Every so often, I meet a student who seems older than their years with interests far more sophisticated than those of their peers.
Despite their young age- middle school, high school, early college- their understanding of the world and their desire to see the big pictures leaves an impression and sets a tone.
For these students, I talk a little longer, share a little more, push a little further, and raise the bar in what I expect from them. I leave a few more breadcrumbs leading to learning adventures that they themselves have the joy of unfolding.
Finding reading materials that walk the elusive line of interesting and informative while still accessible and engaging is often hard to do. Happily, here are two new books recently published by Oxford University Press that do just that.
Oxford, March 15, 2012, Hardcover, 272 pages, $ 27.95, ISBN: 9780199738410
Beautiful cover. Beautiful pictures. Not too thick. Kids will agree to read this.
As a dance educator with a passion for dance history, the story of Fred and his sister Adele has always been of interest to me but not necessarily enough to do the research myself.
Kathleen Riley has created a book that speaks to the dance scholar, historian, and dance lover inside me. The book jacket suggests that this book treats this era and portion of Fred’s career with the weight it deserves and not a prequel to his “real” story, presumably his partnership with Ginger Rogers and beyond. It does.
Riley’s writing is straight-forward and offers great insight to her own attitudes toward the Astaires, their era, and dance in general.
Rather than discussing the people in the Astaire’s lives as a roster of who’s who, she uses them as character studies to illustrate the environments in which the famous pair found themselves. In this, she treated these supporting characters with care and fairness, impressively presenting them as three-dimensional people even in very concise introductions. Their impact on the Astaire’s lives is clear and full without their descriptions being wordy or distracting.
It is obvious she is a heart-felt fan even if her scholarly word choices might send readers with the most extensive of vocabularies to the dictionary at times.
As for the Astaires, their own personal temperaments create stark differences in their experiences and consequently their satisfactions in life. While intending to illuminate the character and life of Adele Astaire, the seldom told story, Riley does a nice job of balancing the Astaires as individuals as well as a collaborative unit.
For Adele, Riley’s work is a commanding source providing new information and perspective.
For Fred, Riley often comments on his autobiography, Steps in Time, in an effort to clarify or round-out his view. Due to this, it is helpful although not necessary that the reader have a basic working knowledge of Fred’s career if not having read his autobiography directly.
This book would be appropriate for high school or college-aged dancers, but also students of musical theatre, theatre, and of course history.
Oxford, June 14, 2012, Hardcover, 240 pages, $ 29.95, ISBN: 9780199777662
Steamy cover photo is reminiscent of From Here to Eternity. Photos inside evoke images of strength, power, and weightiness, naturally. I would even go so far as to include “maleness.” Book appears to be heavy-hitting and not for the weak of heart. I would reserve this for budding dance scholars at the undergraduate or graduate level.
This book is clearly a labor of love. Mark Franko has created a thorough, specific examination of four of Martha Graham’s works and allows the reader to accompany him in the journey to re-evaluate the source material for Graham’s inspired choreography.
In this journey, we transcend from general appreciation and acceptance of Graham’s brilliance as both a creative artist and ego-driven being to a pin-pointed discussion of her work as she connected to the world around her.
As he boldly outlines in the introduction, Franko exposes Graham’s work for the union of her intellectual and psychological experiences, not as a means to process her life experiences into a product for the stage. He provides a rich context for which we better understand Graham’s motivations in how she presented dance, herself, and later promoted her image.
Franko’s writing might be best used as a masterful example for aspiring dance critics in choosing a perspective lens and viewing an artist’s work based on the notion that lens represents.
His well-developed examples of analysis of Graham’s pieces based on politics, mythology, psychology, and literature offer students concrete examples of how broadly or narrowly dance can be interpreted by viewers but also how dance exists as a tool of communication for artists.
These examples also demonstrate the structure and format of academic writing with an introduction describing the purpose of the book and his approach to analysis, the main content featuring his analysis, and a conclusion in which he describes the importance of the analysis and this contribution to the Graham legacy beyond the field of dance.
Graham famously said that movement communicates when words fail, and Franko’s book provides the proof. By providing the contextual details, we more expertly see the impact of Graham’s life experiences in her creative work.
By discussing time, events, and various types of trends associated with the era of these four pieces, Franko illustrates how Graham showed us everything but directed our attention to what she wanted us to see and away from what she wanted us to miss.
The reader walks away from this book with more intimate knowledge of Martha Graham’s life and motivations within her choreography but also how her contributions in the world of dance relate to other worlds, perhaps more significantly than ever credited her before. We see plainly that dance is not simply a one-way avenue in which the artist absorbs and reflects upon their own stories to create stories to be shared. Instead, we are made aware of the power and capacity of integrity filled dance, honest art, and a drive to express the truth.
Common Core Standards:
If you are teaching in the K-12 public schools, you may be aware of the new Common Core Standards adopted by 48 states. These standards shift some priorities of the skills children need to develop and there is an emphasis on informational texts.
Both of these reads would be great additions to your class library for this reason, depending on the age and focus of your students.
What else is on your summer reading list?
Heather Vaughan-Southard MFA, is a choreographer, dance educator, and performer based in Michigan. She currently directs the dance program at the Everett High School Visual and Performing Arts Magnet in Lansing. With the philosophy of teaching dance as a liberal art, Ms. Vaughan-Southard collaborates with numerous arts and education organizations throughout the state. She has danced professionally in Chicago, Detroit, Los Angeles, and New York and has performed works by Mia Michaels, Lar Lubovitch, Donald McKayle, Billy Siegenfeld, Alexandra Beller, Debra Levasseur-Lottman, and Bob Fosse. As a choreographer, her work has been credited by the Los Angeles Times for “creating heat.” She has recently choreographed for the dance programs at Michigan State University, Grand Valley State University, Lansing Community College and is the former dance professor at Albion College. She is a regular guest artist and blogger for Dance in the Annex, an innovative dance community in Grand Rapids. Heather received her MFA in Dance from the University of Michigan, BFA in Dance from Western Michigan University and K-12 certification in Dance from Wayne State University. Read Heather’s posts.