Dance to the Piper Critical Context - Essay

Agnes De Mille

Critical Context

(Critical Edition of Young Adult Fiction)

Dance to the Piper was not written for a young audience, yet it is a book that can be highly informative for young readers interested in the art of dance. All types of readers will find much of value in the work, as De Mille deals with the roles of both male and female dancers. Readers will also learn about the history of dance and dancers both in the commercial theater (Broadway and film) and the formal dance theater (ballet and the modernist interpretive movement). Young adults may also be interested in comparing contemporary attitudes toward dance with those of the 1920’s and 1930’s in order to see how society’s response has changed. Readers involved in the early days of film history or in the beginning of Cecil B. De Mille’s career will enjoy the early chapters of the book.

Agnes De Mille’s writing style is somewhat dense and may prove intimidating to readers who are very young. Also, those interested simply in her own story may find her interpolations of discourses on dance history or on the history of a specific company to be distracting and superfluous. The foreword explains that the book was written in bits over a series of years—on letters, napkins, and sales receipts—without chronology or sequence and was arranged by her editor. Nevertheless, the book is valuable if only because it deglamorizes dancers, who are revealed as ordinary human beings who ache, sweat, and complain as everyone else does.