Biographies and memoirs help us to discover more about ourselves and our human connections. This is why I titled this post, Dance Biographies and Memoirs for every dancer! Now I understand that not everyone is going to be interested in the lives of everyone on this list, but all dancers should try and learn about the lives of one or two of these people through their books at least.
Dance biographies and memoirs every dancer should read include Swan By Laurel Snyder & Brave Ballerina by Janet Collins for kids, To Dance a cartoon novel by Siena Cherson Siegel for Teens and Dancing Through It by Jenifer Ringer and B Plus by Michael Langlois for adults.
What is great about books today is the biographies and memoirs are not only just for adults and teens. There are many that have been made into more digestible picture books for children and younger readers to learn from and so I have included some of those on this list as well.
DANCE BIOGRAPHIES AND MEMOIRS FOR KIDS AND YOUNG READERS
Swan written by Laurel Snyder and illustrated by Julie Morstad is a moving book that portrays the life of Ballet legend Anna Pavlova. Although the writing can be quite deep, and may be better suited for older children the illustrations are captivating enough to keep young children engaged. You can check it out here on Amazon.com
Brave Ballerina: The Story of Janet Collins
Brave Ballerina was authored by Michelle Meadows and illustrated by Ebony Glenn. This lovely book tells the story of Janet Collins and her pursuit to become a ballerina in a racially segregated USA. Janet was the first African American prima ballerina in the metropolitan Opera. You can take a look at several of the pages and lovely illustrations on Amazon.com here.
Rudolf Nureyev (Little People, Big Dreams)
Rudolf Nureyev written by Maria Isabel Sanchez Vegara and Illustrated by Eleonra Arosio is one book is an acclaimed series called little people, BIG DREAMS. This book gives a really nice summary for children about his life and how he became a world famous dancer from the freezing north of Russia to the biggest stages of the world. Take a look on Amazon.com here.
A Girl Named Misty
This book written by Kelly Starling Lyons and illustrated by Melissa Manwill is a 48 page short, easy young reader book. It is part of the American Girl Series – A Girl Named….. Although it is not the indepth biography (which I have included later in this list for teens and adults) it is a great introduction to Misty’s life and a very inspirational read to budding dancers as well! To have a closer look click here to go to Amazon.com
When Stravinsky Met Nijinsky: Two Artists, Their Ballet and One Extraordinary Riot
Igor Stravinsky is a musical composer and Vaslav Nijinsky a famous dancer. This children’s picture book by Lauren Stringer tells the story of when they collaborated to create the radical ballet ‘The Rite of Spring’. Readers will be engaged and surprised by the uproar the music and ballet created at the time and is a great way for children to learn more about the history of the arts. You can take a look at it on Amazon.com here.
Danza written by Duncan Tonatiuh is a book based on the life of Amalia Hernandez a Mexican dancer who founded El Ballet Folklorico De Mexico. This book is a celebration not only of Amalia’s love of dance but of Mexican culture as the illustrations also created by Tonatiuh are culturally inspired. It is an interesting read and adults will learn about this amazing lady and what she accomplished along with the little ones. Check it out here on Amazon.com.
Ballerina Dreams was co-authored by Michaela DePrince an American dancer who is currently a soloist with the National Opera Ballet in the Netherlands. It is a story about her journey from living in an orphanage in Sierra Leone to being adopted by an American family and her dancing journey. This book has been aimed at 7-9 year old reading levels, but also comes in other versions which you can take a look at here, but for the step into reading book click here to go to Amazon.com.
Jose is the story of Jose Limon who became a legendary figure in American dance. This story is more anecdotal in style and does not always deliver the emotional contexts of some of the more important events in Jose’s life, but it is a nice introduction for kids about the life of this artist and dancer.
Alvin Ailey is a picture book written by Andrea Pinkney and illustrated by Brian Pinkney. It is a great introduction for children about the super talented man and founder of the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater. This book is more of a profile that uses described conversations and facts about his childhood to create a picture of this groundbreaking dancer and choreographer. To take a look at this book on Amazon.com click here.
When the Beat Was Born: DJ Kool Herc and the Creation of Hip Hop
When the Beat Was Born: DJ Kool Herc and the Creation of Hip Hop is not specifically a dance book but absolutely deserves to be on this list as the development of the music was so influential on dance and the creation of what we know today as Hip Hop dance. I think many adults will learn a thing or two about the history and beginnings of hip hop!
When I Grow Up: Misty Copeland (Scholastic Reader, Level 3)
Written by Lexi Ryals and illustrated by Ervin Madrid this biography about Misty copeland has been created for leveled reading in particular children 6-8 years old. This book explores ho Misty has become one of the most famous ballerinas in the world and you can take a look at it on Amazon.com here
Little People, Big Dreams is a series of educational books for children about different people in history who have lived extraordinary and outstanding lives. Josephine Baker was an entertainer – a dancer and actore and her life story has been beautifully written for children about by Maria Isabel Sanchez Vegara and drawn by Agathe Sorlet and you can check this book out on Amazon.com here
Ballet for Martha: Making Appalachian Spring
Ballet for Martha: Making Appalachian Spring written by Jan Greenberg and Sandra Jordan and Illustrated by Brian Floca won the Orbis Pictus Award for Outstanding Nonfiction for Children. It is a beautiful book about how famous choreographer and dancer Martha Graham created her famous dance performance Appalchian Spring and you can take a look at it here on Amazon.com
DANCE BIOGRAPHIES AND MEMOIRS FOR TEENS AND YOUNG READERS
How The Became Famous Dancers – A Dancing History
How They Became Famous Dancers – A Dancing History by Anne Dunkin tells the stories and biographies of 12 dancers – Louis XIV, John Durang, Marie Taglioni, William Henry ‘Juba’ Lane, Anna Pavlova, Rudolf Laban, Doris Humphrey, Michio Ito, Mrinalini Sarabhai, Pearl Primus, Amalia Hernández, and Arthur Mitchell. It is a wonderful book for the passionate dancer, with lots of illustrations great for readers aged 10 onwards. To have a look at this book click here to go to Amazon.com
Life In Motion – Young Readers Addition
Life in Motion written by Misty Copeland the first African American Principal with the American Ballet Theatre has broken down all kinds of barriers to get to where she is today. This particular version of the book has been created for the younger or teen reader to enjoy, but make no mistake it still details many of the hard times in her life, but is easier to read and therefore you need to decide whether your dancer is ready for the material. To have a look at this inspiring book click here to go to Amazon.com
Alicia Alonso Takes the Stage
Alicia Alonzo Takes the Stage is part of the Goodnight Stories for Rebel Girls series. Alicia Alonzo moved from Cuba to the United States dreaming of becoming a famous dancer when she began to lose her sight. This book beautifully tells her story with stunning full page illustrations. To check it out on Amazon.com click here.
To Dance: Special Edition
This is such a fun book to read about the life of Siena Cherson Siegel which she authored. It is fun because it is a graphic novel – like a cartoon strip! The illustrations were created by Mark Siegel and the words and illustrations work so well to tell Siena’s memoir about her dream to become dancer which eventuate with her performing on stage in New York City and working with George Ballanchine. To take a closer look at this book click here to view on Amazon.com
Girl on Pointe – Chloe’s Guide to Taking on the World
Chloe Lukasiak became well known especially within the younger dance set from her time on reality television show Dance Moms, and this book is a firm favourite of her fans. What is different about this book, to a normal autobiography is that it has been formatted to look a bit more like a scrapbook with Chloe’s own doodles, and personal photos scattered through the pages which makes it a really fun and digestible read. To take a look at this book on Amazon.com click here
The Maddie Diaries
The Maddie Diaries is a New York Times best seller memoir by Maddie Ziegler known not only for her role on the reality show Dance Moms but also her time as a judge on ‘So You Think You Can Dance’ as well as being a feature dancer and muse for hit musical artist Sia. There are mixed reviews on this book from those who loved it, to those who are in disbelief that Maddie herself was the actual writer of the book. But whatever you think, Maddie Ziegler is an exceptional dancer who has accomplished a lot at such a young age and is and an inspiration to many. Her story and journey is interesting and motivating and is easy for the young teen to easily read. To take a look on Amazon.com click here.
Chloe Bayliss lived, breathed and dreamed about being a dancer. She was accetped at 16 into an international dance school and her dreams were beginning to look as though they just might come true, but then she became sick and was hospitalized with an illness that stumped the doctors. This is her amazing story! To check it out on Amazon.com click here.
DANCE BIOGRAPHIES AND MEMOIRS FOR TEENS AND ADULTS
Rudolf Nureyev – The Life
Although there are a few biographies written about Rudolf Nureyev, The Life authored by Julie Kavanagh is one that has also been made into a movie – The White Crow. Rudolf Nureyev was one of the first ballet dancers to create a household name for himself and his life story from russian peasant to ballet star takes you on an amazing journey. It is a long book at 800 pages, but well worth the read, especially for avid ballet fans! You can check it out here on Amazon.com
Taking Flight written by Michalea DePrince and co-authored by her mother Elaine DePrince is the story of Micahela’s journey as an orphan in war torn Sierra Leone to the biggest stages of New York. She is known as a role model not just for dancers but for girls on and off the stage. To take a look at this inspiring book go to Amazon.com here.
Dancing on my Grave
Dancing on my Grave is the astonishing story of Gelsey Kirkland who from being at the top of her game and dancing for George Balanchine and with Mikhail Baryshinikov spiralled into drug addiction, afterwhich she tried to reconstruct her career. This book is a favourite by many in the ballet world and I too have a soft spot for Gelsey having been privileged enough to have taken one class under her instruction. I will never forget how she looked past my inadequate turn out and was able to encouragingly comment on the quality of my dancing rather than on what it lacked. To check this book out on Amazon.com click here.
Revelations: The Autobiography of Alvin Ailey
Revelations: The Autobiography of Alvin Ailey was authored by the man himself, and co authoered by A. Peter Bailey. This book allows the reader to really delve into more of the private thoughts and life of Alvin as well as hear commentary from other dancers. It is a great read and you can find it on Amazon.com here. But if you are more of a fan of biographies written by others, the well reviewed Alvin Ailey: A life in Dance written by Jennifer Dunning is another wonderful option which you can check out here on Amazon.com
Mao’s Last Dancer
Mao’s Last Dancer is an autobiography written by Li Cunxin and is a story that hollywood could not make up! He was a peasant boy in country China when he was taken to study ballet. On cultural exchange he fell in love with America and the story goes on to follow the remarkable events of his defection, and continuing rise within the ballet world. To check it out on Amazon.com click here – Oh and did I mention that Hollywood did make it into a movie!
He’s Got Rhythm: The Life and Career of Gene Kelly
Gene Kelly was an old screen legend and this biography is the first that has been written since his death. It has been well researched by Cynitha Brideson and Sara Brideson and is a great look into the whole life of the man who was ‘Singing in the Rain’.
Life in Motion: An Unlikely Ballerina
This memoir written by Misty Copeland was mentioned earlier on this list as a young readers version has been brought out. This full version and New York Times Best Seller is 304 pages in length and tells the story and journey of Misty’s rocky journey to become the first African American Principal Ballerina with the American Ballet Theatre. To check it out click her to see it on Amazon.com
Dancing Through It
If you are a dancer you might recall not long ago, there being a big media debacle when a critic commented on the weight of one of the dancers in the New York City Ballet. Well Jenifer Ringer was that dancers and this is her story. Dancing Through It recalls her journey from dance classes in Virginia to becoming a principal dancer and follows her weight struggles and overcoming an eating disorder and more. This is a must read book for any dancer aspiring to become an elite dancer! To check it out on Amazon.com click here.
B Plus: Dancin for Mikhail Baryshnikov at the American Ballet Theatre: A Memoir
This is a fascinating story about being a professional, but never feeling as though you quite made it. It is a book about trying to be the best you can be, but feeling as though all you ever achieved was a B Plus. Michael Langlois chose ballet over football and danced with the American Ballet Theatre under Mikhail Baryshnikov, the book follows his life, loves and more. To check it out on Amazon.com click here
Dancing Boys: High School Males in Dance
Dancing Boys: High School Males in Dance is a study of 62 adolescent male students and their experiences of high school dance classes. It was written by Zihao Li who also includes his own stories and memories of being a professional dancer into the overall story. You can take a look at this book on Amazon.com here