Form and Content

(Critical Edition of Young Adult Fiction)

Agnes De Mille’s Dance to the Piper is the story of a young woman who always wanted to dance. Her theatrical family hoped to discourage her of any ambitions toward a career in theater, so they refused her impassioned pleas to have dancing lessons. They relented when De Mille reached the age of eleven, and even though she was too old to be trained in classical ballet, she began training anyway. Her parents limited her time in the studio to two hours a week, so she was forced to practice alone; she practiced incorrectly. As she matured physically, her stoutish, stocky figure was denounced as unsuitable for dance.

De Mille’s story is told in twenty-seven chapters and a brief foreword. The foreword contains the history of her parents’ families and brief sketches of both her mother and her father that help the reader to understand De Mille’s thoughts, motives, and attitudes. The first chapter explains how her father, William, left New York and his career as a playwright to join his younger brother, Cecil, in his Hollywood motion-picture studio. Appropriately enough, the last chapter describes De Mille’s first major New York triumph, as the choreographer for Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein’s musical Oklahoma! (1943).

While the body of the book is arranged as a roughly chronological memoir, it also contains brief excerpts from diaries and letters. De Mille interrupts her story from time to time to write a chapter...

(The entire section is 414 words.)