19 books directly related to dancing 📚

All 19 dance books as recommended by authors and experts. Updated weekly.

Entwined

By Heather Dixon,

Book cover of Entwined

Why this book?

This is my favorite The Twelve Dancing Princesses retelling! Heather Dixon includes all twelve princesses, named after various plants, and gives them distinct enough personalities that not only can you keep them straight, you care about each one. This story follows Azalea, the eldest of the twelve sisters, and the mysterious Keeper, who invites the princesses to dance every night in his silver forest. But the Keeper likes to keep things, and can Azalea bear to pay the cost? Eerie and gorgeous, romantic and masterful!


National Rhythms, African Roots: The Deep History of Latin American Popular Dance

By John Charles Chasteen,

Book cover of National Rhythms, African Roots: The Deep History of Latin American Popular Dance

Why this book?

In this fascinating study, Chasteen examines the historical experiences that molded Latin American popular dance from an Atlantic perspective. It delves into the “deep” history of Latin American culture and analyzes the development of dancing culture in its socio-historical context. This is not only a well-researched, but also a well written and oftentimes funny book that is broadly accessible. It is a must-read for any new scholar interested in the field of Black performance culture. Although the focus is on Latin America, Chasteen’s study reveals connections that are also of great importance to understanding the historical development of Black dance culture in North America.


The Ecstasy of Being: Mythology and Dance

By Joseph Campbell,

Book cover of The Ecstasy of Being: Mythology and Dance

Why this book?

I am sure many of you already know this visionary philosopher from his ground-breaking The Hero With a Thousand Faces. You may not be aware that Campbell was married to Jean Erdman, one of Martha Graham’s principal dancers in the ‘30s and ‘40s. Campbell’s initiations to modern dance came at Sarah Lawrence College when witnessing Erdman as Graham’s student; and then at Bennington, where Erdman performed with Graham’s company. His own learned background in the archetypal ethos of C.G. Jung made Campbell a prime candidate for Graham’s deeply-digging, Nietzschean/ecstatic archaic/abstract movement vocabulary. The choreographer and the professor spoke the same kinaesthetic language, Erdman remembered. There were many late nights when “Martha would call Joe on the phone” with some arcane question about her mythographic pieces in progress – Night Journey and Errand into the Maze. Many of Campbell’s essays in this book were first published in Dance Observer, the journal founded by Graham’s music director and accompanist, Louis Horst.   


Erotic Triangles: Sundanese Dance and Masculinity in West Java

By Henry Spiller,

Book cover of Erotic Triangles: Sundanese Dance and Masculinity in West Java

Why this book?

Erotic Triangles returns to a part of the world I know well, though the topic is alien to my own natural resource emphasis. Yet I found it fascinating for its symbolic analyses of West Java’s musical and art worlds – intertwined intimately with the relations between men and women and among men. Its emphasis on triangles was the inspiration for me to structure my own analyses as a harp (another ‘triangle’), within which the strings signify traits that men value in a given culture. Spiller’s analysis inspired my own analogy between the creation of harp music and the clusters of values that influence men’s identities, their personal and cultural ‘songs.’


Max

By Rachel Isadora,

Book cover of Max

Why this book?

This is a perfectly charming story about a boy who is way into ballet and baseball, written in the 1970s, but which still holds up today. And no one ever makes fun of him. Max is not necessarily Queer, but I consider it in the canon of kid’s books that address gender identity.


Giraffes Can't Dance

By Giles Andreae, Guy Parker-Rees (illustrator),

Book cover of Giraffes Can't Dance

Why this book?

"Gerald was a tall giraffe
Whose neck was long and slim
But his knees were awfully bandy
And his legs were rather thin."

It is Gerald’s story but in fact, my favourite spread is the one which shows (brilliant artwork here) the other animal dancers

"The wart hogs started waltzing
And the rhinos rock ‘n’ rolled
The lions danced a tango
Which was elegant and bolded
The chimps all did a cha-cha
With a very Latin feel
And eight baboons then teamed up for a splendid Scottish reel."

And of course in the end Gerald astonishes them all having had some advice on rhythm from a friendly cricket.

I recommend this book not only for its rhythm and rhyme but for its implication that if you try hard you can do more than you think. Also for its lovely flowing illustrations.


The Electric Slide and Kai

By Kelly J. Baptist, Darnell Johnson (illustrator),

Book cover of The Electric Slide and Kai

Why this book?

I don’t know if this book necessarily takes place in summer, but it’s centered around one of my favorite ‘African-American Joy Rituals’ - the Electric Slide! Kai agonizes over his failure to get a dance nickname from his very cool grandfather because of his two left feet. When his aunt gets married, he’s determined to conquer the Electric Slide at her reception.

Who doesn’t love a good, all-inclusive line dance? I still remember learning the Electric Slide when I was 6– to this day if I’m at a party and it’s playing, you’ll know where to find me (the dance floor!). Fun book.


Keeping Together in Time: Dance and Drill in Human History

By William H. McNeill,

Book cover of Keeping Together in Time: Dance and Drill in Human History

Why this book?

I selected this book because it finally offered me some answers to questions I’d asked myself all my life: Why am I so driven to dance? Why does dancing make me feel so euphoric? McNeill found himself asking this last question when forced to go through endless military close-order drill (a sort of dance!) as a young draftee. Whence these surprisingly positive effects of “keeping together in time”? Over the course of his later life as a historian, he tracked down a fascinating array of anecdotal and cognitive answers.  The relation of this phenomenon to unique details of how the human brain is put together was then further addressed by Oliver Sacks toward the end of his book Musicophilia, where I first learned of McNeill.


Sensational Knowledge: Embodying Culture Through Japanese Dance

By Tomie Hahn,

Book cover of Sensational Knowledge: Embodying Culture Through Japanese Dance

Why this book?

It concerns the complex and demanding process of becoming proficient in dance procedures. The stages involve becoming deeply mindful of the body. The novice has to become attached and subordinated to a ‘master’ who can of course be a woman. Through these rituals the novice becomes enculturated into the dance aesthetic and the wider culture. The core energy required by dance comes from the abdomen to empower the dancer. The training involves self-cultivation. Eventually the mind no longer hinders the expressivity of the body.


Jingle Dancer

By Cynthia Leitich Smith, Cornelius Van Wright (illustrator), Ying-Hwa Hu (illustrator)

Book cover of Jingle Dancer

Why this book?

This book was one of the first—and still one of the best—picture books to describe the importance of jingle dancing and powwow today. The setting is contemporary. The story is engaging. The author, Cynthia Leitig Smith, is a tribal member and weaves many authentic details into the story.


Josie Dances

By Denise Lajimodiere, Angela Erdrich (illustrator),

Book cover of Josie Dances

Why this book?

Josie wants to dance at next summer’s powwow. But she needs nearly everyone in her family to help make this possible. As Josie’s story unfolds we are introduced to the special people in her family. We learn of their love, their kindness, and their special talents. We are also introduced to the beautiful connections to many parts of our natural world.  


The Day We Danced in Underpants

By Sarah Wilson, Catherine Stock (illustrator),

Book cover of The Day We Danced in Underpants

Why this book?

Embarrassment is a big emotion that can grab a child with hands of steel. In this beautifully rhyming book, an invitation to picnic with the King calls for new clothes. Told through the eyes of a child the very festive occasion takes a turn when Papa’s pants rip. Papa turned red but one can imagine the embarrassment this child had for her family. Fortunately, the King not only saves the day but makes it better. I think this kind of action is a good example of easing an awkward situation.


Princess of the Midnight Ball

By Jessica Day George,

Book cover of Princess of the Midnight Ball

Why this book?

Princess of the Midnight Ball is the very first retelling of The Twelve Dancing Princesses that I’d ever read, and it heavily influenced my own writing. George’s descriptions of the Underworld fascinated me, and I found it both hilarious and wonderful that the male protagonist knew how to knit. His skills came in handy later on in the story!


Barnyard Dance!

By Sandra Boynton,

Book cover of Barnyard Dance!

Why this book?

This is hilarious, interactive board book is great fun to read with babies and toddlers. I love dancing to all the wacky rhymes with my grandkids - it’s a really good workout! When the farmyard animals start stomping and do-si-do-ing, the whole family will want to join in and dance along. Great for little ones who are just starting to tap their toes and twirl. 


Tap Into Improv: A Guide to Tap Dance Improvisation

By Barbara Duffy,

Book cover of Tap Into Improv: A Guide to Tap Dance Improvisation

Why this book?

As a professional tap dancer myself, this book is a great tool to utilize when exploring improvisational tap dance skills. It is insightful, tells a great story about a personal journey, and I recommend it to all of my students on their own personal tap dance journey. Barbara danced with world-renowned tap dancer Gregory Hines.


Best Ever You

By Sally Huss, Elizabeth Hamilton-Guarino,

Book cover of Best Ever You

Why this book?

Sally Huss is one of my favorite picture book authors. She teams up with mindfulness coach, Elizabeth Hamilton-Guarino to discuss how children and adults can look within themselves to find the best person possible. Trevor looks in the water and decides he will be someone special. Different animals that he encounters show the reader the importance of qualities like patience, cooperation, thankfulness, gratitude, generosity, paying attention, and friendship. All of us could do this. I especially appreciated the certificate children can reward themselves with when they discover and later accomplish practicing these qualities.


The Truth about Grandparents

By Elina Ellis,

Book cover of The Truth about Grandparents

Why this book?

This author’s writing style and her great sense of humour will definitely be a big hit with the kids and also with grandparents. I love the twist Ellis puts on her book. She accomplishes this by telling a story that does not in any way match the illustrations. The reader’s attention is captured immediately because he realizes that something is different about this book, something isn’t quite right. The drawings are funny, exaggerated, and colourful, all the ingredients that kids love to see in a book. I’m a grandparent and I laughed right along with my grandchildren as we read the story. The ending is priceless. On the last page, the illustrations finally match the words. What an entertaining book for both the young and the young at heart.  


The Sand Dancer

By Lydia Emma Niebuhr,

Book cover of The Sand Dancer

Why this book?

I found the novel The Sand Dancer a compelling mystery. I felt sorry for Carrie, the main character, who lost her parents when she was two years old. As I read about Carrie’s troubling life, bouncing from one foster family to another until she turned eighteen, I wanted her to find some answers to her past to have that closure and move on with her future. The suspense in this story is quite a page-turner. She showed that she was a strong woman and quick thinker.


Dancing on My Grave

By Gelsey Kirkland,

Book cover of Dancing on My Grave

Why this book?

I found that this sometimes funny but always emotional and moving account of Ms. Kirkland's life as a ballerina in New York City to be a real triumph. She brings to the pages an honesty that is rarely seen, even in autobiographies. From the illegal drug scene that nearly killed her to the everyday trials of an immensely talented dancer caught between two worlds, this is the stuff that nightmares are made of.