A Dance to Dance

Cartoon of typical New York modern dancer of the 1960s and 1970s

Don’t ask me how but in 1970s New York, modern dance had become the “New Rock & Roll.” Choreographers were so famous that they starred in cigarette ads. (And, you thought ballplayers selling Luckies was a nutty idea!) Photographs of these elite artistes, dressed in black and lounging on ballet barres, were splashed across billboards that towered over the streets of Manhattan – 

After a day of improvised gesture and motif development, there’s nothing I like better than getting lung cancer.

Martha Graham doing lamentations
Martha Graham “dancing.”
Now, imagine her holding that pose forever.
Bored yet?

But, the new-found popularity of modern… oh, no, excuse me, I meant to say contemporary dance coincided with the stylistic pretension known as “minimalism” in which the last thing any dancer wanted to be caught dead doing was dance. I attended dance performances in which a “dancer” just rolled an orange across the stage very, very slowly or opened and shut an umbrella over and over again or sat still in a chair – for an eternity. Stillness was the ultimate movement in the “new” dance. When one choreographer had his dancer stand, walk around the chair and sit down again, the debate raged in NOHO as to whether this represented a retrograde step or a daring leap into the choreographic future. This minimalist-dance craze swept across SOHO and NOHO even faster than chlamydia.   

Merce Cunningham with a chair on his back
At least this guy brought his own chair.
Hey, what a minute, I think I saw him move. That’s not DANCE!
Boy Outa Brooklyn a murder-memoir by Jack Antonio
Image: the smiling face of Steeplechase Park in Coney Island, Brooklyn
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