Recommended Books for Dancers
The Chosen Books
This list is not in any particular order. I've read each text on the list and love them greatly. If I could number them all with 1 I would, because each work is uniquely useful to dancers in some aspect. As for non-dancers, the creative insights within these listed works will no doubt prove useful for you as well.
These books also make wonderful gifts and conversation pieces.
1. The Creative Habit by Twyla Tharp
I will allow this quote from the book to speak where I cannot: “Venturing out of your comfort zone may be dangerous, yet do it anyways because our ability to grow is directly proportional to an ability to entertain the uncomfortable.”
This book is a genuine goldmine of prompts that can get the imagination working swiftly and efficiently. It is all about stepping beyond the box that is our minds and self-made limitations to reach for something we might not comprehend. For example, when was the last time you used finding shapes in the clouds for choreographic elements? When did you try to look at images from other directions than straight on? When did you last play in the studio? The glimpse into Tharp's world is enlightening. Her daily routine is compelling. In case you are unaware, Twyla Tharp is famous for her choreographed ‘dansicals’ and her drive. She has influenced the dance community greatly with her works, and her book is no exception to how masterful she is as at the art of creation.
What I love most is that what Tharp writes about can apply to every aspect of our lives. Sometimes we need to change our ways of thinking even outside of the dance in order to find harmony within ourselves and the world. When we can see different angles, we can see improvised and choreographed works in a whole new light.
If you’re ever feeling stuck on anything, dance-related or not, Twyla Tharp’s The Creative Habit is a top-notch asset to add to your bookshelf.
2. Dance Anatomy by Jacqui Greene Haas
Want to lift your legs higher in attitude? Want more dynamic twists? Trying to stabilize the pelvis but don't know where to start? What makes Dance Anatomy by Jacqui Greene Haas fantastic is not the “200 full-color” detailed pictures and insight to musculoskeletal system. It’s the fact that this book contains the exact exercises dancers should include in their training regimen. Detailed and precise, each exercise outlines its usefulness in a dance move or transitional step. Moreover, if these exercises are already in your warm-up, you can read how to do and perceive them more deftly.
I truly love the images alongside the in-depth instructions. The pairings are useful for every style of learner. You can both visualize and read how the movements should be done. By the time you finish the book, you will have gained a lot of knowledge on functional movement and move more easily because of it.
Dance Anatomy is a marvelous asset in terms of illustrating how dancers should move and why it is important to hold that knowledge inside of us as we do. Every muscle can be targeted as you train, because you are given the tools with Jacqui Greene Haas’ book.
3. Dance Imagery by Eric Franklin
When I first purchased Dance Imagery, I was searching for a means to heighten my kinesthetic sense and move more deliberately, as my instructors were asking. What I love about Eric Franklin’s book is that the imagery is not only compelling for moving at the time but for building choreography. Being able to visualize or physicalize as you move is one of the many challenges every dancer faces. Some do it with more ease than others. But with Dance Imagery, you delve into what inspires the individual (you) to move. If you’re a dance teacher, Franklin’s work can certainly aid you in relaying information to your students and get them to connect to their bodies as they perform.
Even you don’t dance at all, the images that Franklin portrays in Dance Imagery are beautiful. When reading, your mind fills with fantastic things. I think everyone can benefit from enriching their imagination.
Note: The text shown is the 1996 version. The 2nd edition provides more updated research, but both are equally useful.
4. Taken By Surprise by Ann Cooper Albright and David Gere
This was the textbook my Dance Improvisation instructor had ordered us to buy for class. I’ll admit, I was skeptical at first. I didn’t think this book was going to be any more than a collection of ramblings. Then I read the articles included in this dance anthology by Ann Cooper Albright and David Gere and was absolutely riveted.
Reading these stories and historical lessons about dance, improvisation, contact, and the social disparities that aided in the development of this postmodern dance style as you practice improvisation yourself is an eye-opener. As a dancer and writer, there are times when the words within Taken By Surprise resonated so deeply inside me that I was compelled right then and there to craft scores, write poetry, and even get up and test footwork I didn’t think possible for myself.
To quote Nancy Stark Smith, the editor of Contact Quarterly, the journal that makes up many of the essays included in this book: "Replace ambition with curiosity."
You may have zero interest in learning how to improvise, and that’s fine. The book is not about getting you to do such practices, though lesson plans and score-building is indeed outlined. Taken By Surprise shows you the infinite possibilities of movement and proves that Improvisation is more than wandering but a meditative, technically challenging form of dance.
5. Bunheads by Sophie Flack
For the YA reader in all of us comes an engaging tale about the chaos of life as a company dancer. “Don’t think, just dance,” is a statement many a dancer will hear and contemplate. The protagonist of Bunheads is no different.
On Goodreads, it has a 3.74 rating and most of the reviewers were pleasantly surprised with the quality and the story of the book. Many of them call it a subdued Black Swan (the Natalie Portman movie), intense yet subdued. The reason being is that the The book, written by Sophie Flack, who was a professional dancer in the past, does not limit her work to the troubles of a 19-year-old girl. No, it actually quite masterfully incorporates the troubles every dancer, young or old, faces throughout their lives. What do we throw away for dancing? Where do we hold ourselves and our interests that are not involved with dance? How do we get out of corps and move to soloist? Do we even want to? Obsession, avarice, lust and sacrifice are just a few of the included thematic elements.
Ultimately, Bunheads is about making choices that are best for us and our happiness. Young dancers should read it, because of how Flack's work touches on life outside dance, eating disorders, supplemental exercises, pedestrians, and the mental stressors intertwined in the dance world.
6. The Tao of Pooh by Benjamin Hoff
Benjamin Hoff’s book, The Tao of Pooh, was a pivotal read during a hard time for me in my dance training. Sometimes when dancers are rejected from a part they worked hard for or fail at an audition or even stumble on choreography, our perfectionist brains immediately start eating us alive. I’m one of those people whose nervousness seizes control over my body and turns my dancing into something better described as drowning. When I discovered the Tao of Pooh, so much that is written spoke to me and my frame of mind:
“The surest way to become Tense, Awkward, and Confused is to develop a mind that tries too hard—one that thinks too much.” Look at the big picture, don’t analyze the situation. Don’t overthink the movements, because you’ll just freeze when it comes to the hard part. Or as Balanchine says, “Don’t think, just dance.”
For non-dancers, Hoff makes other vital points throughout the book. How are certain thoughts and feelings holding you back from your true potential? Along with excerpts from original Winnie the Pooh Bear stories, Hoff talks about more than just Taoism. He talks about the issues of life and how to dance with universe's rhythm rather than fighting it. If you are a fan of writings by Alan Watts and Deepak Chopra, you will no doubt enjoy the lightness Benjamin Hoff brings to the heavy subject of life and happiness.
Another plus about these listed books is that each of them are quick reads or at least offer manageable chapters for when the dance life gets hectic. What I found important about them is the offering of resources every human being (dancer or not) needs on hand for motivation and education. Whether you want to strengthen your iliopsoas muscles, learn breathing and relaxation techniques, invigorate the senses, or share a laugh with Pooh, each work would make a vibrant addition to your library.
Thank you for reading! I hope you enjoyed it. Feel free to leave comments about your favorite dance books (or non-dance books that qualify as inspirational reads).