“The world is full of poetry. The air is living with its spirit; and the waves dance to the music of its melodies, and sparkle in its brightness.” ~ James Gates Percival
This summer I attended the Dusk Dances at Withrow Park. I realized, as I was enjoying the costumes, the music and the elegant movements of the dancers that this is a subject I have not yet addressed in my blog. I have memories of learning folk dancing in high school, and also recall taking a ballroom dance class later in my life. For a very brief period I even tried Baroque ballet! Though I never really excelled at dance, I am fascinated by the connection between musical styles and dance, and how dance can be such a beautiful expression of individuality, history, fashion and culture. This is an area I want to explore further but in the meantime I will share a small collection of picture books about dance, to build children’s interest, knowledge and appreciation of dance.
Dillon, Leo and Diane. Rap a tap tap: Here’s Bojangles – think of that! New York: Blue Sky Press, 2002.
This joyful picture book describes the famous tap dancer Bill “Bojangles” Robinson (1878-1949). The gorgeous paintings create the image of a person in constant motion, dancing in the neighbourhood for all to enjoy, whether young or old, rich or poor. While the text describes his climb to fame, using simple rhyming couplets, one phrase is repeated throughout: Rap a tap tap – think of that! Readers can be encouraged to join in telling this story by saying these words and clapping hands, patting thighs or even moving their feet. Children will enjoy learning about how one man brought much happiness to so many people around him simply by sharing his love of dance. The book includes some details about his life and achievements.
Isadora, Rachel. Max. New York: Macmillan, 1976.
This is a charming and inspiring story, with black and white illustrations rendered in pointillism that capture the delicate beauty of ballet. The main character, Max, attends his sister’s ballet class on his way to baseball practise. When invited to participate, he discovers that he enjoys stretching at the barre, doing the split and the pas de chat. He leaves only when he has attempted the leap. Once at the ball game, he finds that the dance experience has given him the focus he needs to hit a home run, and he decides to continue with dance classes as a complement to his ball playing. This book shows in simple ways what is learned in a dance class and imparts the message that boys and girls alike can enjoy many different benefits of dance, in addition to its beauty.
Keeler, Patricia A. Drumbeat in Our Feet. New York: Lee & Low Books Inc., 2006.
Illustrated with Keeler’s dreamy watercolours and colour pencil, this beautiful picture book shows how traditional African dances are taught in a modern day dance class. As readers see the children learn dance steps and prepare for a performance, they also receive information about where African dances originated, how dance traditions were passed on, the kinds of dances (e.g., the Mukanda, and image dances), costumes and body painting, drums and much more. The illustrations and text allow readers to see the links between past and present, and to learn engaging information about African culture. Readers discover that by learning traditional dances we feel a vibrant history alive within us and by sharing these dances we keep these rich and important traditions alive in the world.
Martin, Bill and John Archambault. Barn Dance. New York: H. Holt, 1986.
In addition to Ted Rand’s playful watercolour illustrations, what I love about this book is the rhythm of the text, which captures the caller’s voice at a square dance. The words demand to be read that way. Listeners are immediately swept into how rhythmic the music feels and will want to clap hands and tap toes to keep the momentum of the story. In the magic of the moonlight, a curious boy joins farm animals led by a fiddle playing scarecrow into the barn for a night of moving to music. Readers are introduced to terms used in square dancing such as right-hand, left-hand, back to back, do-si-do, curtsey and bow. The book provides an invitation for children to listen to fiddle music, to learn to follow directions from a caller, and to dance in a group context.
Smith, Cynthia Leitich. Jingle Dancer. New York: Morrow Junior Books, 2000.
This is a beautiful story of a young girl’s dream of jingle dancing at an upcoming powwow, and how this dream is realized. To make her regalia (clothing and accessories), she needs enough tin jingles to make four rows. She is able to borrow enough from friends and family just in time for the powwow. The exquisite watercolours of Van Wright and Hu reflect the warmth and caring of Jenna’s family and community, and all they do to help her. The story, in addition to presenting its main character as a resourceful problem-solver, gives readers rich information about the Muscogee Nation (e.g., foods, stories, ceremonies). At the conclusion of the story there is detailed information about the Creek Nation and Ojibway people, about the symbolism of jingle dresses, and about honouring new dancers. Readers will learn about dance, Native American culture and about a child’s caring community as they enjoy this moving story.
“If you can walk you can dance. If you can talk you can sing.” ~ Zimbabwe proverb