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.
Konora (named from a desire to make something beautiful during coronavirus), the ballerina heroine, climbed the pre-professional ballet ladder up to Pacific Northwest Ballet’s Professional Division. Along the way, she danced iconic roles such as Sugar Plum Fairy and Cinderella. While she’s professionally performed for a myriad of companies and festivals, she covets the ultimate ballerina dream of a corps contract. She's spent her COVID-year at Ballet Idaho as a trainee on full scholarship.
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, teenage dancing son, and a handful of hard-luck cats. Her goal is a dance-book empire.
Further details are here.
Once Upon a Dance Websites
Once Upon A Dance - YouTube
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.
Yes, every Once Upon a Dance sale triggers an equivalent donation to a ballet company through the end of 2021. Book sales will continue to go to charities. We're launching a book in June with sales donated to the Humane Society (duplicate donations with ballet companies for 2021), and will likely continue to designate new charities for our new launches.
We're very non-traditional and giving each book a new illustrator. I love reviewing portfolios. At first I was floundering, but now know exactly what I'm looking for. It's so exciting to know just which story will be the best fit, and we now have six stories assigned to artists.
I thought it would be good to first work with an experienced illustrator to show me the ropes. I found Ohla (Joey Finds His Jump!) on Reedsy and later found out it was her first collaboration on that platform. But I love her drawings - the first time I saw Joey, I started happy crying. She totally nailed his warm and friendly expression with an air of sadness. I'm breaking the one-book-per-artist rule, and she'll be doing a second book for us.
When I looked at Catherine's (Petunia Perks Up) portfolio it was 2:00 in the morning. I was so excited I wanted to wake up the house and be like, "look, look, we just found our illustrator!" I was ecstatic she said yes and got to work the same week!
I wrote most of Petunia Perks Up in the car one night. (I still think of it as Princess Petunia, but an Amazon search showed similar titles, so I tried Princess Penelope, which was a VeggieTales character. Princess Polly and Poppy also existed.) 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.
Joey is based on a story I used in my dance classes. Many of the stories back then were dependent on my expressions. I thought this one would be the most straightforward and a good starting place.
Definitely dealing with print distributors and thinking it's your 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. I was convinced I had done something wrong, but 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.
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, and we plan to just keep going, at least until the pandemic is over. Princess Naomi Helps a Unicorn and Danny. Denny, and the Dancing Dragon will launch in April/May. Brielle's Birthday Ball, The Cat with the Crooked Tail, and Danika's Dancing Day are all with illustrators and should be out June/July. We have a new series of dance and choreography concept books for older children launching around the same time.
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. )
Each sale is tallied up, and the full price of all sales are donated at least through 2021. We've donated $7860 to Pacific Northwest Ballet, and made smaller donations to a couple local studios as well as Ballet Idaho, Aspen Santa Fe Ballet, and Ballet Met.
There are word searches, coloring pages, Mad Libs, a favorite-shapes gallery, and bonus photos of Konora for dance inspiration.
Eventually, we'd like to have audio companions for the books.
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 a 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 is a nice way to pass some COVID time.
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!). Cover and book design are by Once Upon a Dance. We used multiple editors. Any illustrations were by hired artists because we have no talent there.
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, 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 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.
Konora's beautiful and closer to kids' ages. No one needs to see an old woman (slightly overweight post-COVID), but if you must, here are mom-daughter pics (preferred for publications) and a selfie if you'd like a face to go with your article.