“When Madame Seda said, ‘There are better teachers than I,’ she sent me to a crucible, a laboratory of theater and dance that would shape and influence the performing arts in this country for the rest of the century. There, I would plié, changement, and pirouette my heart out, guided by some of the greatest artists and innovators residing in New York City, most of them from pre-Soviet Russia, role models who demanded the best of their students.”
Jacques d’Amboise began his dance career in a small Washington Heights studio prior to World War II. His mother and the teacher conspired to encourage Jacques to join in his sister’s dance classes through a dare. “See if you can jump as high as the girls.” Pretty soon, he was joining in the part of the class where they practice leaps. Then came another challenge: “Now leap in the air and change your feet so when you land, your left foot is in front.” That move is called a changement, and Madame Seda soon had Jacques doing thirty-two of them. It wasn’t long before he was taking the entire class and on his way to becoming a danseur. D’Amboise was eventually sent to the School of American Ballet and George Ballanchine, where he became a favorite student and friend of the master. D’Amboise became a corps member of the New York City Ballet at the age of fifteen, and eventually a principal dancer and star in his own right.
I admit I love the ballet and I love reading about dancers and their journeys. But, D’Amboise is such a natural story-teller, this memoir is much more than an autobiography. It is a glimpse into a perfect point in time – when the world of dance brought together the most amazing talents in one place, and achieved greatness that has yet to be matched. His stories are funny, fascinating and charming. And I loved every minute of this wonderful book. Even if you know nothing about the world of ballet, you will enjoy I Was a Dancer.
5 stars (out of 5)
Published in 2011