________________ CM . . . . Volume XIX Number 5 . . . . October 5, 2012


Learn to Speak Dance: A Guide to Creating, Performing & Promoting Your Moves.

Ann-Marie Williams. Illustrated by Jeff Kulak.
Toronto, ON: Owlkids, 2011.
96 pp., pbk. & hc., $16.95 (pbk.), $22.95 (hc.).
ISBN 978-1-926818-89-4 (pbk.), ISBN 978-1-926818-88-6 (hc.).

Subject Heading:
Dance-Juvenile literature.

Grades 4-8 / Ages 9-13.

Review by Francine Morin.

**** /4


Recently almost a million Canadian viewers tuned into the season finale of So You Think You Can Dance Canada, attesting to the notion that there is a growing interest in and intrigue about the world of dance among people of all ages. In Learn to Speak Dance: A Guide to Creating, Performing and Promoting Your Moves, Ann-Marie Williams, experienced dancer and studio-based teacher, provides tweenagers with “season tickets” to learning about this fascinating art form. It’s near 100 page scope is broad, progressing from finding a personal point of entry into dance to launching any number of dance-related professional careers. The key message conveyed to pre-adolescents is that dance is for everyone; it is an accessible, joyful language that uses the body as an instrument of expression.

      Dance is a complex amalgam of kinesthetic symbols existing in time and space; therefore, it is difficult to translate into the written word. Those new to dance will benefit from William’s clear, “with it” writing style so artfully supported by Montreal-based illustrator-designer Jeff Kulak’s lively, fun illustrations. A vibrant color palette of teal, gold, brown, orange, and purple is featured in each of the five chapters. Retro-style drawings engage readers, drawing them into the text and helping with the process of translating words into bodily action. The effective integration between the writing and illustrating is sure to capture the energy, attention, and curiosity of this age group. Noteworthy is the fact that all readers will find themselves “visible” in this book as the illustrator appears to have been guided by the principles of inclusion and diversity so important in society today.

      The opening chapter introduces readers to why people dance and the basic building blocks of this communicative form. While the information presented on the elements of dance is accurate for body, space, and force, the element of time has been erroneously aligned with musical rhythm rather than tempo, the overall speed of movement that dancers execute to convey particular expressive intents. Sidebars direct readers to view excellent dance works and artists that serve to illustrate the concepts presented; however, references for retrieving or accessing these videorecordings or other multi-media resources were not provided and is an unfortunate oversight. Fundamental technique areas, how dancers respond kinesthetically to the flow of music, and the characteristic features of a dance style are also topics ushered into the first chapter using concise, contemporary language.

      Aspiring dancers are offered several suggestions in chapter two about how to take their first steps towards participating in dance, both alone and with others, close to the comforts of home or out in the community at schools, studios or clubs. The functions of the dancer’s various body parts (e.g., head, rib cage, arms, and hips) are unveiled with whimsical wording, as are strategies for forming a dance group and setting up practice space with all the required equipment (e.g. floors, mirrors, and sound). Particularly impressive is the section which spotlights the interdependent nature of performing and creating which offers young people with constructive and productive ways to collaborate and interact. Insights into the audition process as well as approaches for reducing performance anxiety conclude this chapter.

      The focus of chapter three is dance making, and herein Williams invites young people to take on the role of choreographer and find their own creative movement voice. Information is offered about how choreographers, whether inspired by a musical work, theme, story, or abstract idea, communicate their own personal meanings and ideas as do writers of books. Snippets of commentary provide glimpses into how dances are structured or given form by choreographers, as well as key considerations for crafting a dance, such as repetition, variation, and climax. Again, a misinterpretation of terms is noted when successive movement is confused with canonic movement within the choreographer’s “tool box” presented. An interesting feature of this chapter is the “Make Your Own Dance Step” game which provokes students into playful experimentation with movement which indeed is at the heart of the creative process. Williams uses captions encompassing inspirational words and tips from dance experts throughout the book, but the captions are particularly prominent and powerful in this chapter. “Muscle memory” is revealed as the “secret to mastering new moves”, and the processes of editing, revising, and refining moves are outlined as new dance pieces are prepared for sharing with others.

      Putting on the production takes center stage in the fourth chapter as readers are given a foray into a variety of on-stage and backstage aspects of dance including: programming dance works, choosing performance venues, and exploring the theatrical elements that enhance dance works, such as lighting, sets, sound, and costumes. Williams then shows how dance, once polished, can “transport” dancers from the practice space to the stage for live performance in front of an audience. The very real complexity of putting on a dance show penetrates this chapter as does the idea that the success of the production depends upon skilled stage managers and technicians as much as it does upon skilled dancers. A superb visual map of the professional theatre, with age-appropriate definitions of terms, such as wings, green room, apron, and house, is offered, along with advice for overcoming preshow jitters.

      Formulating an effective plan for marketing and promoting your dance shows are the main thrusts of chapter five. Young readers learn how to publicize themselves and what it takes to get attention, and to get a gig. A basic template for developing a press release, steps for crafting a captivating poster, guidelines for making a dance video, and ideas for fundraising are among the operational tools featured. The World Wide Web is given special attention as it allows dancers and fans to “connect and communicate like never before”. Williams cautions, however, that dance is a people enterprise and there is no real substitute for face-to-face networking and relationship building when it comes to carving a path to a successful career. This “business coaching” chapter closes with identifying the range of people, such as publicists, managers, and presenters, that work behind the creative communications scene in dance.

      The “coda” of this book entices readers to dance around the globe and discover an array of dance styles. By “moving” through these final pages, students will learn about and try out dance moves representing nine different places, times, social groups, and cultures, including African, Ballet, and Flamenco. Finding one’s way around the book is made easy for readers with a succinct layout of indexed terms and topics that is located on the final page.

      Overall, I give this book a thumbs-up. It will inspire and validate pre-adolescents who have an interest in dance, and it will certainly provide them a comprehensive overview of dance as a discipline and profession. It is jam-packed with Canadian dance contributors and content, and it delivers on its purpose – to inspire young people to dance. But perhaps more importantly, the author points to the idea that dance can be a lifelong friend that will enrich and fulfill our lives.

Highly Recommended.

Francine Morin is Professor (Arts Education) and Head of the Department of Curriculum, Teaching and Learning at the University of Manitoba. As a key contributor to arts education curriculum reform, Dr. Morin serves as lead writer for both the K-8 Dance and 9-12 Dance Manitoba Curriculum Frameworks.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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