Dance to the Piper by Agnes De Mille

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Dance to the Piper Analysis

(Critical Edition of Young Adult Fiction)

De Mille’s intention is to break down what she sees as a basic moral prejudice against dance and dancers. Dance, a Dionysian expression of life and the life force, is viewed with suspicion by a fundamentalist social mind-set that reacts against the physical sensuality that is involved. Classical ballet, however, began in the court of Louis XIV as an innocent entertainment, and the steps and positions have not changed much through time. It was this form that originally attracted De Mille’s attention and love. Her major disappointment was her inability to perfect her body and to synchronize it to the dance form. Her secondary interest, folk dance, was sparked by the custom of the great ballerinas of including folk dance as a part of their repertoire. In the course of her study, De Mille evolved the belief that each nation expresses its character through its national dances.

During her college years, De Mille gave up dancing entirely in her enthusiasm for study. Oddly enough, the discipline that is associated with dance and dancers seemed to desert her. She was consistently late to class, whiled away her time in exams until it was nearly time to turn them in, and was filled with great plans for poems, stories, and creative works but postponed writing them until the last minute. Soon, however, her old love for and devotion to dance returned to her fully.

When her parents divorced, De Mille moved back to New York with her mother. She began to study dance again while supporting herself with an allowance from her father. In the meantime, she embarked upon a series of failures that lasted until her mid-thirties. During those intervening years, she sought work and recognition, only to fail each time in receiving the success that she sought, whether in the United States or in London. When she began to experiment with combining folk elements with ballet to achieve a modernist effect, she began to sense that she was accomplishing her goal. It was not until she choreographed and danced the lead in Aaron Copland’s Rodeo (1942) for the new Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo that she won the success and recognition that she sought. This event led to her innovative choreography for Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Oklahoma!, which, for the first time in a musical, successfully integrated dance within the plot so fully that the plot was actually advanced by the dances.

While there is little doubt that De Mille wrote Dance to the Piper for an audience of dance aficionados, the book will be of interest to a young person involved in the art of dance. It fully describes life in a dance company, whether in residence...

(The entire section is 689 words.)