project up and running.
© 2008 Amy Nathan