In her novel, Summer Dance, Lynn Swanson tackles the issues that most young girls face when pursuing a life of dance. The book weaves a tale of a 13-year named Sara who has been accepted into an exclusive dance program in the northern Michigan woods. Caught in an emotional whirlwind of artistic development, dance competition and the boys across the lake, readers follow Sara as she learns through dance and friendship about life and her future dance career.
Swanson's book has received a Moonbeam Children's Book Awards seal and was also selected as Dance Spirit's Editor's Pick. But best of all is the positive feedback from young readers who find the story as inspiring as it is relatable. In this interview, we talk to Lynn Swanson about herself as a dancer and her experiences that have led up to such a successful novel.
How long have you been a dancer?
I was born a mover and remember swirling around the house as a toddler in my mom's pots over her hard wood floors. I also remember climbing up on the dining room buffet and jumping onto the table, running around it then leaping off onto the floor. My mom had been a chorus line dancer in the 1930s, so I guess she understood and would let me be thrilled by doing these things for a while before stopping me. Mom began teaching me the ballet positions in our breakfast room when I was two, then I began formal classes of ballet and tap at about age 4, I think. I loved teaching, and began little classes in our tiled basement when I was twelve, passing on everything I learned to everyone in the neighborhood who would come and pay me a dollar. After high school I was a teacher and supervisor of teachers at a local studio. Eventually, I graduated from the University of Michigan's dance program.
What type of dance do you focus on?
I loved dancing and performing in classical ballet, but my dance education was heavily modern dance at U of M and I prefer choreographing modern and very much love teaching creative movement to children. I feel equally balanced between the forms, and when I watch old musicals on the TCM channel I tap along in my living room with Debbie Reynolds, Judy Garland and the Step Brothers. (I could use a Harlequin floor in there!)
Can you give us a short synopsis ofSummer Dance:
I like what appears on the back book cover: "Lakewood Dance Camp in the year of Sara's thirteenth summer: A lake, a cabin, a dance studio, a theater, costumes, a boys' camp across the lake. What could go wrong? A tough Russian ballet teacher, learning modern dance, the boys across the lake, trying to win one of three scholarships to return the next summer, and ROBIN!" Sara is desperate to win one of the scholarships so she can continue her training with excellent instructors in a highly competitive environment. Her parents do not have the money to send her to a place like Lakewood every summer and next summer is her younger brother's turn to go to soccer camp. She is highly motivated with a killer work ethic, but her new friend at camp, Erin, tends to like the boys more than she does dance competition, and cabin-mate Robin throws her off in class. The uplifting part of the story is how Sara finds ways to overcome social and artistic challenges for a spectacular finish.
What inspired you to write Summer Dance?
A combination of growing older and wanting to capture my emotional experiences at Sara's age. The book is a confluence of dancing at the Interlochen summer program in the northern Michigan woods, and my love of writing. (I have a MA in English/Creative Writing.) Of course, I added highly imaginative plot, characters, and some geography, so it isn't truly reflective of Interlochen factually, but the sense of challenges and accomplishment are.
To find out more about Lynn Swanson's artistic process, read more of this interview on The World Dances' Blog!