For 15 years as a professional ballet dancer, Gianna Davy pirouetted and leapt across Bay Area stages. Raised in Oakland and at the age of eight beginning her training at the school of the Oakland Ballet, Davy had the city’s stunning, opulent, downtown Art Deco theater, The Paramount, as her playground.
As an only child, Davy says in an interview, the family vacations with her mother, a vivacious preschool teacher, and her father, a thoughtful and curious videographer, were “ever and always” camping trips to national and regional parks in California and along the West Coast. There, the awe and grandeur witnessed on large and small scale—sweeping, mile-long vistas cast into orange-pink glow and purple-blue shadows during sunsets, or the silvery sheen of light suspended in a dewdrop on a leaf or flower petal—provided room for not just her body, but her imagination to roam.
Onstage professionally at age 16, Davy established herself as a dancer of deep humanity. Expressive in character-driven or narrative ballets, she embodied joy, grief, rage, comedy, envy, wickedness, tenderness and compassion. In abstract works, the architecture of her body as it dismantled or constructed the choreography left behind indelible impressions and, despite a dance being primarily about form or rhythm or time duration, the mystery of human love floated like angel dust in the atmosphere her dancing traced, the memories of which lasted long after the curtain came down.
Upon retiring from the stage, Davy and her husband, Gabe Froymovich, moved approximately 70 miles north of the East Bay to Healdsburg. The couple now has two children: Bensi, age 10, and Oberon, 7. When the family is not outside soaking up nature on California’s coastal shore or frolicking in the Bay Area hills and redwood forests for “the ultimate decompression,” Davy teaches movement, creates jewelry, reads unrestrictedly and sings spontaneously. Meanwhile, she is enrolled in a distance-learning program at New York University and is six months from completing a masters in speech-language pathology.
All of which makes it simultaneously remarkable and expected that the always-busy Davy in February became a published children’s book author. Her debut picture book, No One Owns the Colors (The Collective Book Studio), follows an unnamed lead character on a spirited, nature-filled romp through a panoply of colors and sentient beings.
The songlike, occasionally rhyming text and illustrations by Brenda Rodriguez introduce a vibrant, biological and environmental panorama: children, animals, birds, insects, marine life, trees, leaves, flowers, rainbows, fire, planets, stars and oceans. Throughout, children whose skin, hair color and clothing display a full spectrum of colors and hues cavort in playgrounds, cluster around glowing bonfires, create art, dance and make music. They delight in worldwide wonders, such as sunsets and moonshine and their individual identities—all things that are meant to be shared and never owned.
“Growing up in Oakland formed my entire being,” Davy says. “It’s incredibly diverse culturally, and it’s so alive for the arts. The architecture itself is beautiful, old, new, complicated. It created my baseline for life. My mom was always pointing out the bay and saying, ‘Look at it—aren’t we lucky?’ That appreciation of what was there every day makes me say I won’t accept anything less than this diversity, culture and beauty.”
Those high standards play out in raising her children. An experience her older son had as a preschooler explains what caused her to write her book.
“I teach my kids to see the world and appreciate the beauty we have around us,” says Davy, “especially the ability to see things that are right in front of you in a new way. Honestly, the reason I wrote this book is because while raising my two boys, I started to notice, to ‘re-see’ how gendered the world is. My son was having to defend that any person could be or like or choose any color they wanted to. I tried to help by pointing out to him that sunsets are pink and blue is in the ocean, and kids of both genders can like either one or both. Colors don’t belong to girls or boys; they belong to everyone.”
In the text, a choice between colors—pink, blue, chartreuse, silver, charcoal, magenta, bronze, gold, green, violet, peach, turquoise, butterscotch and more—is also never right or wrong, although it can feel bold, shy or brand new because “no one owns the colors,” she says.
Although Davy actually sat down and wrote the text from beginning to end in one day, the process consisted of months of reading poetry, list-keeping of random words and thoughts, and after the one-day writing spree, repeated drafts and edits to refine the language and pacing. A suggestion from a friend led her to partner-style publisher Collective Book Studio.
“They’re based in Oakland and are women-owned,” says Davy. “I thought about self-publishing, but it’s a lot of work, and I’m not well-connected in that world. They are, and everyone there has tons of experience with publishing. Because of their partner model, I got to be more involved, and I still own my content.
“I got to work closely with the editor, Summer Laurie, who was a dream. She gently and kindly suggested things that made sense. She understood what I really wanted and helped me get there. They also helped me find the illustrator. They sent a site with illustrators, and I picked a style of what I was looking for. I felt considered through the whole process,” she continues.
Deeply and most satisfying is providing children with a book encouraging them to live true to their nature, to accept that same free expression in other people, and to experiment, explore, create and play as they seek to define who they are and who they may become. With another book “already brewing,” Davy reminds herself—and everyone—that life is full of infinite possibility, if only they drop filters and ownership and re-see the beauty right in front of them.