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On the Cover: Creating Dance

photo by Susan Kuklin

photo by Susan Kuklin

By Susan Kuklin

Aracella, a special-ed high school student whom once I interviewed for a YA book, said this:

“You know what happened to me? There was a teacher at my school who left me back in kindergarten. Now I ask myself, “What could I flunk in kindergarten?” She wanted us to draw a tree. I drew a tree for her. She said, “That’s not a tree.” I said, “It has green leaves, and it’s brown.” I’ll never forget that.”

I can’t forget that, either.

I write and photograph books that, among other things, deal with an individual’s yearnings for self-expression — their freedom of expression. Children do it naturally: they draw their trees, and they shake their booties — as Bill T. Jones’s niece says. It is later, after we tell them “that’s not a tree,” that our children become “civilized.” Shaking booties in public is not appropriate, and a tree is a tree is a tree…but not to artists.

Enter Bill T. Jones. Bill is beautiful. In the world of dance, he has what is known as a perfect line. And yet he breaks that line, he breaks rules. In Bill’s ballets, girls can do lifts and boys can do pliés. He choreographs for black people, white people, straight people, gay people, thin people, fat people, the young, the old, the healthy, and those who are dying — and he does it thoughtfully and with great artistry. Bill knows his trees.

And that is why I thought he would be perfect in a book about the joy of creative expression through dance. At first he worried: would children respond to him? I didn’t worry one bit, because children respond to honesty, and Bill is an honest artist. Creating this book was never short of wonderful.


Bill T. Jones flanked by Susan Kuklin and Roger Sutton at the Dance photo shoot for The Horn Book Magazine.

Bill T. Jones and Susan Kuklin are the winners of a 1999 Boston Globe–Horn Book picture book honor award for Dance, published by Hyperion Books. The cover photograph of Bill T. Jones was taken by Susan Kuklin especially for The Horn Book Magazine. From the January/February 2000 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

Click the tag HBBlackHistoryMonth16 for more articles in this series.

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