Dance in America 

A Reader’s Anthology

Mindy Aloff, Editor

Library of America

Historian and dance critic Mindy Aloff has assembled the most thought-provoking and entertaining writers, performers, and critics and produced a treasure trove of information on dances unique to the United States. The Library of America’s “Dance in America Anthology,” recognizes dance came to America long before the United States was formed in 1776, so the anthology includes works on both Native Americans, and slave-trade-imported Africans.

The most obvious dance icon, according to Lincoln Barnett, journalist and editor of Life Magazine, was Fred Astaire, the “No.1 most supporter or advocate of tap dance.” Barnett says tap was “this country’s own native and original dance form,” imported by African slaves. Astaire “brought the U.S. tap dance to its pinnacle of virtuosity and refinement,” and when teamed with Ginger Rogers, the pair became the “greatest money making team in Hollywood history.”

As for dance critics, according to Aloff, Edwin Denby was most acknowledged and noted for his writing on ballet, in particular, “The Flight of the Dancer,” in which he describes in extensive detail dancer Alicia Markova’s gravity-defying leaps into the air. He also viewed ballet not an intellectual art that needs to be analyzed but rather “the dazzle of a ballet performance is quite reason to go,” to see dancers bounding in “delicate animal grace.” 

On another part of the dance spectrum is a speech, “The Dance of the Future,” by Isadora Duncan, considered the “mother of modern dance.” She viewed ballet as structured dance, her feeling the earth barefooted, rather than natural body movement. She saw the future of dance in women with free spirits. 

Fortunately, Black Elk of the Oglala Lakota tribe sought to preserve tribal culture through written word. The anthology includes “Horse Dance,” a chapter from the book, “Black Elk Speaks,” when centuries ago Native dancers in a dreamlike-state circled the earth by facing their mounted horses in varying directions, a reflection of prayer.

. . . includes an extraordinary range of literary figures, dancers, choreographers and poets . . .

The 100 pieces selected for this anthology spans 300 years and includes an extraordinary range of literary figures, dancers, choreographers and poets, such as John Mercer’s, “Arthur Murray Taught me Dancing in a Hurry,” and Emily Dickinson’s, “I cannot dance upon my Toes,” based on the ballet “Giselle.” Novelist Zora Neale Hurston’s short story, ”Hoodoo,” features a woman seeking revenge on her husband who left for another woman. Susan Sontag’s, “On Dance and Dance Writing,” offers a more in-depth and esoteric analysis. There’s even a review of Michael Jackson’s form of dance by Alastair MaCaulay.

This anthology is filled with surprises about the world of dance in America. It’s enlightening, and presents information in one consolidated collection, displaying varying perspectives. The literary quality of writing alone simply makes it a resource for anyone, even if dance is not a subject of interest.