Posted on September 1, 2022
I first came across a copy of Dancing Times, fittingly, in a dance studio. My first ballet teacher kept a box of old copies at the back of her studio and the children learning their first steps would use the magazines as props during whatever little dances we were moulding our bodies around. I remember it took many weeks for me to build up the courage to ask to take a copy home, just to borrow, so I could wonder privately.
What I saw in the magazine beguiled me. The gods and goddesses wreathed over the magazine’s pages danced steps and made beautiful shapes that were nothing like what I attempted in my weekly after-school lessons. I wanted to look exactly like them. So, in this way, Dancing Times has held an indescribably special place in my heart. Without really realising, the magazine’s presence poured fuel on the fire that has given me the life-enhancing career I have.
Dancing Times sustained me at moments when I thought I’d give up dance. Quite literally. I had a terrible time in my graduate year at Central School of Ballet coping with shin injuries that I just couldn’t seem to shake. Patricia Linton – one of my former teachers – knew Jonathan Gray (he was also one of her many former pupils) and suggested I write about my experience. Her introduction led to my first piece being published in Dancing Times. As with so much across anyone’s lifetime, I didn’t understand what an important moment this would prove to be. Verbalising my feelings and interrogating my experience of dance – or trying to dance – kept my imagination alert, my passion stoked, and my commitment to this wonderful world alive.
At that pre-professional age, the magazine showed me where my studies sat in the context of the rest of the dancing world. Its reviews literally opened my horizons far beyond the south London home in which I grew up. Writers such as Jack Anderson, Zoë Anderson, Paul Arrowsmith, Gerald Dowler, Jonathan Gray, Alastair Macaulay, Barbara Newman and Leigh Witchel taught me how to see dance. I’m lucky that some of those names I now call friends. From these thinkers, I learnt an appreciation that dance means infinite things to innumerable people, and there is room for these different perspectives.
Of course, Dancing Times introduced me to the intelligence and wit of Clement Crisp, and the incisive points of Mary Clarke. I even met Mary once, when I was visiting Jon at the magazine’s former Clerkenwell offices. In my dancing life I’m often reminded of a comment the choreographer Bronislava Nijinska made to Frederick Ashton around the time The Royal Ballet mounted Les Noces for the first time in the 1960s. She told him: “You are a link in the chain”, the next iteration of the ideas that came before. To have been present on the same pages as the writers of Dancing Times offers me a little of that perspective. All we have is what we can pass on to the future, to people we’ll never see; people we’ll never know. Dance, and writing about it, are satisfying ways to physicalise these feelings.
Simply put, Dancing Times has been the most wonderful teacher. All the more appropriate that I first encountered the magazine as a fledgling dancer. I remember one Christmas when I was mentioned in a review during my first professional performances, and I even made it on to the cover of the magazine as the world stood still at the onset of the coronavirus pandemic. Both were red-letter moments that I’ll carry with me forever.
It is always painful to think about endings. The ballerina Wendy Whelan called dance her “silent partner” over her career, and in so many ways, Dancing Times has been ours. For over a century, the magazine has quietly observed, recorded, encouraged and supported our industry, our way of life. All we can do is hope that perhaps this isn’t a final curtain, but an end of a single act. Dancing Times may be with us in a different way at a different time. For now, I’m ever grateful for the beauty and intelligence that was always the magazine’s unfaltering standard.