Born into a family of successful playwrights and producers, Agnes de Mille was determined to be an actress. Then one day she witnessed the Russian ballet dancer Anna Pavlova, and her life was altered forever. Hypnotized by Pavlova’s beauty, in that moment de Mille dedicated herself to dance. Her memoir records with lighthearted humor and wisdom not only the difficulties she faced—the resistance of her parents, the sacrifices of her training—but also the frontier atmosphere of early Hollywood and New York and London during the Depression. “This is the story of an American dancer,” writes de Mille, “a spoiled egocentric wealthy girl, who learned with difficulty to become a worker, to set and meet standards, to brace a Victorian sensibility to contemporary roughhousing, and who, with happy good fortune, participated by the side of great colleagues in a renaissance of the most ancient and magical of all the arts.”
De Mille was a writer like her father and uncle and grandfather, and not only a writer of bodies in space. She wrote prose, too, and gorgeously, with tremendous and purposive contradiction, about her life as a dancer and choreographer. To my mind, Dance to the Piper is as good a book about dance as any book about cinema written by a director.
—Jonathon Sturgeon, Flavorwire
[A] finely written memoir, Dance to the Piper…was originally published in 1951. It’s a dry and self-deprecating bildungsroman that was, by her account, scratched out on napkins and envelopes while she was ‘doing a barre’ or tending to an infant.
Perhaps the best dancer ever to write and the best writer ever to dance.
—Janice Berman, Newsday
Nobody can read this history of courage and belief in an ideal without understanding both dancing and human nature a little better. Indeed, I believe nobody can read this book without following it up with a salutation, ‘Bravo, Agnes de Mille!’
—Carl Van Vechten
Dance to the Piper is rich in the vitality, honesty and humour which are de Mille’s professional characteristics; it gives excellently well-balanced judgements of the great dancers whom she has seen and worked with; and it also paints lively portraits of the courageous author herself.
—Lillian Browse, The Spectator
Enhanced with traditional ballet as well as the modern school, [de Mille] was associated with both, but she made her success in her own style of American modern. She writes with verve about all three schools, describes perspectively the inseparableness of dancer and dancing, the agonies of work and exhaustion, the personality of the true ballerina who must be cut off from the norm of social and sexual life.
One of the finest and most eloquent writers on dance the world has known.
—Clive Barnes, Dance Magazine