Cover for Eliot: Dancing Lives: Five Female Dancers from the Ballet d'Action to Merce Cunningham. Click for larger image

Dancing Lives

Five Female Dancers from the Ballet d'Action to Merce Cunningham

The private and performance lives of five female dancers in Western dance history

Working from the premise that dance history can be studied as it has been created in and through the bodies of dancers, Karen Eliot closely examines the lives and careers of five popular female dancers: Giovanna Baccelli, Adèle Dumilâtre, Tamara Karsavina, Moira Shearer, and Catherine Kerr. Notable dancers in European and Russian ballet and American modern dance genres, these women represent a historical cross section of performance, training, and technique.

By elegantly guiding the reader through the Russian Revolution, stage fright and illness, liaisons with aristocracy, movie stardom, and dancing rivalries, Dancing Lives provides valuable insight into the culture in which each woman performed. Readers are introduced to each dancer's social and economic status, her education and training, and changing debates about dance and choreography. The resulting stories are packed with intimate personal details, keen descriptions of dance pedagogy and performance, and behind-the-curtain glimpses of popular dance trends.


"She has enriched our understanding of dance history. . . . Recommended."--Library Journal

"An engaging read for all those who enjoy the ephemeral qualities of dance."--ForeWord

"Eliot’s writing is a labor of love, and her affection toward her subjects is inspiring."--Time Out Chicago

"Eliot . . . chronicles the lives of five female 'underdog' dancers . . . focusing on such details as their social and economic status, education, dance training and how they came to dance professionally. Amusing anecdotes abound. . . . Eliot's Dancing Lives shines a spotlight on the lives of five lesser-known dancers."--Dance Teacher

"This accessible resource offers less experienced scholars of dance easy entry into studying dance as cultural history. Recommended."--Choice

"Eliot embarks on a wide-ranging meditation on each of five dancers, evoking the nature of her talent and artistry, her teachers, her repertory, her peers, the social and economic constraints under which she labored, the aesthetics of the period, and what she contributed to the choreography she danced and to the art in general. In each chapter a new world unfolds, opening doors to the dance history of the period, teasing out what it meant to be a dancer at distinct historical moments, and placing the performer--the female performer--at the center of an art that since the Romantic era has been to a considerable extent a mediation on the nature of femininity."--Lynn Garafola, professor of dance, Barnard College, and author of Dance for a City: Fifty Years of the New York City Ballet

"Uniting a uniquely embodied knowledge of the dancing body with historic social and aesthetic concerns, Karen Eliot's Dancing Lives creates a gallery of fresh and compelling portraits of women who dance. Eliot illuminates the hidden dimensions of their emotional and psychological lives in her focus on developments in ballet and modern dance since the eighteenth century. In writing that is clear, accessible, and gently affectionate, this dance historian and former member of the Merce Cunningham Dance Company makes the persuasive argument that a close and careful look at the full lives of past dancers affords a unique view of world history, cultural evolutions, and historical dance events."--Janice Ross, author of Anna Halprin: Experience as Dance


Karen Eliot is a professor of dance at the Ohio State University. Trained in ballet and modern dance, she is an alumna of the Merce Cunningham Dance Company.

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