Dance beach reads

The best memoirs and biographies to get you through the summer.

Certainly there are exceptions, but let’s face it—summertime in New York is not dance’s proudest moment. (Vienna has ImPulsTanz, Berlin has Tanz im August and we have...ugh, Lincoln Center Festival.) Sometimes it’s better to retreat; we declare this summer the season of the book. What follows is a selection of biographies and memoirs—they just seem better suited to the sand and surf than theory or criticism—and while dance knowledge is helpful, it’s not necessary. These books are about artists, and their stories are universal.

Dancing on My Grave (Berkley, as of press time, from $6.19 on
Gelsey Kirkland’s autobiography is, of course, the classic beach read. She’s either the most courageous ballerina around or a victim to all of the ballet world’s issues (anorexia, drug abuse and passivity). Aside from her infamous accusations against Balanchine (Mikhail Baryshnikov and Peter Martins aren’t spared, either), what remains 23 years after initial publication is Kirkland’s quasi-fatal desire for perfection and passion for ballet.—ES

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No Way Home: A Dancer’s Journey from the Streets of Havana to the Stages of the World (Scribner, $16 paperback)
Carlos Acosta is Cuba’s Billy Elliot. Despite a childhood spent amid ugly corruption and crime, Acosta writes of a magical place where he was surrounded by the constant aroma of mango and guava. This memoir, as much about Cuba as ballet, is one of the most endearing rags-to-riches stories around.—ES

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I, Maya Plisetskaya (translated by Antonina W. Bouis; Yale University Press, $48)
Plisetskaya’s autobiography is more than just an artistic reminiscence: It’s a window into Soviet life, complete with migr dramas, bribery, secrecy and persecution. She is bitingly sarcastic (“New Yorkers were all FBI agents. Every single one of them. No ex-cep-tions!”) and holds nothing back; above all, her courageous account reflects a fiercely resolute woman.—ES

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Private Domain: An Autobiography (University of Pittsburgh Press, $23.95 paperback)
This isn’t just a favorite book about dance, but a favorite book period. Paul Taylor’s writing is as succinct, weird and bittersweet as his choreography. His memoir, which begins at his childhood and continues on through his own painful, final performance, is as much about a life in dance as a life on the road.—GK

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Feelings Are Facts: A Life (MIT Press, $38.95)
The photos alone are worth it in Yvonne Rainer’s mesmerizing autobiography. With incisive clarity and insight—issues range from girlhood angst to the cultural history of New York—this coming-of-age tale details the development of an artist. “If you’re interested in Plato,” as she writes, “you’re reading the wrong book.”—GK

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Steps in Time: An Autobiography (HarperCollins, $13.95 paperback)
Fred Astaire—arguably the greatest dancer who ever lived—writes with the same agility, rhythm and cadence he demonstrated on the dance floor. This chatty autobiography is full of wit and is a perfect accompaniment to his films. Written when Astaire was 58, Steps in Time remains one of his most graceful performances.—GK

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Chance and Circumstance: Twenty Years with Cage and Cunningham (Northwestern University Press, $26.95 paperback)
In a TONY interview about this memoir, author Carolyn Brown said, “If you tell the story, you can’t just make it all sweetness and light.” This incredible narrative chronicles Brown’s career as a dancer with Merce Cunningham—it’s riveting and, given Cunningham’s recent death, timely.—GK

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Once a Dancer...: An Autobiography (University Press of Florida, $22.95 paperback)
Allegra Kent’s memoir reveals a woman with a singular outlook on life; her story is quirky, emotional and endearing. The former New York City Ballet dancer has gone through it all—unhappy pregnancies, cosmetic surgeries and an abusive husband—yet evaluates her life with a cheerful resilience (and recurring metaphors like oceans and roses).—ES

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Vera Volkova: A Biography (Dance Books Ltd, $39.95)
Danish writer Alexander Meinertz highlights one of the greatest teachers in the history of ballet. After fleeing Russia, Volkova landed in London, working with dancers like Margot Fonteyn. Her reach stretched farther; in Denmark, where she remained until her death in 1975, Volkova worked with Henning Kronstam, Erik Bruhn, Rudolf Nureyev and Stanley Williams—who became a revered teacher at the School of American Ballet-.—GK

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More beach reads...

We are obsessed with Balanchine (and so are they)

In Balanchine’s Company: A Dancer’s Memoir, by Barbara Milberg Fisher (Wesleyan University Press, $24.95)
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Holding On to the Air: An Autobiography, by Suzanne Farrell with Toni Bentley (University Press of Florida, $24.95 paperback)
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Winter Season: A Dancer’s Journal, by Toni Bentley (University Press of Florida, $21.95 paperback)
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Prodigal Son: Dancing for Balanchine in a World of Pain and Magic, by Edward Villella with Larry Kaplan(University of Pittsburgh Press, $19.95 paperback)
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Biographies that read like fiction

Nureyev: The Life, by Julie Kavanagh (Vintage, $19.95 paperback)
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Margot Fonteyn: A Life, by Meredith Daneman (Penguin, $18 paperback)
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Somewhere: The Life of Jerome Robbins, by Amanda Vaill (Broadway, $22.95 paperback)
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Alvin Ailey: A Life In Dance, by Jennifer Dunning (Da Capo Press, $22 paperback)br />Buy it on | Buy it on

Mark Morris, by Joan Acocella (Wesleyan University Press, $27.95 paperback)
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Henning Kronstam: Portrait of a Danish Dancer, by Alexandra Tomalonis (University Press of Florida, $39.95) Buy it on | Buy it on

The book to read while waiting for Arlene Croce to finish writing hers
Balanchine: A Biography, by Bernard Taper (University of California Press, $29.95 paperback) Buy it on | Buy it on

Out of print! Go to the library
Far from Denmark, by Peter Martins with Robert Cornfield (Little, Brown)
Dancing for Balanchine, by Merrill Ashley (Dutton)
Theatre Street, by Tamara Karsavina (Dutton)
Choura: The Memoirs of Alexandra Danilova (Knopf)
Blood Memory, by Martha Graham (Doubleday)
Split Seconds, by Tamara Geva (Harper & Row)
Dance to the Piper, by Agnes DeMille (Little, Brown)
Push Comes to Shove, by Twyla Tharp (Bantam)
Secret Muses: The Life of Frederick Ashton, by Julie Kavanagh (Pantheon)
Quicksilver: The Autobiography of Marie Rambert (Macmillan)

Freaking weird and fascinating
The Diary of Vaslav Nijinsky, edited by Joan Acocella (University of Illinois Press, $24.95 paperback)
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