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. She's now an apprentice at Ballet Idaho. Along the way, 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, teenage dancing son, and a handful of hard-luck cats. Her goal is a dance-book empire.
Every book sale triggers a donation to a non-profit organization.
Further details are 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
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.
I wrote most of Petunia Perks Up in the car one night. 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.
For most of the others, I took stories I had made up for class and expanded on them.
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, Canada, the U.S., India, United Kingdom, and Germany.
Some of the artists check-in every few days, particularly our friends in India and Germany, who have been working amidst other projects for months. It feels strange not connecting when they are sick, or when a book concludes.
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.
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. Another six Dance-It-Out books are in various stages of production.
We have a new series of dance and choreography concept books for older children in the works as well.
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 $12,236 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.
We're working on an audio companion for Dancing Shapes.
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.
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 will be an apprentice with Ballet Idaho in the fall.
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.
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.