Visiting chair teaches dancers the importance of their history
Noted dance critic, poet and writer Jack Anderson wrapped up a weeklong stint in Norman today as the OU School of Dance’s Susan E. Brackett Distinguished Visiting Artist Chair.
During his time on campus, the 76-year-old participated in a poetry reading, hosted a program for the OU Dance Partners and talked to several classes about the basics of dance criticism and the importance of dance history.
Anderson discussed the need of dancers to learn about their past, whether or not they want to be scholars, in order to have a better understanding about themselves and their futures.
“As a dancer, after all, you are the heir of all these people who have come before you,” he said. “Every time you step out onto the stage, you have ghosts of dancers behind you, applauding you and wishing you well.”
In teaching dance criticism, he stressed the essential rules of writing for any publication, such as meeting a deadline, maintaining word count and conveying a message in a clear and concise manner.
“The process of criticism, to me at least, involves two basic elements,” Anderson said. “First, you try to put into words what you have seen. Then after giving your audience or readership some sense of what went on, then you evaluate it. What were they supposed to do and how well did they do it? Or was it worth doing at all?”
Anderson has lived in New York City for several decades but grew up in Milwaukee, Wis. With a motion picture projectionist for a father and a nurse/former ballet dancer for a mother, he naturally found himself drawn toward the arts.
“I grew up liking seeing people dance on-stage and in the movies and play music and things like that,” he said. “I was first of all interested in music, but I also liked being on stage — acting, jumping around and so forth.”
In his professional life, Anderson said he considers himself a poet first and a dance critic or writer second.
“In high school I started writing poetry as a hobby,” he said. “I got more and more interested in writing and I started taking creative writing classes as an undergraduate theater major at Northwestern, and I later got my masters in creative writing from Indiana University.”
Anderson has been a contributor of dance reviews and other articles for The New York Times since 1978. He has also written for Dance magazine in New York, is the New York correspondent for the Dancing Times of London and continues to write for nytheatre-wire.com.
In 1977, he and his partner, dance historian George Dorris, started working on a peer-reviewed, scholarly journal of dance. The couple remained editors of Dance Chronicle until 2007.
“[British publishing house Routledge] asked us to create it,” Dorris said. “Since Jack, and I too, was interested in dance history, it seemed like a great idea.”
Though he’s certainly busy writing for various publications and traveling to different colleges, Anderson will have another role to add to his resume at the end of the school year: commencement speaker.
“In a couple of weeks, I’ve been asked to deliver the commencement address at the New World School of the Arts in Miami,” he said. “It has to be some sort of inspirational pep talk: go out and do good. What would you like to hear as a graduate?”
Dorris, leaning over the table in a mock-serious fashion, added, “I don’t think we’ll be allowed to leave this room until he’s got an answer.”