From Ballet to the Barnyard: Picture Books in 2011

Editor’s Note: In 2010, I discovered Kerry Aradhya’s blog, Picture Books & Pirouettes. Two subjects I adore: dance and children’s literature. Happily, Kerry agreed to publish a review of the dance picture book trends of 2010. Since then, I’ve watched her blog develop and couldn’t be more tickled to present her summary of 2011!

It never ceases to amaze me how many picture books about dance are floating —or maybe I should say twirlingaround out there.

When I started my blog, which focuses in large part on these books, people would often ask me if there were really enough dance books available to keep my blog going. And my answer was always yes. There really are!

I love discovering picture books about dance that were published some 10, 20, and even 30 years ago, but handfuls of books are also being published during each new year. When I look through the list of books that were released in the United States in 2011, three unique categories of books stand out to me. Here’s a little more about them…

Series for Little Ballerinas

Angelina Ballerina may still be the most popular picture book character for many young dancers, but several characters emerged this year and in the recent past who could eventually give Angelina a run for her money.

Ella Bella Ballerina and Swan Lake
Author: James Mayhew
Illustrator: James Mayhew
Publisher: Barron’s Educational Series

First published in England, the charming series of Ella Bella Ballerina books introduces young readers to some of the world’s most famous ballets. In Ella Bella Ballerina and Swan Lake, little Ella Bella is transported into the magical world of Swan Lake, where she interacts with the Swan Princess and helps her reunite with the prince. Ella Bella Ballerina also has her own blog, where you can follow all of her adventures!

Miss Lina’s Ballerinas and the Prince
Author: Grace Maccarone
Illustrator: Christine Davenier
Publisher: Feiwel and Friends

In 2010, the book Miss Lina’s Ballerinas introduced the ballet mistress Miss Lina and the nine young ballerinas under her tutelage. In the sequel, Miss Lina’s Ballerinas and the Prince, a male ballet student joins the mix. Rhyming text and gorgeous French-inspired illustrations make both books ones to treasure.

Tallulah’s Tutu
Author: Marilyn Singer
Illustrator: Alexandra Boiger
Publisher: Clarion Books

The only reason Tallulah started taking ballet class was because she wanted to wear a tutu, but over time she realizes there is a lot more to love about ballet. The publisher of Tallulah’s Tutu has also created this great activity kit to go along with the book. And the book’s sequel, Tallulah’s Solo, is scheduled to hit bookshelves in 2012.

Spanish and Latin American Dance [Read more…]

Tap Classics: Paddle and Roll Heroes, Lon Chaney & Bunny Briggs

Lon Chaney and Dr. Bunny Briggs did not invent the paddle and roll, but instead developed the step to its maximum potential.

IMAGE The Paradiddle rhythm in drumming IMAGEThere are four elements to the paddle and roll: a dig, a back brush of the ball of the foot, stepping on the ball of the foot, and a heel.  The “paddle” constitutes the dig and the brush, while the roll is the action of dropping the toe and heel in a smooth and controlled motion.

Other names for the paddle and roll include the drumming term paradiddles and the gangster-inspired Tommy Gun.

Some say that the paddle and roll originated in the Midwest as an answer to the East coast style of dancing, and dancer/choreographer Buddy Bradley owes the step to the Flamenco style of dancing.  Regardless of its origin, the paddle and roll has become one of the most popular tap steps and is often the first step that comes to mind when students are asked at random to show off some steps.

To say that any tap dancer is king of the paddle and roll may land you in hot water. 

There have been plenty of contenders for that title.  The first man to proclaim himself master of the paddle and roll was Walter Green, a tap dancer who had arrived in New York from Chicago in 1937.  Green put out a challenge to all dancers that no one would be able to best his superior foot technique, the paddle and roll.  Local tough guys Ralph Brown, Freddie James, Albert Gibson, and Chuck Green set him straight.

No other dancer is identified more with the paddle and roll than another tap icon, Lon Chaney. 

A short, stout man, Lon Chaney danced into the floor, and his rippling paddle and roll variations created quick, staccato tapping combined with bold phrases of rhythm.  At the end of tap dance performances, it is not uncommon for the tap dancers to form the so-called “Chaney track” or the “Hoofer’s Line”; at the climax of the show, the dancers form a line and rattle off a long stream of paddle and rolls. Each performer takes a small solo accompanied by the steady call and response chanting of “Ho-yeah, Ho-yeah, Ho-yeah, Ho-yeeaaahhh!”  Needless to say, most tap dancers hold Lon Chaney in the highest regard.

The Original Hoofers: World-tour (1976) [HD]

Watch this video on YouTube.

(Hoofer’s Line beginning at 1:12. Lon Chaney – farthest Stage Left)

IMAGE Bunny Briggs IMAGE

Bunny Briggs is the antithesis of Lon Chaney; Briggs is slender, doe-eyed, and dances his signature paddle and roll style by lightly smattering a string of bop-inspired, staccato rhythms. Peppered with comedic body gestures, these lampoon popular dance vernacular of the ‘30s, ‘40s, ‘50s and ‘60s.

Bunny Briggs’ style of dancing, in contrast to Lon Chaney’s chunky rhythmic phrasing, sounds more akin to a Dizzy Gillespie melody sped up double time, which is no accident.  Commenting on his time working as a singer and dancer in Earl Hines’ band, “Both Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker were in that band, and it helped me work out my own style of paddle and roll,” says Briggs.

Bunny Briggs worked with the cream of the jazz world, with musicians like Charles “Luckey” Roberts and Erskine Hawkins.  But to me and many others, it was his work with Duke Ellington, and in particular the piece David Danced before the Lord with All His Might as part of a series of sacred music concerts that Ellington toured across the country, that was a stand out example of Bunny Briggs’ style and ear for musicality.

Dr. Bunny Briggs "David Danced before the Lord"

Watch this video on YouTube.

(Bunny Briggs: The most Super-Leviathonic Rhythmaturgical Syncopated Tapstamaticianisimist)