Tiny dancers photobook tells childhood’s many stories

After his 2012 New York Times bestselling book “Dancers Among Us” struck a chord, Jordan Matter knew he wanted a follow-up. But it wasn’t until his young daughter hit an arabesque while shoveling snow that he had his theme: dancing through childhood.

© Jordan Matter

“Born to Dance” (Workman Publishing) is about more than clean lines and perfected form, though. “It gave me the opportunity to show the depth of childhood and document as many childhood experiences as possible,” he says. Each photo of a child dancer tells a relatable, often poignant story about the struggles and joys of growing up. “It’s not just about ice cream and sleepovers. It’s also about bullying and trying to fit in, first crushes and first loves, [growing] from children to adolescents.” 

One of the first realizations Matter had when he began making the series is that children are never alone, so they shouldn’t be alone in his images. That changed up his compositions for the better, he says.

© Jordan Matter

“Ninety-nine percent of the time they were off-the-cuff,” he says. For example, for one composition he envisioned his subject performing an arabesque while scrambling eggs. But when that composition felt blah, he enlisted his son to dirty the kitchen with flour and Nutella handprints, his chocolate-splattered daughter to perch on the counter, and the dancer to perform her arabesque atop a pot on the floor.

“The point is, we moved from clean kitchen to complete destruction and chaos, but it’s one of those photos that gets a lot of laughs,” he says. “Every kid has done that and every parent has cleaned it up.”

Amanada Arnold is the associate editor of Professional Photographer.