Siegel, Siena Cherson. To Dance: A Ballerina’s Graphic Novel. Artwork by Mark Siegel. Atheneum, 2006. 58p. Grades 6-9. Graphic Novel.
When Siena Cherson was six years old, she dreamed of becoming a ballerina. At the age of 12 she moved from her home in Puerto Rico to New York City to study at the School of American Ballet with the iconic George Balachine. This beautifully illustrated graphic novel follows Siena as she pursues her dreams in the cutthroat world of professional ballet while simultaneously balancing the turmoil caused by her family’s immigration to the US mainland.
Thoughts- This brief graphic novel does an excellent job of depicting the beauty and hard work of ballet training, but I feel like it perhaps glosses over some of the more distressing elements often found in the dance world (eating disorders, body dysmorphia, and overuse injuries, to mention just a few). Siegel presents a fairly sanitized view of ballet, especially when in comparison to memoirs like Gelsey Kirkland’s Dancing on My Grave or Suzanne Farrell’s Holding onto the Air, and because of this, I think the book is best suited for middle grade readers; high schoolers might want to read about the grittier realities of life as a pre-professional dancer. Additionally, I thought the book was way too short. Maybe it’s just because I am so interested in the subject matter, but I really wanted to hear more about Siegel’s career path after ballet, more about the nature of the injury that ended her time as a ballerina, and just more about the New York City Ballet in general.
I did find the panels beautiful (especially the use of color), and I thought the illustrations of different ballet positions and steps seemed very, very true to life—they’re not photo-realistic but the stylized pictures are still technically accurate. I also appreciated Siegel’s first person perspective and the way her voice comes through the captions. You definitely feel the passion she had (and still has) for the art of dance as well as the reverence she has for the history of the New York City Ballet, the School of American Ballet, and George Balanchine.
As a whole, I found To Dance to be a well-done, albeit VERY short, memoir about a topic that, while trending a little in the YA fiction world, doesn’t really get a lot of coverage in the graphic novel format. I think it will appeal to ballet lovers, particularly young dancers with their own dreams of dance careers, and would work really nicely in a classroom as an example of a personal narrative outside of the typical memoir formats.