Bearing the Truth

UWEC profs’ children’s book focuses on how life changes us

Nikki Lanzer, photos by Andrea Paulseth |

Wil Denson
Wil Denson

Step aside Corduroy and Winnie the Pooh – make room for a new bear in the library.

Retired UW-Eau Claire professor Wil Denson and former colleague Anders Shafer will soon release their newly-authored illustrated poetry book The Dancing Bear. Between the words by Denson and drawings by Shafer, a professor emeritus of art and design, the story delivers an innocent explanation of the seasons of life as well as the inevitable changes that take place in all human beings.

We start out as unique, shining children and somehow become ‘dancing bears.’ ” – writer Wil Denson, on the metaphor at the heart of The Dancing Bear

The Dancing Bear was published just in time for National Poetry Month, which is celebrated each April. While Denson, a professor emeritus of music and theater arts, admits to being more of a poem “consumer” than producer, he still maintains great appreciation for the genre’s sensory qualities. “What’s important to me about poetry is its ability to make things visible and accessible to people,” Denson said. “Poetry shows us things we don’t otherwise see, that we can’t always perceive for ourselves.”

The idea for the children’s tale developed out of Denson’s keen interest in human nature as well as the process of metamorphosis undergone by every individual in his or her lifetime. “I’ve always been fascinated by how people grow to become what they are,” Denson explained. “How a bright, happy, innocent child turns into an angry, frustrated, beaten-down adult. What happens along the way? What does life do to individuals to transform them into what they become?”

Throughout the writing process, Denson also began to examine other elements that he believes may play a role in the child-to-adult transformation. “How does our educational system factor into the process?” Denson asked. “How much of formal education consists of ‘chipping off’ the rough edges of individuals so they fit more smoothly into society? We start out as unique, shining children and somehow become ‘dancing bears.’ ”

While the lively illustrations by Shafer will certainly attract young readers, the content nestled between the lines of The Dancing Bear will surely resonate with a more mature crowd as well. “Since much of the book’s impact is visual, I think it will appeal to the most observant, thinking people,” Denson said. “If readers spend a few moments looking at the illustrations and considering the book’s themes, I think the metaphor of ‘the dancing bear’ will become clear and appeal to most adults.”

Like many endearing or playful works of children’s literature, The Dancing Bear contains two key underlying morals that Denson hopes will take shape in readers. “The first,” Denson explained, “is that we all start out as innocent and accepting children. Then ‘life happens to us,’ changing us into something we never thought possible, something unforeseen and nearly unimaginable – ‘dancing bears.’ The second is WHAT we become – ‘empty-eyed’ bears … ‘muzzled old, puzzled old, dancing old bears.’ How does this change happen, and what do we sacrifice?”

Whether or not readers are able to take away these particular lessons from The Dancing Bear, Denson believes their lives will be reflected among the pages regardless. “I hope people will see themselves in the book,” Denson said. “That they will realize that to some degree, we’re all dancing bears.”

The Dancing Bear will soon be available at The Local Store, 205 N. Dewey St. For more information on the book, contact