The Funniest People in Dance: 250 Anecdotes

These are the first 10 anecdotes from my book The Funniest People in Dance: 250 Anecdotes, available for .99 CHEAP at online booksellers such as Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Apple iBookstore, Kobo, etc.

Activism

In some South American countries, people who are critical of the government disappear — agents of the government kidnap and kill them. Some relatives and friends of the desapariciones have attracted international attention to the problem by unusual protests — going on hunger strikes, sewing quilts, and dancing alone to show that they miss the disappeared.[1]

African-American choreographer Alvin Ailey, Jr., created Masekela Langage to protest apartheid in South Africa. In the dance’s climax, a bloodied black man staggers into a party and dies. The program note for Masekela Langage states, “Looks like it’s safer to be in jail.”[2]

Animals

Ballerina Alice Patelson’s mother was a former Radio City Rockette who taught ballet to neighborhood children in a studio built into her home. Whenever Alice’s mother came downstairs dressed in her leotard to begin teaching a ballet class, the family pet springer spaniel, Lady, went upstairs. When Lady thought the family was busy, she would take a flying leap into the middle of Alice’s parents’ bed, which was forbidden to her. However, the family knew what Lady was doing. After ballet class was over, Alice’s mother used to noisily climb upstairs, giving Lady plenty of warning to get off the bed before being caught.[3]

In her act, belly dancer Amaya — née Maria Elena Amaya — used a snake that ate three mice a month. Unfortunately, one month the local pet shop ran out of mice, so the pet shop owner suggested, “Three mice = six baby chicks.” However, Amaya remembered what had happened when a belly dancer friend had fed her snake baby chicks. At the conclusion of a dance in Las Vegas, the belly dancer had lifted the snake over her head, and the snake had loudly passed gas. Not only did the snake emit gas, but it also emitted a cloud of baby chick feathers!

In her act, belly dancer Amaya — née Maria Elena Amaya — used a snake that ate three mice a month. Unfortunately, one month the local pet shop ran out of mice, so the pet shop owner suggested, “Three mice = six baby chicks.” However, Amaya remembered what had happened when a belly dancer friend had fed her snake baby chicks. At the conclusion of a dance in Las Vegas, the belly dancer had lifted the snake over her head, and the snake had loudly passed gas. Not only did the snake emit gas, but it also emitted a cloud of baby chick feathers![4]

When Rudolf Nureyev was a young child growing up in Ufa, food was scarce and he was frequently hungry. One day, his mother made a long trek through the snow to another village in search of food to feed her family at home. Near nightfall, she noticed yellowish circles of light around her — circles of light that traveled in pairs. Suddenly, she realized that wolves had surrounded her. She took off the blanket she was wearing around her shoulders and set it on fire. Seeing the fire, the wolves fled.[5]

While studying black dance in Haiti, Katherine Dunham was invited to stay at the home of a friend. However, she smelled something unusual in the house and looked up to see an 8-foot python in the rafters. The snake was a “pet” often kept around Haitian homes to eat rats and mice.[6]

Arguments

 Early in her career, Martha Graham was a dancer for Denishawn. Both she and Denishawn co-founder Ted Shawn had tempers. One day, while on tour, Ms. Graham called Mr. Shawn to say that she wanted to add a new dance to the tour. Mr. Shawn refused to give her permission to add the dance, so Ms. Graham angrily ripped the telephone out of the wall. On another occasion, they grew angry as they talked over lunch in a New York restaurant. Ms. Graham stood up, grabbed the tablecloth, and pulled it, the dishes, and all the food onto the floor, then she stalked out of the restaurant and into a taxi. Mr. Shawn followed her and screamed at her, “I don’t ever want to see you again in my life! And I mean it!” On both occasions, they quickly made up their differences.[7]

When Lindy Hop dancer Norma Miller was underage, she had a chance to go to Europe as a member of a dance troupe. The problem was this: How could she convince her mother to let her go? After receiving the offer, she went home and her mother, who was tired, asked her to do a favor — to wash a few things in the sink. Norma asked, “Okay, Ma, but if I wash out your underwear, will you let me go to Europe?” Thinking that Norma was joking, her mother said, “Yes, if you wash those things in the sink, I’ll let you go to Europe.” The next day Norma told her about the offer — and reminded her about her promise to let her go to Europe. After a lot of arguing, and the promise that Norma would be chaperoned, her mother let her go to Europe.[8]

Audiences

 Agnes de Mille says, “I’m not a Massine fan at all.” When Léonide Massine was at Covent Garden, his fans were numerous and enthusiastic. Ms. de Mille used to attend performances of his works at Covent Garden and be very quiet. Meanwhile, members of the audience would cheer madly, be wildly extravagant in their love for Massine and his art — and glare at Ms. de Mille because she did not share their enthusiasm for all things Massine. One day, Mr. Massine was introduced at Covent Garden as “certainly the greatest choreographer we have living and probably ever have had.” Ms. de Mille immediately thought of Martha Graham and of Antony Tudor.[9]

Anita Berber, known mainly as a controversial dancer in Weimar Berlin, performed in many countries. In Fiume, a city now in Croatia, she performed in a very small club where she could hear the comments members of the audience made about her. She overheard one insulting comment and memorized where it had come from. After her dance was over, she walked over to that spot and slapped the man sitting there. Unfortunately, Ms. Berber was nearsighted and did not know that the man who had insulted her had gone and that a man who appreciated her talent had taken his place.[10]

[1] Source: Barbara C. Cruz, Rubén Blades: Salsa Singer and Social Activist, p. 60.

[2] Source: Julinda Lewis-Ferguson, Alvin Ailey, Jr., pp. 65-67.

[3] Source: Alice Patelson, Portrait of a Dancer, Memories of Balanchine: An Autobiography, pp. 1-2.

[4] Source: Rod Long, Belly Laughs, pp. 13ff.

[5] Source: Rudolf Nureyev, Nureyev: An Autobiography, pp. 33-34.

[6] Source: Barbara O’Connor, Katherine Dunham: Pioneer of Black Dance, p. 45.

[7] Source: Russell Freedman, Martha Graham: A Dancer’s Life, pp. 33-35.

[8] Source: Norma Miller, Swingin’ at the Savoy, pp. 87-88.

[9] Source: Clive Barnes, Inside American Ballet Theatre, p. 86.

[10] Source: Mel Gordon, The Seven Addictions and Five Professions of Anita Berber, pp. 112-113.

 

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