I'm always amazed at what kids can accomplish when they throw themselves into something, and there can be no better examples than the sixteen "kids" you'll meet in this book. They're all grown up now and have become successful professional dancers. Some perform in ballet or modern dance companies, while others are kicking up their heels in Broadway musicals or strutting their stuff in music videos. But it all started when they were dance-crazy youngsters, sweating their way through dance class, day in and day out, as they (and their aching muscles and oh-so-sore feet) did what had to be done in order to master the intricate technique, expressive beauty, and exhilarating joy of dance.
In this book, these pros explain how they got hooked on dance. Many fell in love with it at a very young age, but others didn't discover dance until they were teenagers. You'll read about the ups and downs they experienced along the way. For some, those challenges were especially hard to take, as they came to terms with the fact that their bodies didn't fit the stereotype of a classical dancer.
A few even experienced burnout as kids, having started dancing very early and then finding that they needed to pull back and take a break. That happened to John Selya, seen having the chance of a lifetime in the photo on fig. 1. He was dancing with superstar Mikhail Baryshnikov in an American Ballet Theatre production of the classical ballet La Sylphide. Then John decided to quit! Feeling stressed out from too many classes, he did other things for a while. However, before long, he realized he couldn't live without dance and came back, full-steam ahead.
SUGAR PLUM SIGHTINGS
The ballet The Nutcracker--with its Mouse King, toy soldiers, Sugar Plum Fairy, and dancing candies--played a big part in the childhoods of the dancers you'll meet in this book. Most performed in this holiday classic as kids, but four didn't. Being turned down for a Nutcracker production actually helped one girl find her way in dance. As you read on, be on the lookout for who was or wasn't in this winter wonderland of a ballet.
Like John, many dancers in this book had other interests as kids, enjoying such activities as swimming, riding horses, playing soccer, acting in plays, making music, competing in gymnastics, or curling up with a good book. These activities broadened their experiences and helped make them the exciting performers they are today. But for many of these pros, being involved in extra activities slowed down during their early teen years. By then they were taking so many dance classes that there wasn't time for much else. "Dance is so time-consuming," notes modern dancer Julie Tice. "I had to give up a lot in high school. I couldn't go out for sports, cheerleading, choir, or anything like that." Every once in a while, that got her down. "But then I realized there was nothing else I wanted to do as much as dance."
Ups and downs continued for some well into their professional careers, as they changed companies or, in some cases, even changed dancing styles. A few are nearing the time now when they may have to start winding things down a bit. A full-time performing career for a dancer doesn't last forever. The wear and tear of dancing can take a toll on the body. Some of these pros are planning ahead for the day when they may have to stop performing regularly.
To choose the dancers featured in this book, I asked for suggestions from major dance companies and also from a prominent dance agent, Victoria Morris. I selected these sixteen dancers because they followed different paths in their training and in their careers. There are, of course, many other possible paths that can lead to a life in dance, but the experiences of these sixteen give an idea of what it takes to excel. Despite the differences in their journeys, however, they have some things in common. As kids, they all had amazingly supportive families, with enthusiastic parents and other relatives who spent countless hours driving or accompanying their talented young dancers to classes, rehearsals, and performances. They also had encouraging teachers to guide them, both at small, local studios where most started out, and also at the more advanced, professional-level schools that many attended later.
Most important, taking all those dance classes--and coping with aches, pains, spills, and sprains--was something these dancers did as kids because they absolutely adored dancing. "I was sort of shy, but when I danced I felt completely free," says Gillian Murphy, now a principal ballerina at American Ballet Theatre.
This love of dance continues to carry them along. "Dancing looks very glamorous onstage, but there's a lot of work you have to put into it," notes New York City Ballet's Tess Reichlen. Professional dancers, like Tess, continue to take class every day, no matter how famous they become. They log in long hours of rehearsing, performing, and exercising, followed by the always-important icing down of sore feet, ankles, and muscles. They also periodically check in with physical therapists to deal with the injuries that are bound to happen. As Tess points out, "If you want to go all the way, you have to really love it."
Tess, Gillian, John, Julie, and the other pros you'll meet in this book really do love it. So do many other dance students who try their hardest but don't manage to make it as professional dancers. It's like basketball: Only a few basketball-loving kids grow up to play in the NBA. This book's dancers lucked out and made it to the top. They learned a lot during their journeys. On the following pages, they share valuable tips that can help smooth the way for kids who are just starting out in the exciting and demanding world of dance.
DANCE TALK STYLE STORY
Ballet, modern, jazz, hip-hop, tap--these are some of the main styles of dancing studied by the pros you'll meet in these pages. At the start of the glossary (on here), you'll find descriptions of these styles, followed by definitions of other terms you'll run across in the book. However, to gain a real understanding of a type of dance, you have to see it. Photos can help. So can watching dance on TV or checking out dance videos, such as the ones listed in the resources section (see here). Better yet, go see live performances by professional companies or contact local dance studios to find out if you can observe various kinds of dance classes or see an upcoming recital.