New RH and American Ballet Theater picture book keeps boys dancing

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There is no shortage of books on dance for girls, both fiction and non-fiction. But there are far fewer books that boys who are drawn to dancing can see themselves in. This season adds to the collection of dance books for boys with the publication of The boys are dancing!, one of the two titles (with the alphabet B is for ballet) of the new publishing partnership between Random House Children’s Books and American Ballet Theater this fall, marking the dance company’s 80th anniversary. The boys are dancing!, by John Robert Allman with illustrations by Luciano Lozano, addresses and encourages boys who are curious about ballet and other forms of dance.

In August 2019, shortly after the RHCB / ABT partnership was formed, team members including Frances Gilbert, editor-in-chief of Doubleday, brainstormed ideas for books when Hello america host Lara Spencer made a huge faux pas on air. She announced, incredulously, accompanied by derogatory laughter and comments, that Prince George, then six, was taking ballet lessons. Public outrage over Spencer’s remarks sparked the #BoysDanceToo movement, leading the chastened Spencer to apologize and broadcast an interview with three prominent dancers: Robert Fairchild, former director of the New York City Ballet; Fabrice Calmels from Joffrey Ballet; and Travis Wall, known for his work on the TV show So you think you can dance. In the interview, the dancers spoke about prejudices against boys and ballet, and the need for male role models in the dance world.

Gilbert, who now works with ABT on the book program, was aware of the company’s stellar male dancers and the company’s commitment to making ballet open to as many people as possible, and was moved by the interview. “We saw the passion behind their comments and knew this would be a perfect topic to kick off our ABT book program,” she recalls. She and her colleagues pitched the idea for a book on boys and dance to ABT and immediately received an enthusiastic response.

And she had an author in mind: luckily, she was in the middle of preparing for the launch of A Is for Audra: the great ladies of Broadway from A to Z by John Robert Allman, illustrated by Peter Emmerich, a primer in verse about the iconic female stars of Broadway. She knew that Allman was a lifelong lover of musical theater and dance; what she didn’t know was that he had taken dance lessons, including ballet, as a child in Houston, often the only boy in the class. “It made it doubly perfect for the project,” Gilbert said. For his part, Allman said he was delighted to be approached to write the book. “I wish I had a book like this as a kid,” he noted. As a child, Allman had adored dancers like Gene Kelly and Fred Astaire, so he suggested presenting not only ballet but other styles of dance as well.

Illustrator Lozano, a dance lover who made his debut as an author-illustrator with Diane is dancing in 2017, was also delighted to be part of the project. “I find it very poetic when the human body moves with grace,” he said. “I love contemporary dance above all, but I also love classical ballet and I learned a lot about ballet while working on this project.

Written in rhyming couplets, the book features boys of various ethnicities persevering in their early ballet studies, dreaming of the day they will take on historic roles, and admiring famous male dancers in ballet, tap, jazz and modern dance. Eight male ABT dancers provided brief biographies and photos of themselves today and as young dancers for the afterword. Among the contributors was soloist Calvin Royal III, one of the ABT dancers who endorsed the last few pages. Royal praised the book for helping “normalize the cool factor of young men in ballet.” There is a real feeling of brotherhood, ”he commented. He is eager to help amplify the book’s message that “regardless of gender, race or class, ballet is for everyone.”

Early in the book’s development process, Gilbert and Allman spent an evening sharing pizza and beer with some of ABT’s male dancers in their ballroom – an evening that Gilbert described as “the best time of my career. ’26-year-old publisher “. The dancers shared their “moving and inspiring stories about dancing as boys and where dancing has taken them,” she said. These stories became the basis of Allman’s text; incorporating them into the verse and pictures was one of the challenges of the project.

“For example,” said Allman, “we’ve heard that for all of them, being able to do a tower in the air was an important step in their formation, which made its way into the text. And hearing about the canonical male roles they aspire to dance let us know that we wanted to include a series of little boys imagining dancing all of those roles.

The decision to write the book in verse (both One is for Audra and B is for ballet are also in verse) was made at the beginning. “The dance is so rhythmic and musical,” Allman said, “that the elements of rhyme, as well as alliteration, draw the readers. I wanted the text to be impactful, ”he added.

For Lozano, illustrating the book was full of challenges, starting with the characters. “They are unrealistic, but their movements had to be very precise when it comes to ballet positions. They must have looked like an average group of boys with different complexions, ethnicities, and backgrounds. I spent most of my time with this book drawing moving characters. The ABT dancers uploaded videos via Instagram, which Lozano spent a lot of time watching to make sure the positions were accurate. Gilbert confirmed how thoughtful and thorough ABT was in getting the positions correct, recalling that at the start of the pandemic, a dancer, Connor Holloway, made a video explaining a particular pose. “It was hanging on the mantle of the fireplace at home,” she recalls. “It was so beautiful and particularly moving that we had just been told to stay inside. It was a bright moment in a frightening time.

Gilbert invited Lozano to illustrate the book because “his human figures have bouncing kinetic energy. We knew he would be good at drawing dancers flying in the air. She described Lozano’s characters as “warm and kid-friendly, but also with a very distinct and elegant ingenuity and flair.” Lozano drew the boys, their teacher, and their models in a range of skin and hair colors, which is an important aspect of the book for ABT’s Royal, who said he couldn’t understand, as a young dancer. black, “why I have seen so few examples of myself depicted on stage and in ballet tales. As I grew older, I learned more about this art form: classical ballet was created in European courts and reflected the society of the time he was brought to the fore.Most black people were not there.

Royal hopes the book will help him in his goal of “inspiring the next generation, especially those who are black and brown, who can see themselves in me. My hope is that my presence and my art will allow them to dream and dream. making their own dreams come true. Lozano is proud to be part of a project that combats gender stereotypes and emphasizes that the male dancers’ final autobiographical notes are particularly inspiring. For Allman, the response from the ABT dancers who saw the book was particularly meaningful. “They say it was a moving experience to see something that sums up their experiences so clearly.” As to his hopes of The boys are dancing!, he said, “for those kids who wanted to take dance lessons but were nervous — well, I hope that’s a boost to take a dance lesson.”

Gilbert also hopes that the boys who read it will be inspired to try dancing. “And, someday,” she said, “one of those boys might be a professional dancer and rethink how a picture book started him on his journey.”

The boys are dancing! by John Robert Allman, ill. by Luciano Lozano. Doubleday, $ 17.99 September 22 ISBN 978-0-593-18114-0


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