Author Feature: Once Upon a Dance

Updated: Aug 25

For most of my life I was a dancer, beginning with ballet, jazz, and tap and transitioning full force into Irish dance when I saw Riverdance for the first time at 12 years old. After touring professionally and teaching for well over a decade, life shifted for me, though dance still holds a special place in my heart.

So, when I discovered the great work of Once Upon a Dance through Reedsy, I was thrilled to get to read their stories that bring dance into the home of every reader. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, many dance schools and performing companies were forced to shut their doors in the interest of safety. Ballerina Konora, the dancer around whom each of these lovely stories revolves, had to leave her role in the Nutcracker and she and her mother decided to create this series of stories. From picture books to non-fiction, each of these stories encourages movement and discovery for dancers of all types. Please check out my reviews below and connect with Once Upon a Dance to support struggling dance communities!

Dancing Shapes

For dancers struggling being away from the studio because of the Coronavirus pandemic, this is an excellent written supplement to their practice. Encouraging and accessible in its delivery, young dancers will appreciate the support the narrator Konora provides throughout this story. Full color photographs and inspiring models make this a visually compelling addition to libraries for young dancers. Please see my full review here!

More Dancing Shapes

This book is a natural extension of the original Dancing Shapes book, inviting readers to try new shapes along with Ballerina Konora through images and written instructions. For those who have read the first book, there is a game to try to locate images that are the same from one to the other; however, this book stands easily on its own, as well. Young dancers who are ready to experiment with the ways their bodies can move will love adding this book to their libraries. Please see my full review here.

Nutcracker Dancing Shapes

Ballerina Konora has been in Nutcracker performances since she began dancing as a young girl. She has compiled her experiences into this colorful story that explains the variations on the Nutcracker story and introduces dance movements to try at home. Please see my full review here.

Dancing Shapes with Attitude

I love how this book talks about the side of dancing that is often experienced but not frequently shared outside of an individual dancer’s family. Rejection is all too common in subjective art forms like dance, and learning to understand and overcome the feelings that come from this rejection are critical life skills. Now that dancers are comfortable with Ballerina Konora, they will especially connect with her struggles and find ways to embrace their own unique abilities through this book. Please see my full review here.

Joey Finds His Jump

The first in the Dance-It-Out creative movement series by Once Upon a Dance, this story blends a traditional picture book structure with movement. Joey the kangaroo is sad because he does not know how to jump, so he goes in search of something that might teach him. Readers of all ages learn the power of perseverance through this story and will love the beautiful illustrations. Please see my full review here.

Petunia Perks Up

It’s been a while since Princess Petunia has been able to see her friends. Lots of rain has kept her inside, which means that she needs to find ways to occupy herself within her indoor space. This movement-centered book encourages interpretation of the story through dance, giving readers an outlet for both creative exploration and meditation. Please see my full review here.

Danny, Denny, and the Dancing Dragon

This addition to the Dance-It-Out! creative movement series features a male dancer with dark skin. I love that each of the books is illustrated by a different person, as the flavor and feel of the stories are as unique as the people dancing in them. As Once Upon a Dance and Ballerina Konora assert in every book, dancing is for every body, and their books mirror that belief. This imaginative story features Danny dancing with a dragon as his baby brother watches and enjoys. Please see my full review here.

Princess Naomi Helps a Unicorn

Sometimes, a change of pace is exactly the remedy for a challenging morning. When Princess sisters Naomi and Miranda get on each other’s nerves one day, Princess Naomi storms out of the castle to seek comfort from a different environment. As she and her horse En Tournant are exploring the grounds, they stumble upon a creature in need and Naomi soon realizes that her anger has been replaced by a more productive feeling. This newest addition to the Dance-It-Out movement series helps readers identify and process intense emotions to find balance both physically and mentally. Please see my full review here.

The Cat with the Crooked Tail

As a cat-lover myself, this story warmed my heart. Following Miss Merida Brown, a cat who has a crooked tail and low self-esteem, readers observe as she bravely faces her fears and attempts to climb the obstacle course in her barn. Though it is not easy, her perseverance pays off and she shows readers that with the right attitude, more is possible than one might think. Incorporating movement like the others in this series, readers will love experiencing this book at every level. Please see my full review here.

Brielle’s Birthday Ball

I’ve been anxiously awaiting the arrival of this story! This is the tale of Brielle, a girl who is excited about her upcoming seventh birthday. In the middle of the night, she receives a magic ball that transports her on an equally magical adventure for a celebration she will never forget. Hues of purple, teal, and yellow form the primary backdrop of the images, and the text and movement-based instructions mirror the visuals on the opposite side of each page. A great fit for young elementary school-aged readers, this book will encourage movement and imagination with each reading. Please see my full review here.

Belluna’s Big Adventure in the Sky

Belluna often feels different from those around her; though her balloon head offers her some benefits, like jumping higher when she makes basketball shots, it can be hard when nobody else looks like her apart from her family. One day, when she and her family are out picking apples, a storm picks up and Belluna is carried high into the sky. She must rely on her strength and resilience to find her way home once again. This latest in the canon of stories by Once Upon a Dance is a loving celebration of what makes people unique and is presented in a whimsical and memorable way. Please see my full review here.

Dayana, Dax, and the Dancing Dragon

Dayana loves to dance, and when her new baby brother Dax finally arrives, she can’t wait to teach him how to dance with her. Unfortunately, Dax is too little to dance with Dayana. One day, however, Dax demonstrates a special skill that summons an unexpected dance partner to share her stories and skills with the two siblings. This latest in the Dance it Out series by Once Upon a Dance is a whimsical inclusion and invites dancers of all ages to participate in Dayana’s delightful adventure. Please see my full review here.

Mira Monkey's Magic Mirror Adventure

This latest in the Once Upon a Dance canon of stories introduces readers to Mira Monkey, a gorilla who wears a tutu and is ready for carnival day. Accompanied by playful fairies, Mira enjoys the feeling of the sand between her toes and the many sights, sounds, and tastes of the carnival. An unexpected turn of events changes the course of her day, though, causing her to wonder if she will ever be the same again. I love how these stories encourage children to move and imagine no matter whether they are reading at home or with others. Please see my full review here.

Freya, Fynn, and the Fantastic Flute

Freya and Fynn love to visit their Aunt Gail, who lives on an island with a collection of cats. Though her house can become spooky at times, the children enjoy spending time there, exploring their surroundings and playing in the sea. When strange noises come from the attic in the middle of the night and Fynn goes to investigate, he discovers the cause and it is up to his sister Freya to return him to safety. This is a delightful addition to the canon of stories by Once Upon a Dance that is both whimsical and heartwarming while being a good fit for the Halloween season. Dancers of all ages will look forward to bringing this narrative to life through movement. Please see my full review here.

Andi's Valentine Tree

This is one of my favorite books in the Once Upon a Dance canon because it depicts both the joy of dance and acceptance with the very real challenge of bullying. Andi loves to dance, but they don’t have many friends outside of the studio, which makes the school day seem interminable. However, when passing a beautiful tree on the way to school one day, Andi makes an unexpected acquaintance who helps Andi in an important time of need. Whimsical and heartfelt, this story is a great fit for dancers who may not always feel understood by their peers. Please see my full review here.

Danika's Dancing Day

Meet Danika, a young girl with a passion for dancing that is so strong she wakes every day ready to create a fresh and unique ballet performance. This newest in the Once Upon a Dance canon celebrates ballet and the children who build imaginary performance spaces within their minds. Rich colors and expressive imagery engage readers immediately against the familiar backdrop of Ballerina Konora's stories. Please see my full review here!

Sadoni Squirrel: Superhero

This newest movement-based story by Once Upon a Dance includes my favorite illustrations thus far as well as the added bonus of being set in Denver. Sadoni Squirrel has a superpower, and even though her friend Jamison the cat doesn’t believe her, Sadoni does all she can to protect the vulnerable creatures living nearby. There are lots of opportunities for movement in this book, and young readers are sure to enjoy exploring their own superpowers alongside Sadoni. Please see my full review here.

It is the perfect time of year for planting, and Eka and her siblings have an excellent plan for a garden. Together, the family prepares the soil, plants the seeds, and waits for the first green shoots to emerge from the ground. As more vegetables develop, Eka begins to notice that some of them have been munched on by something other than her family members. This realization leads to a dynamic and exciting dream that, while not truly taking place, ultimately leads Eka and her family on an adventure to make a charming new friend. This newest installment in the Dance it Out series by Once Upon a Dance blends the fantasy of a dreamscape with reality in a beautiful and engaging manner. On each page, the writing not only directs the plot, but it does so in a way that encourages movement in a natural and easy to visualize format. The enjoyable narrative gives elementary school-aged readers an accessible story that pairs beautifully with the illustrations. Unlike many of the other books in this collection, this story features painted images that have a cartoon-like quality and play with lighting and shading among the myriad details that are included in each scene. Vibrant colors and soft lines make the illustrations appealing to readers of all ages, no matter their connection with the text. Like the other books in this series, a segment on each page describes movement possibilities while offering readers questions that stretch beyond the narrative. Whether read together or separately, the three components of this book encourage imaginative discovery and exploratory movement to both support gross motor development and give readers new ways to engage with the books they read. This is a delightful addition to this Dance it Out series and is a great story to share with dancers of all ages.

It is Frankie’s birthday, so it is the perfect day to go in search of a famed magical blue feather that is said to be found on an island to the east of where Frankie lives. After packing up, Frankie sets off on an adventure with some helpful wisdom provided by Auntie Duke—a special loved one who has walked this path before. A series of clues is laid out before Frankie, providing guidance while Frankie navigates a magical forest full of helpful and unexpected creatures. And as Frankie nears the end of the journey, Frankie begins to think differently about the feather and the wish it can bestow. This newest entry in the Once Upon a Dance canon is particularly enjoyable, using a well-crafted plot to encourage readers to believe in themselves just as Frankie does. Presented as a gender neutral character, Frankie can be anyone and everyone as Frankie goes through each step of this adventure. Like the others in this series, this book is set up in three parts: the first is a full page illustration depicting a particular moment in the narrative, the second is the narrative itself, and the third is an invitation for movement that unites both photographs of Ballerina Konora in action and matching text to help augment readers’ understanding and ability to participate. Rich color is found in each of the digitally-rendered illustrations of the story, which offers readers the feeling of a magical forest filled with wonder. This book is best suited to older readers because of the length of the story and the depth of the message shared within the narrative. Fans of Konora’s other books will find this one to be charming and inspiring, especially as it is filled with opportunities to solve puzzles along with Frankie. This is a delightful book for readers who appreciate both an uplifting story and the invitation to interact with it using both their bodies and their minds.

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