The Big Dance
by Shirlie Calabrese
LifeRich Publishing

"I refuse to let Jennifer down; she’s worked so hard so we could enter this contest."

Jennifer and Alex have known each other since seventh grade, and their shared passion for dance has made them the epitome of best friends. Their mutual care for each other is heartwarming as they start a journey to the East Coast Dance Contest, which, in many ways, represents their coming of age. Mrs. Land, their dance instructor throughout their middle school and high school years, is the archetypal character of the wise teacher who is there for her pupils unconditionally.

At its core, this book is geared to a younger audience, primarily upper elementary students, who are on the verge of reading more complex stories but not quite at the level to utilize their imaginations to the fullest. Calabrese’s plot allows these students to form their own thoughts and imagery as the story progresses. From the heavy thud of the pounding heart in anticipation of a special mail delivery to the doubt and fear before a grand-scale event, many moments in this short work of nonfiction depict what it feels like to be human. In fact, perhaps seeing this moment fleshed out through further dialogue and detail would further bring the story to life.

On a stylistic level, the prose is clear and easy to understand for all audiences, and the dialogue sequences, albeit at times abrupt, do a commendable job of providing insight into the emotional roller coaster that Jennifer, Alex, and to a lesser degree, Mrs. Lands embark upon. Audiences are also made privy to a blossoming relationship that hints at something more than friendship between Jennifer and Alex, a relationship in which Alex will dance for Jennifer despite being mortified of performing and not living up to expectations. The natural anxiety that is born out of anticipating life after high school is also on full display. Will Jennifer and Alex both attend the same college? Will they share the same aspirations? What will happen to their relationship if they are separated at different colleges? These are questions that high school seniors routinely grapple with as they leave certain friends and relationships behind to pursue their goals and passions.

What appears to be a simple plotline of a budding relationship that is ready to break out into stardom during the dance contest takes a dramatic turn not long after. Relationships are put to the test when uncontrollable factors threaten to put a damper on their contest experience. It is an experience that helps put goals in perspective for both Jennifer and Alex and their astounding dance talent. The narrative evolves from a somewhat static, feel-good story to an edge-of-your-seat action thriller in mere moments, reenergizing the plot as the main characters are front and center during this chaotic time. Overall, the text is an engaging read for younger audiences, one that helps them get more acclimated to the concept of plot and imagination. Whether it is used for classroom reading or reading at home, this is a meaningful story that introduces a more advanced vocabulary and imagery that will assuredly ignite students’ imagination.

Return to USR Home