Interview: Sara DeGennaro of SOFIA'S FIRST BALLET CLASS

Instructor of ballet shares her excitement for dance in new children's book

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A dancer from the age of three, Sara DeGennaro has had a love of ballet for most of her life. Now an instructor who has her own dance studio, she shares the excitement of learning ballet in her new children's book, "Sofia's First Ballet Class: Ballet is Fun!"

Young Sofia shares her excitement with readers as she dons her new pink tutu and ballet slippers in anticipation of her first class. She arrives to meet her teacher, Miss Mary, who teaches the class of budding ballerinas.

DeGennaro has had students who have gone on to dance professionally in New York City, for Ballet Austin, and the Radio City Rockettes who were all young students, excited to chase their dreams on their first day of class, just like Sofia. In the book, DeGennaro gives readers a sample of the fundamentals of ballet as the ballerinas learn correct posture, proper stretching practices, and introduces important basic poses and first steps.

DeGennaro sat down with to talk about inspiring children, what she learned about herself as a writer and the importance of early art appreciation. Did this come from your childhood?

DeGennaro: You know what; partly, from my childhood. I wrote the book eight years ago. I danced from an early age for many years, and then I opened up a school. I now have a dance studio, and I've had it for 27 years. So, dance has always been a major part of my life and my passion, whether performing on stage, which I adored and then sharing my love with my students. So that's what inspired me.

BWW: I was curious if you were Sofia in the book or the teacher. Or perhaps both?

DeGennaro: A little bit of both. I'm definitely the teacher, so Miss Mary is really Miss Sara, so yes, that's me in the book. I felt funny using my own name, and I wrote the book eight years ago before my niece was born. My inspiration for the book was my passion for dance, my love of teaching and my students. And I also always loved writing. So, I wrote the book eight years ago, my niece was born, and I switched the name to Sofia. I put it down, and then years later, when my business was shut down due to COVID-19, I said, "You know what? Let me take this time and opportunity to find a publisher and get my book published." So, I completed it, I found Archway Publishing and that's how my book came to be.

BWW: When you began writing the book, did you know your ending or that it would be a little look into Sofia's life?

DeGennaro: It's how my classroom runs; it's pretty much what happens when a child starts their first ballet class with me. So that's why it flowed quite easily for me because I've done that on a regular basis for years. So, a child's excitement when they start ballet, how they enter the studio, what we do in the studio, and then at the end of class, they're very happy and sad because it's done.

BWW: Did your niece read the book?

DeGennaro: She did.

BWW: What were her thoughts on it?

DeGennaro: She absolutely loved it. And many of my students have gotten the book, and they love it.

BWW: What did you learn when writing the book?

DeGennaro: I learned that I play a major role, and teachers play a major role in inspiring children to do what they love and to leap for their dreams, whether it be dancing or anything else. I want to inspire children, and because I love to dance and to teach, and I love all my students, it almost made it easy for me.

BWW: One of the things I appreciate in the book was what the students were thinking about during their stretching, and Sofia thinks of a giraffe's neck.

DeGennaro: In class, I say that to the little ones. Like when they're in a class with me, they're three and a half to four when they start, and I say, "Lift your chins, long necks," and then I turn to them and say, "Okay, what animal has a long neck?" and they all say, "Giraffe!" So, I thought it would be cute to incorporate that. And that's what we do, even "Nose to your ballerina toes!" And some of the kids, I say, "Do you have stinky toes," and that's why the little girl is holding her nose. And they get a chuckle because ballet is so serious, but they're so little, so you have to make it fun.

BWW: Did writing the book make you love ballet even more?

DeGennaro: My passion for ballet goes on and on. I love it so much already. I was happy to see the little ones read, understand and relate to it. They probably love it more.

BWW: What do you think happened to Sofia after the book ended?

DeGennaro: After the book ended, I think, which is what I'm working on, she will have her first recital, and then she will hopefully go on to her next level of ballet and continue.

BWW: What advice would you give writers working on their first book?

DeGennaro: Well, I followed my heart. I stayed true to what I believe, which is they are there to learn and I am there to inspire them, and they can do anything while still having fun.

BWW: What are your thoughts on reading to instill art appreciation in children?

DeGennaro: I think it's so important, especially today. A beautiful book is just such a piece of artwork itself. It's important, and it also helps the children to learn to read. Children, they are our future, and I want to inspire them to leap for their dreams, whether it is dance or anything else and that they can do it.

DeGennaro plans to continue sharing Sofia's ballet journey in future books


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