The following is an essay written in April 2014 as an assignment for an English class at Texas State University during my junior year. I am reproducing it here as my first post because I believe I felt awake, alive, and in love with writing again while constructing this essay. I’ve been stuck in the world of extreme academic writing for too long; this is my creative prose dedicated to my love of reading and writing about dance.
Effervescent Études: A Personal Essay Discussing Dance Writings
I read dance articles, books, reviews, critiques all the time, not just whenever I can; I read something dance-related every single day because I have to and want to. Since the day I discovered the GV section (home to dance-related items in the Library of Congress system) in my musty hometown library, I have found that I possess a unique passion for reading about dance. I once considered my desire purely historical, as I enthusiastically chased the spanning histories of classical Indian dance, Japanese Butoh, German Ausdruckstanz, Spanish Flamenco, American Modern dance, and, obviously, the entire account of ballet’s past. Yet, this was merely a stepping stone towards other areas of dance writings such as critiques, reviews, academic research, and beyond; essentially, I found the people who wrote about writing about dance.
In my dance studies, I tried to relate what I loved about literature to what I found in volumes of historical and critical dance texts, the presence of exhilarating female voices discussing a variety of topics. But I quickly realized that this isn’t possible because, unlike other areas of literature, women did not start officially writing about dance until the twentieth century. Consequently, I’ve struggled with the issue of an absent role-model early on in my life, as opposed to the plethora of role-models I’ve collected from other areas of more understood literature. I had to constantly ask myself, as a woman, do I even stand a chance at studying to become a dance writer? Who can I look up to?
I have always been able to find immense inspiration from the written works of females. For instance, throughout my life my deepest inspirations in fiction and poetry have sprung from the Brontë sisters, Francesca Lia Block, and Sylvia Plath. But discussing fiction or poetry does not touch me as deeply or as personally as dance does. So many people are influenced by the Brontës, Block, and Plath that I feel like a single blinking star in the vast cosmic universe of readers. Yet, for as long as I can remember, I have been the one girl who reads about dance as feverishly as others do with fiction. I have been traveling in my own orbit within the most ephemeral of the arts. During high school, I was more than encouraged to read fiction and poetry inside and outside of my English classes. Yet, when it came to reading about dance, I had no one to help me and no one to support me. I developed a habit of isolating myself and my discovered dance texts simply because it was “my thing” as opposed to my passion for English literature which I could easily share with others. Rather than face any expected belittlement in high school, I started to intentionally shut down when discussing my other-worldly love of reading about dance to others, but I never stopped actively pursuing it.
My two areas of passion— writing and dance — officially merged by the time I was seventeen, and I was left in an open and blank galaxy that should have had entire solar systems of female dance writers. Instead, I found multiple historical writings about dance by male writers. Dance is a world that, until recently, was particularly controlled by males. As a teenager I wondered, why weren’t more women writing about an art form that is obviously about the female? The answer is simple, before the mid-1900s women were not taught how to write about dance because women were not encouraged or taken seriously as writers in the dance world, much less the literary world. A man could be a combination of dancer, choreographer, teacher, founder, and writer for a career with few oppositions and restrictions; just look at George Balanchine, who easily had his hands on all things ballet-related his entire life. There is a large crater in the dance world— the meteor that hit it being the male-controlled start of codified Western dance— where men dominated nearly every single aspect of dance and I wanted to help contribute to the solution by becoming an accomplished female dance writer.
Presenting my passionate career goal to others has never been easy. For years, I was an average ballet dancer in average suburban studios and academies. Like most teenagers, I was also overwhelmed by the future, my future, and what I would do after graduating high school. Many of my brilliant Indian friends had enormous medical school plans which made me feel pressured to have an established career plan before the age of eighteen. Most of my high school teachers wanted me to be an English major in college but, for many reasons, I never stayed in that area for too long. I had to I examine every single group of people I cared about for assurance, assistance, and support but I came up blank with every group.
I found out about dance degrees in academia during community college, which was also around the same time that I had begun to openly acknowledging that I was not a performer but, instead, an eternal balletomane and over all dance-fanatic. For me, performing was the dreary end to all of the extremely satisfying training from rehearsals and classes; I’d much rather practice arabesques in an intimate bright studio than perform Giselle in a giant gloomy theater. So, I lost the attention of my dance teachers, the one group of “elders” that I figured would nurture me. My parents have always been a passive force in my education; they worried about my grades and attending college more than the actual topics I felt passionate about. To this day, I don’t believe they actually understand what I am pursuing, which continues to be disheartening, but they taught me the importance of staying in the academic realm. I generally felt the sting of being part of a “lesser art form” when I discussed my goal of being a dance writer to most of my high school friends. To those friends, dance is a hobby that nearly all young girls are interested in and it isn’t meant to be a career unless your dance technique is exceptional and you could profit off of it. Since, at that time, I couldn’t boast the success of other female dance writers, I was once again placed in a very isolated realm where I devotedly studied dance writings by myself, searching for the bright star to my shadowy galaxy.
On my own and far into my college years, I found two writers wedged between all the historical male dance writers of the past centuries. Joan Acocella and Deborah Jowitt are two of my favorite current writers who had been famously pirouetting by themselves in the universe of dance for many years. They are nebulous beacons to me, shining spirals of inspiration and aspiration. They both live in New York City and are currently producing works for The New Yorker and The New York Times, as well as publishing their own bestselling books based on a number of topics, not just dance. When I learned about Acocella and Jowitt in my last years at community college, it was as if I had stumbled upon the Big Bang Theory and now my world blissfully existed in the same celestial adjoining space as these two female writers. I immediately sought out Jowitt’s most popular published books for inspiration: Time and the Dancing Image (1988) and The Dance In Mind (1985), while consuming all of the published articles that Acocella has written thus far.
Jowitt, with her witty expressions, helped expanded my limited knowledge of Post-Modern American dance the most. When I was twenty-three years old and about to transfer to Texas State University, her book Time and the Dancing Image inspired me so much that I officially declared my Dance Studies major with pride to my teachers, parents, and friends. While I can connect myself emotionally to Jowitt’s two specific books, I am incredibly grateful for a large collection of articles written by Acocella. Her texts stand for how I want to write and view the living history of dance. Acocella uses her distinct style to highlight historical periods of dance while talking about what is current and present in a very gentle but demanding way. And she doesn’t view dancers, male or female, as higher-than-thou creatures. I can honestly say that without these two female dance writers, I would be floating in space aimlessly and, quite possibly, I would have melted into a black-hole of conformity, spending my days as an aggravated dance teacher or anxious choreographer.
I felt a surge of assurance and acceptance in my passionate goals with these texts, so it was a huge burst of sentimental joy when I could add one of Jowitt’s books to my personal collection. During my first trip to New York City in 2013, I naturally gravitated into every single bookstore in Manhattan and Brooklyn. I looked for every type of text but I mostly ended up in the almost non-existent dance section of each bookstore. I haphazardly found Deborah Jowitt’s Time and the Dancing Image in a tiny Brooklyn bookstore on a sweltering June day. I clutched this treasured tome from the overcrowded subway back to the peaceful reaches of Bay Ridge. My entire one-week long trip immediately felt whole because I found this black hardcover first-edition book by chance. I could have easily bought that book on Amazon or continued to use the one gnarled library copy I cherished. And it was not my first visit to the Brooklyn Bridge or the Met or the MoMA or even the Koch Theater, where the New York City Ballet lives, that me feel entirely complete and elated. This one physical volume of colossal inspiration, which I found by chance, made my visit to the Big Apple planet well-worth it. I have all of the motivation and inspiration that I need in dance writings by proficient women like Jowitt and Acocella. And the loneliness I’ve felt of being a dwarf planet in the solar system of careers is less severe with the works of female dance writers to help inspire me.