COUNTLESS little girls have a passion for ballet and a few make it to the stage – but there can’t be many who inspire a whole industry.
Tara Holabird is the exception. Her obsession with ballet so caught the attention of her mum, Katharine, that she wrote a book based on her daughter’s dancing, although she cast her as a mouse!
Thirty years and 20 books later, Angelina Ballerina is a household name (at least in any household where there is a budding young dancer) and shows no sign of going away.
“All Tara wanted was a pink tutu, she was so passionate about it that it was hilarious,” recalls Katharine. “She had this real passion for ballet and took it so seriously that it was utterly captivating.
“I’d been thinking of writing something for children and my husband introduced me to Helen Craig who had already published a number of illustrated books. We worked together on a couple of projects and then we started to think about developing a children’s character. We’re still working together 30 years later. Our relationship developed organically; one thing simply led to another.
“We decided to make her a mouse because children think of pet mice as cute and small and cuddly.” continues Katharine. “Angelina expresses emotions very well and it’s useful for a dancer to have a tail, anyway. And from the start Helen drew Angelina with an impish joie de vivre that exactly fitted the character.”
The latest project for Angelina Ballerina is a new stage musical – or Mousical – in which the young mouse and her friends think their dreams have come true when Camembert Academy wins the opportunity to dance live on the famous TV show Strictly Mouse Dancing.
But things get out of control when the girls and boys have very different ideas about the show! Angelina Ballerina The Mousical has been written by Miranda Lawson, and Katharine is very supportive.
“She’s really brought Angelina to life,” she enthuses. “I like the fact that there are no masks and so we can see the performers’ faces. I love the way that Angelina keeps translating into new mediums such as the theatre.”
The Mousical’s finale sees Angelina and her friends strut their stuff in routines embracing ballet, hip-hop, salsa and tap, showing how diverse dancing can be – but Katharine is glad she based the original stories in classical ballet.
“Initially I think that it was because my daughters went to a little ballet school,” she says. “I also believe that ballet is good for young children in that it teaches them poise and builds their self-confidence. It’s also about encouraging self-discipline. Angelina has to show up at a certain time and she has to be ready to give her all.”
And it never did daughter Tara any harm either.
“She’s now 30 and is quite comfortable with the fact that she inspired Angelina Ballerina,” says Katharine. “She’s a dress designer in Los Angeles and she still has all the Angelina qualities.
“As for my son, who’s now 6’4”, he gave me the idea for Little Cousin Henry in the way he used to trip up his sisters. He tells me that the connection has been great for his social life.
“All the girls he meets have read the Angelina Ballerina books and when he tells them that he was the inspiration for Little Cousin Henry, they’re completely hooked!”
Angelina Ballerina will pirouette on to Guildford’s G Live stage from Monday, July 21 until Wednesday, July 23 in her new Mousical.