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New teen novel shows dance is more than a bunch of steps

Warm Up by Whistler writer Sara Leach now on sale



One and two and three and four and...

Whistler writer Sara Leach's fifth novel Warm Up is a tribute to her love of dance, something she has kept up all her life.

"It's about a girl named Jasmine, who is part of a lyrical jazz dance team preparing for a competition and things are falling apart for them as they prepare, and the stress of competition is getting to them," Leach says.

Asked what her inspiration for the story is, Leach replies with, "My whole life."

Warm Up is part of a new Orca Book Publishers series about the fine arts for 11 to 14 years olds.

"My editor put out an email to her authors saying that they were putting together a series and if we had any ideas to come forward. And I said 'Oh! Yes! Absolutely, I'd love to write about that," Leach says.

"On the emotional level, although I was never a dancer as good as the girls in this book, I did compete as an adult and would do some adult performances when I was younger. The stress level when you have that kind of deadline and pressure put on you and how it effects the instructors and students, that definitely came from my personal experience.

Leach tried to be specific about the mechanics of dance and how to actually make the moves and how to be a better dancer.

"Not that it's a how-to book but there's a bit about how Jasmine has to improve her pirouettes. If you are not a dancer, you will learn something, and if you are, you will think 'That's so true! Your pirouette does get better if you bend deeper!" she laughs.

Leach says that as she wrote she could hear her instructors' voices.

"Straighten your knees! I grew up in Vancouver and danced at Arts Umbrella and a little bit at Harbour Dance. Now I dance very recreationally. I do not want to imply in any way that I'm a really good dancer! I do it for fun," she says.

As an art form, Leach says she loves the physical and emotional release of dance.

"For me, it's the most fun form of exercise. In the class that I am taking right now I have a huge smile on my face the whole time when I am not fully concentrating on getting the moves right!" Leach says.

"It's because I am concentrating so hard. I am not thinking about being sweaty and hot, I am just concentrating on getting the moves right."

Young teens, who are gaining in maturity in terms of "getting serious" about activities like dance or sports, are learning for the first time what this commitment and discipline means, Leach says.

"Jasmine is feeling like she is not doing very well, and is basically told this by her teacher, who is not a very nice figure. It's not based on any teacher I've had in the past, but is coming more from that place of what stress can do to the teacher.

"Because of the pressure there is a lot of dislike between the girls. So when Jasmine starts to do better, some of the girls turn on her. As a result, she no longer enjoys dance and she needs to find a way to get back to why she does."

Making that emotional connection allows her to get back to the basics of why she loves it. A good lesson for anyone at any age.

Warm Up is already for sale at Armchair Books in Whistler, Kidsbooks in Vancouver and North Vancouver, and at Amazon.ca. It is also available at Chapters in e-book format.

There will also be a launch party for Warm Up on Friday, April 11, from 6 p.m. to 7 p.m. at the Whistler Public Library. All are welcome.