Arlene Phillips explains how the girls of 'Little Women' influenced her own writing and confesses her undying love for anything by David Hockney.

Choreographer Arlene Phillips first entered the public eye when she created the dance group Hot Gossip in the 1970s. Her work has since featured in film, TV and theatre. She also spoke recently about her father’s dementia for Bupa’s support initiative Dementia Hub.

Little Women by Louisa May Alcott

As a child, I lived for visits to the library. I read all the dancing books because that was my passion, but it wasn’t until Little Women that I realised the power of great novels. I identified with each of the girls—I wanted to be like Beth, kind and unselfish, but was really more like the determined go-getter Jo.

Beth resides in my consciousness to this day—I still try to do the good and charitable thing. When I wrote my series of children’s books Alana Dancing Star, I had this novel strongly in mind. Alana is an amalgamation of Meg, Jo, Beth and Amy, and a character I hope my young readers identify with as strongly as I did to those “little women”.

The Genius of Busby Berkeley by Bob Pike and Dave Martin

This cost me £2.75 in a second-hand bookshop in the 1970s. Berkeley was a visionary musical choreographer and film director who, from the early 1930s, created staggering ensembles of dancers in often-complex kaleidoscopic patterns in classic films such as 42nd Street and Footlight Parade. The book not only explained how he crafted his films, it was also full of extraordinary photographs of the dance formations.

At the time, I was working on a complex Dr Pepper ad with over 40 dancers, and I turned to this book for inspiration.

Six Fairy Tales by the Brothers Grimm, with etchings by David Hockney

Another second-hand find. When I saw the illustrations, I became an instant Hockney fan and my ardent wish was to own a print of his—though, at the time, I didn’t dream that I’d ever afford one. Although my father often took us to exhibitions, art seemed unattainable. Now I’ve got a few Hockney prints—they’re my dearest possessions. When I went to his recent London exhibition, I just stood with tears pouring from my eyes at the wonder of his talent.

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