Author Nancy Paris not only can tell a tale through words, but she also has the talent to do so through movement. So she's combining the best of both worlds and telling the tale of six-year-old Lilly Nilly, a "spunky and precocious" dance student who is trying to figure it all out — ballet and the real world. As a professional dancer and educator, Paris is using her performing arts experience to give a voice to Lilly Nilly that's empowering and humorous all at once — and it's not just for kids, the adults will love her sharp wit. Pardon My French – It’s the Language of Ballet utilizes gorgeous illustrations and a fresh kid perspective for anyone who loves the language of dance.
News Break had the opportunity to chat with Paris to find out how Lilly Nilly came to life, why everyone can relate to the dance recital experience, and where her character's adventures are going to take her next.
What was your inspiration behind creating Lilly Nilly? How much of yourself do you see in this character?
I wanted to write because I was craving a new creative outlet after retiring from dance. I had lofty ideas on what to write about, even though I was interested in a lot of different subjects, I had no real knowledge of any of them. Then I remembered the adage, “Write what you know.” I figured that the one person I knew about was me, and the one thing I knew about was dance. A story about a little girl navigating her way through ballet classes seemed the way to go.
Lilly Nilly’s experiences are based on my own early recollections, or on incidents that happened to me when I was teaching children’s ballet. But where Lilly is outspoken and inquisitive, I was too shy to speak up or ask questions. So, as it turns out, Lilly is parenting me.
What was the most surprising thing you learned about yourself while writing and illustrating the book?
That I could write and illustrate a book! Honestly, I had zero confidence in both. I shared the written manuscript with as many people as I could get to read it (friends, neighbors, kids, and friends of friends I didn’t know), and their feedback gave me the confidence to pursue publishing the story.
As for the illustrations, I never really intended to do them, but a friend challenged me to try. At first, I drew a bunch of stick figures in clothes, and my friend kept telling me that I could do better. When I eventually showed the reworked drawings to an artist and book designer, she loved them and said they were primitive enough to look like a six-year-old had drawn them. So, I went with it. I taught myself how to draw (sort of). At times it could be very frustrating, but it was always a lot of fun.
In the age of technology, it's wonderful to see that those early years of dance training don't seem to change over the generations — there's always one kid crying on stage at the recital — what do you attribute that to?
I think that despite all the technology available today, dance still needs to be taught traditionally and in person, not digitally. Whether you’re a student or professional, you must be in the same room, see the technique demonstrated first-hand, hear verbal instructions and receive personal feedback from an outside perspective.
And kids crying at their recital? I guess there’s no amount of tulle, sequins, or grabbing onto the teacher’s leg, that’s going to make standing on a cavernous stage (at least to a three-year-old) seem any less scary.
What message do you hope your young (and older) readers walk away with after joining Lilly Nilly's adventures?
I would ask children – especially girls - to find their own voice, be inquisitive, trust their instincts and not be afraid to express themselves. I would ask adults to take pleasure in remembering the thoughts and perceptions that went running through their minds as children. And for everyone: find your joy in living and be kind to all.
What are your future plans for Lilly Nilly? She deserves another book, or maybe an animated series?
I’m hoping to release Lilly’s second adventure, Seven Summer Situations That Were Not My Fault by the summer. I’ve got the third book in the planning stage - Lilly auditions for the lead in a new Broadway show, Little Big Mouth – the Musical. She figures that she’s a shoo-in because she’s little and has a big mouth. As for an animated series – a lot of people have suggested that, and I would love to make that my next project.
For more information on Nancy Paris and of course, Lilly Nilly, visit their website.