David Bruce: The Funniest People in Dance — Food, Fouettés, Gays and Lesbians


• Professional musicians are often asked to dinner, and after they have eaten, asked to play for their food. At one such dinner, pianist Anton Rubinstein was asked to play a valse for such guests as wished to dance. Annoyed, he did play a valse, but he introduced so many rubatos into it that he made dancing almost impossible. In addition, he started the valse at a conventional tempo, but then speeded it up so much that no one was able to dance to it.

• Like other young energetic dancers, 15-year-old Jacques d’Amboise had to learn to fight dehydration. Quickly, he discovered a system that worked for him, and whenever the servers at a West 56th Street coffee shop near City Center in New York saw him coming, they would set out a glass of grapefruit juice, a glass of milk, and a glass of water — all of which he quickly drank.

• When Josephine Baker was growing up as an impoverished black child in East St. Louis, she and her brothers and sisters used to look through garbage cans, hoping to find something that could be used to make soup — for example, they were very happy when they found some chicken heads. In the 1920s, Ms. Baker conquered Paris as a dancer.


• It’s possible for an audience to get distracted by the quantity of dance moves and ignore the dancing itself. For example, in Swan Lake the audience tends to count the 32 fouettés made by Odile. That’s why choreographer George Balanchine allowed very few multiple pirouettes in his ballets: “Two, maybe three … after that the audience starts to count.” Someone once said to ballerina Alexandra Danilova, “You do such virtuoso dancing, you do impressive fouetté turns, but you don’t do extreme, multiple pirouettes — why?” Ms. Danilova replied, “Because I am too busy dancing.”

• Early in her career, Natalia Makarova had great trouble with the 32 fouettés in Swan Lake. Of course, they are supposed to be performed in one spot, and the ballet dancer ought not to travel around the stage while spinning, but Ms. Makarova remembers that during her first attempt at them on stage she traveled so far that she ended up in a rear wing where she could not be seen by the audience.

• Anna Pavlova didn’t like to perform fouettés, but that doesn’t mean that she couldn’t perform them when she wanted. One day, she saw a dancer practicing fouettés — but not well. Ms. Pavlova said, “You want to learn fouetté? I show you.” She performed 64 fouettés, then left.

Gays and Lesbians

• As a gay teenager, author Joel Perry used to hide copies of Playgirl, which features a nude male centerfold each issue, under his bed. One day, his mother found them, so he told her that he was keeping them for a girl named Susie so that Susie’s mother wouldn’t find them. His mother believed him. Years later, after he had been living with a male lover for 11 years, she asked him if he was gay. After hearing that he was, she said, “Oh, honey, and you’re not even a good dancer.”

• Before Stonewall, Edythe Eyde used to go to a gay bar that was divided into two halves. One side was reserved for lesbians, and in the other side sat straight men. One day, a straight man came over and asked several women to dance with him. Being lesbians, they weren’t interested. When he reached Ms. Eyde, he said, “What’s the matter, lady? Don’t you dance with men?” She replied, “Of course not! What kind of a girl do you think I am!”

• The first lesbian couple to dance at the White House was Barbara Love and Kay Whitlock. Having gone to the White House in 1978 to present President Jimmy Carter with the International Women’s Year National Plan of Action, they waltzed together to chamber music in an outer chamber.


Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved


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