My Top Twenty Dance Books
by Dina McDermott

These are my personal favorites – collated after many years of reading and collecting. If it has an asterisk next to it – that means it's out of print. Out-of-print books can be found in college libraries, secondhand bookstores, flea markets, etc. For books that are not out of print, simply click onto amazon.com to get more information on the book, as far as ordering, cost, publisher, etc.


  • Creative Dance for All Ages: A Conceptual Approach, by Ann Green Gilbert. Founder of Kaleidoscope, a children's professional modern dance company based in Seattle, this book is an excellent intro. to her philosophy of teaching dance through concepts rather than steps or techniques. In addition to lesson plans, even has musical suggestions!
  • Gretchen Ward Warren's books. Highly recommended to me, although I've only browsed through them myself. Check it out – good ballet teaching books are very difficult to find. I know because I've read a lot of them, and find many of them impractical.
  • The Illustrated Dance Technique of José Limón, by Daniel D. Lewis. A good, illustrated guide to Limón technique, with good background info.


  • Balanchine: A Biography, by Bernard Taper. The best, most thorough biography of this major ballet figure.
  • Days on Earth: The Dance of Doris Humphrey, by Marcia B. Siegel. A must-read for anyone interested in early modern dance history. Marcia Siegel is one of the best dance writers around... she makes this an unforgettable story of a truly courageous person and artist.
  • Alvin Ailey: A Life in Dance, by Jennifer Dunning. From a poor, rural childhood in Texas to the very pinnacle of the dance world, this amazing story of this troubled giant of modern dance is told by the NY Times dance critic J. Dunning.
  • Once a Dancer, by Allegra Kent. What a life. Prima ballerina under Balanchine by age 16, mother of 3 by age 23, penniless by age 50... this is the incredible story of a true artist and survivor.
  • American Indian Ballerinas, by Lili C. Livingston. Tells the tale of the famous 4 Native American ballerinas, all from Oklahoma – sisters Maria and Marjorie Tallchief, Rosella Hightower, and Yvonne Chouteau.
  • How to Dance Forever: Surviving Against the Odds, by Daniel Nagrin. One of the few career "how to" books, this books is both a biography (Nagrin was an early pioneer in modern dance, along with doing important work in jazz and on Broadway) and contains practical advice on health, injuries, career questions and philosophical/spiritual issues.
  • *Afterimages, by Arlene Croce. A top dance critic gathers her reviews from the 60's and 70's into a very entertaining collection.


  • *Unsung Genius: The Passion of Dancer-Choreographer Jack Cole, by Glenn Loney. An excellent story of this famous figure in jazz dance, who started his career in modern dance and landed up in Hollywood!
  • Dance: Rituals of Experience, by Jamake Highwater. This book generally covers world dance, but more specifically covers the relationship between dance and world cultures, incorporating myth, storytelling, ritual and spirituality. Very interesting and thought provoking, especially for those interested in anthropology, history, religion or psychology.
  • Technical Manual and Dictionary of Classical Ballet, 3rd Ed. by Gail Grant. Excellent reference which covers all ballet terminology and steps. Some illustrations.


  • Ballet and Modern Dance, by Jack Anderson. An overview of dance history (mostly Western) since the Renaissance. Good pictures. Not heavy reading, this book is often used as a intro. dance text in college courses.
  • History of the Dance in Art and Education, by Richard Kraus, Sarah
    Hilsendager, and Brenda Dixon
    . This book is the third edition, I'm not sure. Similar to above book, but goes back to pre-literate cultures and also covers non-Western dance, I believe.


  • The Vision of Modern Dance: In the Words of Its Creators, editors Jean Morrison Brown, Naomi Mindlin, and Charles H. Woodford. A compendium of essays by the great pioneers of early U.S. (and European) modern dance – Duncan, Graham, Humphrey and others. Expressed in their own words, this book expresses the aesthetic range and richness of these early artist.
  • *Complete Guide to Modern Dance, by Don McDonagh. An exhaustive, yet entertaining compendium of modern dance choreographers, a brief bio of each one, and a chronological list of their works. Excellent reference book.
  • Terpsichore in Sneakers, by Sally Banes. A very readable history of post-modern dance and dancers by an eminent expert in that area.
  • *Further Steps: Fifteen Choreographers on Modern Dance, by Connie Kreemer. Similar to The Vision of Modern Dance, but this book features interviews with contemporary post-modern choreographers. Very in-depth and readable.
  • Pina Bausch-Wuppertal Dance Theater, by Norbert Servos. May only be available in Europe, this book is a real find. It is an in-depth account of Germany's mother of "tanztheatre", a new form which arose in Germany and is popular throughout Europe. This features massive sets, singing, improv. In other words, it combines many theatrical elements into a powerful experience. Excellent photos.

P.S. I acknowledge that these books are from the perspective of the United States. I'm sure that there are many good books available abroad and also in other languages.


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