5 Must-Read Dance Memoirs

Read these to get your creative juices flowing—or just for the juicy dance-world details.

I Was a Dancer Jacques d’Amboise; Knopf; 2011; 464 pages. Before he became a New York City Ballet principal, Jacques d’Amboise (born Joseph Ahearn) earned his keep by fighting neighborhood gangs. He later created the National Dance Institute to pass on his love of dance to kids all over the world.


Private Domain Paul Taylor; University of Pittsburgh Press; 1987; 406 pages. Read this when your pockets feel particularly empty. Taylor, now one of the most celebrated modern choreographers, once ate dog food to save money.



Dancing on My Grave Gelsey Kirkland; Doubleday; 1986; 286 pages. Kirkland’s legendary partnership with Mikhail Baryshnikov, both on and off the stage, is just a subplot in this drama-filled tale. (And three years later, she wrote a sequel: The Shape of Love.)



Holding on to the Air Suzanne Farrell with Toni Bentley; University Press of Florida; 2002; 352 pages. Perhaps Balanchine’s greatest muse, ballerina Suzanne Farrell was brave enough to leave NYCB when she needed a career change—and humble enough to return, six years later.



Taking Flight: From War Orphan to Star Ballerina Michaela DePrince with Elaine DePrince; Knopf Books for Young Readers; 2014; 256 pages. DePrince overcame a violent childhood in West Africa to become Dance Theatre of Harlem’s youngest principal dancer.




Teachers Trending
Maks and Val Chmerkovskiy. Photo courtesy Dance With Me

Listening to Maks and Val Chmerkovskiy riff together makes it crystal-clear why each has mastered the art of partnering in the ballroom—they've long been doing this dance in real life as brothers and business partners.

Along with their "Dancing with the Stars" pedigree (and a combined three mirror-ball trophies between them), Maks and Val (and their father, Sasha) also run Dance With Me, a dance company hosting six ProAm Dancesport competitions annually and running 14 brick-and-mortar studio locations across the U.S.

Last year, the pair launched an online component, Dance & Co. The online video platform offers beginner through advanced instruction in not only ballroom but an array of other styles, as well as dance fitness classes from HIIT to yoga to strength training. "DWTS" fans will recognize such familiar faces as Peta Murgatroyd, Jenna Johnson, Sharna Burgess and Emma Slater, along with Maks and Val themselves.

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Teaching Tips
@jayplayimagery, courtesy Kerollis

In the spring of 2012, Barry Kerollis was abruptly forced into treating his career as a small business. Having just moved cross-country to join BalletX, he got injured and was soon let go.

"I'd only ever danced with big companies before," the now-freelance dance-teacher-choreographer-podcaster recalls. "That desperation factor drove me to approach freelancing with a business model and a business plan."

As Kerollis acknowledges, getting the business of you off the ground ("you" as a freelance dance educator, that is) can be filled with unexpected challenges—even for the most seasoned of gigging dancers. But becoming your own CEO can make your work–life balance more sustainable, help you make more money, keep you organized, and get potential employers to offer you more respect and improved working conditions. Here's how to get smart now about branding, finances and other crucial ways to tell the dance world that you mean business.

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Teachers Trending
Courtesy Oleson

American dance educator Shannon Oleson was teaching recreational ballet and street-dance classes in London when the pandemic hit. As she watched many of her fellow U.S. friends pack up and return home from their international adventures, she made the difficult choice to stick with her students (as well as her own training—she was midway through her MFA at Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance).

Despite shutdowns and shelter-in-place orders, she was able to maintain a teaching schedule that kept her working with her dancers through Zoom, as well as lead some private, in-home acro classes following government guidelines. But keeping rec students interested in the face of pandemic fatigue hasn't been easy.

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