In honor of the 75th anniversary of the Jerome Robbins Dance Division of the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts, I am part of a tribute performance conceived by From the Horse’s Mouth, which tells “magical tales of real dancers.” We each tell a story and then move, together.
And I get to tell a story of dance and libraries, and my mom:
My mom was a librarian, so perhaps my love of libraries is inherited. But my first love was ballet, which was not inherited. Dance confused my family, particularly as I demonstrated a much more easily understood talent in book-learning. Mom drove me to auditions, though, and then hid as the questions started about how tall I would become. In the end, ballet drove me back to books, as I retreated to college after a brief, failed dance career. In a college library, I wrote about ballet for a feminist philosophy class in an outburst of fury, recognizing for the first time that perhaps that failure wasn’t all my fault. I lost my 20/20 vision in a library basement gazing at microfilm of newspapers for a professor who convinced me that dance could be cultural history. In another library I pored over photographs of naked men posing on a rock called a pillow in western Massachusetts, thinking how odd—and fantastic—it was that I could call this research. And I followed the relationship of a woman across years and years who wrote about her dance career to her husband sailing on ships across the seas. I peeked into lives, figuring out what dance meant to them as a way to figure out what it meant to me. Dance took me away from books, away from conventional paths, entranced and wounded me. But then libraries gave dance back to me.