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Book Reviews

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

by Ann-Marie Williams; Jeff Kulak, illus.

From reality shows like So You Think You Can Dance to the choreographed musical numbers on Glee to YouTube flash mobs, dance-based entertainment is more popular than ever. With Learn to Speak Dance, Toronto dance instructor Ann-Marie Williams has set out to encourage kids to get moving.

The follow-up to Owlkids’ Learn to Speak Music (2009), Williams’ book aims to teach older children the basics of a broad artistic medium using language that is fun, smart, and unflaggingly supportive. From the outset, Williams is mindful that performing can be difficult for older children and for shy or self-conscious kids, especially those who have never danced in public before. “It takes a lot of guts to throw yourself into a dance class or group, so it’s pretty normal to want to find your groove on your own first,” she assures readers.

The book starts by explaining what dance is and why we do it, before moving on to the how with helpful tips and hints. Williams spends a lot of time emphasizing the medium’s accessibility, but she doesn’t sugarcoat the fact that improvement requires hard work and lots of practice. In fact, she often repeats that the famous dancers seen on TV and on the stage started off just like anyone else – as awkward, stumbling newbies. This gets reinforced through quotes from professional dancers of all stripes including the principal dancer at the National Ballet of Canada, TV choreographers, and a member of a dance crew for people with disabilities.

Where the book really differentiates itself from other how-to’s is its approach to the business of dance. The second half goes over the details of starting up, managing, promoting, and mounting your own dance crew and shows. It even explains the behind-the-scenes roles of various techies and designers.

The text is aided by the images of Montreal illustrator (and past Q&Q art contributor) Jeff Kulak. The illustrations of dancers and dance styles are graphic, yet fluid; they’re bold, playful, and on-trend with a saturated, 1960s-inspired colour scheme of teal, gold, brown, burnt orange, olive, and plum.

So you think you can dance? Williams’ answer: well, of course you can!