A beautifully refreshed and expanded special edition of the Sibert Honor–winning graphic memoir about the dreams and realities of becoming a ballerina.
Ballerinas are young when they first dream of dance. Siena was six—and her dreams kept skipping and leaping, circling and spinning, from airy runs along a beach near her home in Puerto Rico, to dance classes at the School of American Ballet, to her debut performance on stage with the New York City Ballet while working with ballet legend George Balanchine.
Part family history, part backstage drama, this beautifully updated graphic memoir—which features a refreshed design and a brand-new scrapbook of Siena’s mementoes—is an original, firsthand look a young dancer’s beginnings.
Siena Cherson Siegel’s Sibert Honor graphic memoir To Dance has been updated to include a scrapbook of archival images from the author’s time as a young dancer with the School of American Ballet. Like A Very Young Dancer, Siena’s beloved childhood picture book, To Dance is sure to inspire a new generation of young performers. This book combines a deeply honest portrayal of the joy and sacrifices of life as a dancer with richly evocative illustrations. Readers are invited to experience Siena’s world, from her early childhood growing up in Puerto Rico, to the thrill of falling in love with ballet as a beginning dancer, to her decision to pursue a career as a young professional in training at the School of American Ballet in New York City.
1. To Dance is graphic memoir, a popular genre that combines graphic novel with memoir. What are the characteristics of a graphic novel? What are the characteristics of a memoir? Why do you think Siena Cherson Siegel chose to use this medium to tell her story?
2. Describe the events that lead to Siena’s decision to pursue a career in ballet. Why does she start taking dance classes? What influences her to take her training seriously?
3. Siena’s family is very supportive of her dream. What steps do they take to help and encourage Siena? What opportunities do they provide for her?
4. Describe Siena’s training to become a ballet dancer. What are the physical, emotional, and mental challenges of her training routine and schedule? Have you ever participated in a program that required long hours and dedication? How did it make you feel? Do you think Siena thought dance made her sacrifices worthwhile?
5. Why do you think Siena chooses to watch performances from the wings instead of playing and exploring with the other young performers? What does this detail reveal about her?
6. Examine the relationship between Siena and her brother, Adam. How can you tell they have a strong emotional connection to one another? How does this relationship evolve?
7. What does Siena realize when she watches a Miami Dolphins game with her family? Based on the way Siena describes ballet, what other activities do you think are similar to dance?
8. Why do you think Siena spends hours studying dance history and watching videos of performances?
9. Music is an important emotional outlet for Siena and her brother. If you had to choose just ten songs to listen to, which would you choose? Explain your reasoning behind these selections. How does listening to music make you feel?
10. Why do you think Siena particularly loves the story of the ballet Giselle? How would you answer the questions she asks about it?
11. Explain how you can tell Siena’s mood from the book’s illustrations. Give specific examples in your answer.
12. How does Siena’s life change when she turns eighteen? How do you think she feels when she has to stop dancing? If you could ask her a question about this part of her story, what would you want to know more about?
13. The last pages of this book are dedicated to images from Siena’s scrapbook. How do these images add to your understanding and appreciation of her story? What might a scrapbook of your life look like?
14. As with all graphic novels and graphic memoirs, the illustrations play an integral part in the story. Choose an illustration that adds to the written content in a meaningful way, and explain what you learn from “reading” the images.
15. Siena ends her memoir with the words, “Dancing fills a space in me.” Why do you think she felt that way? What activity fills a space in you?
1. A memoir is a type of autobiography that focuses on one aspect of the author’s life. Create your own memoir—you can use just words, or words and pictures—about your experience pursing an interest or talent. When did you first become interested in the subject or activity? How have you pursued your interest? Where do you hope this interest will take you?
2. Research the choreographer George Balanchine. How did he influence American ballet? What made his work so revolutionary? What legacy has he left behind? Share your discoveries with your class.
3. Most of Siena’s memoir takes place in New York City in the 1970s and 80s. Research life in New York City during these decades, including the 1977 blackout. What was life like then? How has it changed? Create a map of Siegel’s New York, including the location of her apartment, schools, Lincoln Center, the School of American Ballet, and Central Park. How large is the map? How does it compare to the size of your school, your community, or your state?
4. Many of the dancers and performances that Siena mentions have been archived online. Watch one of the dancers, performances, or films she mentions; many can be found here: https://www.youtube.com/user/balletcollection. How has reading To Dance changed the way you think about and appreciate dance?
5. Siena has wonderful memories of performing in Harlequinade, a ballet based on characters from commedia dell’arte. Research commedia dell’arte. What are the traditional stock characters in this form of theater? Consider the connection between these characters and modern characters in film and television. Can you see any parallels?
6. Siena is particularly fond of the ballet Giselle, but there are many famous ballets, including Coppélia, Don Quixote, The Nutcracker, Swan Lake, La Sylphide, and La Bayadère. Research the story of one of these ballets, and try retelling it in a different medium. You might want to make a short film, picture book, short play, video game, or reader’s theater version of the story.
Guide prepared by Amy Jurskis, English Department Chair at Oxbridge Academy.
This guide has been provided by Simon & Schuster for classroom, library, and reading group use. It may be reproduced in its entirety or excerpted for these purposes. For more Simon & Schuster guides and classroom materials, please visit simonandschuster.net or simonandschuster.net/thebookpantry.
Mark Siegel is the author and illustrator of several award-winning picture books and graphic novels, including To Dance, Moving House, and Sailor Twain. His latest project is the collaborative graphic novel series 5 Worlds, an epic science fiction story for young readers. In addition to writing and illustrating, Mark is also the founder, and creative and editorial director of First Second Books, Macmillan’s graphic novel house. The Siegels live in Tarrytown, New York. Visit Mark at MarkSiegelBooks.com.
“Even more effectively than the original, this special edition of the 2006 graphic memoir about Cherson Siegel’s youth as a School of American Ballet student embodies the paradox of ballet: that every moment of seeming effortlessness on stage is the product of years of grueling work. . . . A spacious redesigned layout heightens the emotional effect and nicely echoes the memoir’s closing line: ‘Dancing fills a space in me.’”