I started writing about dance in the mid-2000s. I won’t say that the state of professional art journalism was entirely upbeat back then, but if I remember now it was at least possible to consider artistic journalism as a profession of the future. I had a lot of senior colleagues back then, people I admired and could aspire to emulate. Deborah Jowitt wrote for The voice of the village, and Elizabeth Zimmer was its editor. Until 2002, Tobi Tobias was a dance critic at the new York magazine. Leigh Witchel was at New York Post. Joel Lobenthal wrote for The New York sun. The excellent Jordan Levin was covering the Miami dance scene for the Miami Herald. Joan Acocella, the critic who made me fall in love with dance writing, chaired the cover of The New Yorker with intelligence and authority.
Then, in a few years, this network of writers collapsed. The New York sun ceased publication in 2008. The voice of the village eliminated the position of full-time dance writer the same year. Dance magazine stopped performing examinations in 2013. The New York Post and Miami Herald got rid of their criticism. Tragically, Ballet review, a truly intelligent and in-depth, closed dance journal. The New York Times, where I was contributing as a freelance writer at the time, has decreased its artistic coverage, although it still has a dance critic on staff. The Goings On About Town section of The New Yorker, for which I have also written (and continue to do so), did the same. Since Acocella quit writing dance reviews for the magazine in 2019, the coverage of the dance has almost collapsed. I worked freelance for The Guardian and The Boston Globe, also, but they stopped using freelancers based in New York and reduced the scope of their coverage.
Around the same time, online dance publications like Danseviewtimes and Examination of the fjord and Dance tabs (and the Brooklyn train, which is both online and in print, and covers dance) —many of these are great, but most can’t pay their writers, or pay very little. I am a huge fan and have written for the most part, and read them diligently. They are wonderful additions to the dance conversation.
But somewhere in the mid-2010s, I realized: writing about dance had become something I did for fun and because I was pushed into it, but at best a concert, a hobby that paid off. something, not quite a profession. I worked there full time, but earned the equivalent of a part-time job. Over the years, I have supplemented it with other work, mainly translations, public interviews and, more recently, the advancement of a book. I am also married to someone who earns a living wage.
At one point, I stopped imagining that all this writing, which I do with great enthusiasm and love and without a drop of regret, would one day lead to a salaried job in any major publication. audience with a large readership. The truth is, cultural writing that doesn’t involve celebrities or popular culture or scandal occupies an increasingly small niche in the mainstream press. Articles about dance that do not address broader societal issues, and that really focus on the details of the art, seldom make the front page of the arts section.
At least once a year, I think this might be the last year that I devote myself full time to writing about dance. It doesn’t really make sense to keep doing it other than the fact that I love it and feel obligated to do it. It is, to use a word that is overused these days, a privilege. I can do it because I’m middle class, because my partner works full time, because I know that no matter what, I can buy food and pay the rent.
What we need are more voices, representing more of our world: more Asian writers and Hispanic writers and black writers, writers from all walks of life, interests, social classes. But how do you train them in a job that isn’t really one?
Many smart and ambitious young people try artistic writing for a few years until, naturally, they form a more accurate picture of the work situation and move on. As organized now, this is not an area that can support talented people as they spend years really understanding the ins and outs of performing dance and developing the perspective needed to place things in their historical context. With a few exceptions, American dance writing has become a field of quasi-volunteers (excellent, enthusiastic).
What we are losing is the breadth and depth of knowledge gained by a previous generation of critics, people who had dedicated their lives to form and who had seen a lot. People who could see the arc of the story and put new creations into perspective. People who understood the dance – the details of the choreography as well as the big picture. People like Edwin Denby, Arlene Croce, Joan Acocella, Tobi Tobias, Deborah Jowitt, Marcia Siegel and many more. Their combined knowledge has helped frame and give cultural weight to the achievements of countless dancers, choreographers, designers and other professionals involved in the field. Thanks to their work, more people knew what was going on in the dance world, and therefore it meant more to more people. I fear that the reality of writing about dance today is a loss not only for cultural journalism, but also for the visibility and cultural relevance of dance itself.