Once Upon a Dance is a mother-daughter duo. The creation sprang from the coronavirus and a desire to keep kids stuck at home connected to movement. Every book sale triggers a donation to a non-profit organization.
Konora (named from a desire to make something beautiful during coronavirus), climbed the pre-professional ballet ladder up to Pacific Northwest Ballet’s Professional Division. She danced with Texture Contemporary Ballet and Aspen Santa Fe Ballet, and is an apprentice at Ballet Idaho. Growing up, she danced iconic roles such as Sugar Plum Fairy and Cinderella.
Her mother is a photographer and award-winning dance teacher. She’s worked in early childhood education, for non-profits supporting kids, and as a university English and dance teacher during a Peace Corps stint in Africa. She was on the Board of PEPS (Program for Early Parent Support) and recently joined Pacific Northwest Ballet’s Board of Trustees.
Mom lives in Seattle with her husband, son, and a handful of hard-luck cats.
Further details here.
Once Upon a Dance Websites
(A neglected site, how it all started back in March 2020)
Amazon Author Page
Once Upon A Dance - YouTube
Each sale was tallied up, and the full price of all sales were donated through 2021. We've donated over $200,000 to Pacific Northwest Ballet, and we made smaller donations to a couple local studios as well as Ballet Idaho, Aspen Santa Fe Ballet, and Ballet Met. The Humane Society received $13,000 and PAWS $30,000. Proceeds from every book are donated to a variety of organizations.
As publishers, we get discounted products. The schools sell them at full price, we get cheap advertising - win-win! (Yes, fully donated at no cost; they just need to ask. )
There are word searches, coloring pages, Mad Libs, a favorite-shapes gallery, and bonus photos of Konora for dance inspiration. We offer free audio and YouTube versions of Princess Naomi Helps a Unicorn.
I needed a reason to get out of bed in the morning. It's one lonely woman's way of reaching out to connect with the world. In my pre-COVID life, I was pretty active and social, and my family's been very locked down during the pandemic. It's also a way to connect with my lovely daughter - looking through her old photographs was a nice way to pass some COVID time.
I'm essentially creating what I wished for when I was teaching dance; I'd love to go back in time and give these to my former self.
We self-published. I've read multiple books and watched many videos on the subject, plus made an ENORMOUS number of mistakes and missteps. It's amazing what you can learn on the internet (also interesting how some basics aren't mentioned!).
After months of imposter syndrome, I realized one night like a slap to the head, "I was totally meant to do this!" Teaching dance, doing graduate work in education, teaching English as a Peace Corps volunteer, completing a certification course working with children in the arts, reading countless books with my daughter, working at a child care center, years of movement classes, etc.—everything pointed toward writing children's dance books. It was like an epiphany.
But for many months before that, I joked the book was cursed and meant it. First, I lost the Word doc; then I lost the InDesign draft. Just as I finished the first draft, the main font became weirdly unavailable. Amazon pulled all my books, telling me not to use keywords for the author. (Republished weeks later after much correspondence and “here's my business license.”) My website disappeared. A capital “A” in some metadata caused our second book to be refused. One book had technical issues uploading that escalated three layers up Amazon customer service. Amazon revision stalled because of tax issues. Et cetera.
I hope I look back with fondness, that the books get out there in the hands of kids, and that they bring joy.
There are so many amazing books out there. A few standouts that Konora really enjoyed: Berenstain Bears, Elephant & Piggie, Frog and Toad, Tacky the Penguin, The Mysterious Benedict Society, Artemis Fowl, James Herriot's books, and anything by Brandon Mull or Kevin Henkes.
In general, I was disappointed with many of the popular dance series; maybe that was part of the motivation to create a new series that was accessible to younger kids—we wrote this for the little Konoras out there.
Konora always loved and excelled at language, and she attended a school for gifted children. It was hard to find books at her reading level that were theme-appropriate. We know our books are longer than typical books in the genre—I think we're trying to fill a void that we felt back then. Editors complain that the language is above target ages. But Dance-It-Out! stories are designed to be enjoyed with a parent, teacher, or caregiver reading the story, and you'll notice that higher-level vocabulary can often be deciphered by context.
Regarding Konora, after twelve years of consistently hearing at parent conferences, “She's a kind, diligent, intelligent worker; we'd just like her to speak up more,” her family was pretty shocked she wanted to move out and pursue performance.
Look, any kiddo willing to partner up with their mother and, let's face it, basically humiliate themselves, is a pretty amazing and confident person. I wouldn't have done it at her age.
I've noticed that every place she's stayed for years (her quiet presence takes a while to be noticed) has had a reputation for being a remarkable group. I used to think she was lucky, but after all this time, I think she's a quiet power for good wherever she goes: her kindness and calm trickle along slowly, infecting only a few at a time but widely percolating with time.
Our ballerina heroine got a job! She danced with Texture Contemporary Ballet this past summer and is an apprentice with Ballet Idaho.
I know to outsiders this doesn’t seem like a big deal, but the funnel is fierce, and it takes a lot of luck, passion and a bit of special sauce to get hired in this crazy business. I’m sure the odds of being an NY best-seller are greater than becoming a paid ballerina. She's worked harder than most: #ProudMama. We are all grateful for the luck, support of her teachers, and the connections that got her every opportunity along her path to becoming a professional dancer.
We hope the stories inspire kids to get up and get moving. Using acting, breath, imagination, movement, and dance elements, children tell the story with their bodies. Ballerina Konora is on each page to help readers connect with movement, focus the breath, and learn dance fundamentals.
A review of our first book read Charming and Accessible. That's our goal for the Dance-It-Out series.
For 2020/2021, every Once Upon a Dance book sales price was donated. Each book now has proceeds designated to a non-profit. Giving back is a core part of our mission.
I took stories I'd made up for class or activities the kids enjoyed and expanded on them. There's a lot of my class curricula weaved in as well. The stories are a reflection of my 20 years teaching dance, with all my best ideas put into the series' pages.
Petunia Perks Up was created in the car one night early during the pandemic. We hadn't been out driving much and I was a terrified passenger in the dark rain. My sweet cat had recently died, and I never realized how much stress relief our morning snuggles provided until she was gone. It was a minor anxiety attack. I sat there for 30 minutes just brainstorming and imagining things to calm myself, then I started connecting them and realized it was the start of a new story.
We outsource illustrations for this series, and it’s amazing to connect with artists from all around the world. One of my favorite parts of author life is reviewing portfolios. At first I was floundering, but now I have a good sense of what I'm looking for. It's so exciting to find an artist and start to have a story in mind and almost see their art on your words.
Our growing list of collaborators offers kids an international imagination stage from The Netherlands, South Korea, England, Canada, The U.S., India, Scotland, and Poland.
I've gotten to know some of the artists very well. Maybe when this is all over, I’ll go meet them, most of whom I’ve never even heard their voices. I feel like I know them, though, and would love to see how closely my mental picture lines up to reality.
(Illustration by Olha from Canada)
Probably the most challenging aspect has been dealing with print distributors and thinking issues are my fault. I'm finally learning, it's usually not something I did. When I got the 3rd book paperback, it was printed offset by 1/2 inch. After after hours reviewing every detail and all of the instructions, I ordered a second copy which was perfect. I've since received misprints of every book - one had 20 duplicate pages and was in the wrong order. It's really frustrating for mistakes outside of your control to reflect poorly on the books and ratings.
I submitted a typo revision of a hardcover, and the book wasn't available for a month. When I inquired, there was a posted 19+ day wait for email/phone response. There's definitely a market for additional print-on-demand services.
We have a pile of books in various production stages: sixteen planned Dance-It-Outs as well as a final book in the Dancing Shapes series. A new series of dance and choreography concept books for older children is with an illustrator. Audio stories are in production. And I spend a lot of time trying to get the word out.