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Contemporary Realistic Fiction, Diversity in Literature, Free Verse, Middle Grade Readers, Teacher & Parent Recommendations, The Arts, Young Adult Readers

A TIME TO DANCE by Padma Venkatraman

A Time to Dance by Padma Venkatraman was a 4.5/5 star read for me! After reading Venkatraman’s most recent work–the middle grade novel The Bridge Home–I was curious about her backlist.  A Time to Dance was originally published in 2014.  The main character is Veda Venkat, a young, Indian girl who is extremely talented and skilled at Bharatanatyam dance (a classical Indian form of dance).  Veda wants to be a dancer but her mother is not in favor of dance as a career because it would provide no financial or social security.  After winning an important Bharatanatyam competition, Veda is involved in a horrific car accident which results in the amputation of her right leg below the knee. Told in exquisite free verse, A Time to Dance is Veda’s story about her startling discoveries of the deepest parts of herself through her love of dance.

The biggest reason I love this book is the way in which Veda speaks about dance.  My career in theatre started as a dancer and, although I no longer perform onstage very often, my love for dance remains the foundation of my passion for both the arts and arts education.  I am of the opinion that a technically flawless dancer is not the best dancer; the best dancers are the ones who embody dance with their souls, allowing it to use their hearts and bodies onstage as vicarious representations of thoughts, ideas and behaviors of the audience members.

Veda’s understanding of dance, what it can mean in her life is transformed by her physical and emotional journey in the aftermath of her accident.  She develops from a very physical, concrete understanding of dance and how she intersects with it:

Nothing else fills me with as much elation

as chasing down soaring music,

catching and pinning rhythms to the ground with my feet,

proud as a hunter rejoicing in his skill.

To a much deeper, more personal connection to dance, itself:

My breath doesn’t race

like it used to when I danced fast and furious.

There’s no rush of blood to my head.

No gush of excitement in my chest.

Dancing slowly makes a new feeling

of joy enter my body.

A joy that seems longer lasting

than the bubbles of delight that rose within me

when I danced in the past.

Veda’s story catapulted me back to my early experience with and love of dance as a young girl.  Although my journey has looked different from Veda’s, it has navigated some of the same frustrations and confusions–albeit in different physical and emotional circumstances–and come to embody a similar realization of how much bigger and more vital Dance (and the arts) are to life than I even imagined at first.

For middle grade, young adult or adult readers who enjoyed Wendelin van Draanen’s The Running Dream (about a young girl who is a phenomenal track athlete and suffers an accident similar to Veda’s and a similar journey back, from a more sports-oriented viewpoint) and anyone who loves Dance, A Time to Dance is a special, heart-expanding read.

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