Dancing Past the Light: The Life of Tanaquil Le Clercq (Hardcover)

Dancing Past the Light: The Life of Tanaquil Le Clercq (Hardcover)

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Dancing Past the Light cinematically illuminates the glamorous and moving life story of Tanaquil “Tanny” Le Clercq (1929‒2000), one of the most celebrated ballerinas of the twentieth century, describing her brilliant stage career, her struggle with polio, and her important work as a dance teacher, coach, photographer, and writer.

Born in Paris, Le Clercq became a principal dancer with the New York City Ballet at age 19 and a role model for aspiring dancers everywhere. Orel Protopopescu recounts Le Clercq’s intense marriage to the company’s renowned choreographer George Balanchine, for whom Le Clercq was a muse, the prototype of the exquisite, long-limbed “Balanchine ballerina.” Enhanced with a wealth of previously unpublished photos, personal letters, and sketches by Balanchine, this book offers an intimate portrait of Le Clercq’s dancing life and her relationship to the man who was both her mentor and husband. It delves into her friendships with other dancers as well, including a longtime rival for her affections, choreographer Jerome Robbins.

Le Clercq contracted polio while on tour in Europe at age 27 and would never dance again. This book offers a rare account of how Le Clercq grappled with a fate considered unimaginable for a ballerina and began to share her love of dance as a writer and dance teacher. It also highlights Le Clercq’s role in the struggles for racial equality and disability rights. Her art was her vehicle: she and Arthur Mitchell made history as the couple in New York City Ballet’s first interracial pas de deux at City Center in 1955 and later she taught from a wheelchair at his Dance Theatre of Harlem.

With insights from interviews with her friends, students, and colleagues, Dancing Past the Light depicts the joys and the dark moments of Le Clercq’s dramatic life, celebrating her mighty legacy.

Editorial Reviews


“It’s difficult to capture the essence of a dancer on film let alone in words, but that is exactly what Protopopescu (What Remains) does in this rich, compelling biography of Tanaquil ‘Tanny’ Le Clercq (1929–2000), ‘a unique fusion of power and lightness, pathos and wit.’ Protopopescu describes her subject’s career—at 19, Le Clercq became a principal dancer at the New York City Ballet, where both George Balanchine (she was his fourth and last wife) and Jerome Robbins created roles for her. Le Clercq was also an artist with a social conscience; she and Arthur Mitchell danced the New York City Ballet’s first interracial pas de deux in 1955, and she later taught at Mitchell’s company, the Dance Theatre of Harlem. During the company’s 1956 European tour, Le Clercq, then 27, contracted polio and never danced again. In the ensuing years, however, she found new roles as a dance teacher and coach, writer, and photographer. Protopopescu’s research is drawn not only from written and visual archives but from interviews with Le Clercq’s students, friends, and dance partners, including the late Jacques D’Amboise. VERDICT: This thoughtful and elegant narrative is full of wonderful stories about the world of ballet. A fitting tribute to the life and legacy of a beloved dancer that will enthrall balletomanes everywhere.”—Library Journal

“Protopopescu has told the story of Le Clercq with grace, weaving in the background of some of the most influential people in her life, all of whom are worthy to have their own stories told. Protopopescu allows the reader to peer through a keyhole into Le Clercq’s world, a place that few of us were privileged to be.”—Jacques d’Amboise, New York City Ballet principal dancer and author of I Was a Dancer

“Protopopescu has interviewed a number of Le Clercq’s friends, fellow dancers, colleagues, and students, including several from the Dance Theatre of Harlem, and from these many voices has woven together the picture of a multifaceted woman whose long life was ultimately defined by the tragic ending of her dancing career when she developed polio. A welcome addition to the literature on the early years of the New York City Ballet.”—Lynn Garafola, author of Legacies of Twentieth-Century Dance

“Richly filled with insider information about the world of classical ballet, Dancing Past the Light tells the poignant and inspiring story of how the noted ballerina, paralyzed in mid-career, lived a full life. Her story also provides new insight into the artistic contributions of George Balanchine and Jerome Robbins, giants of twentieth-century ballet choreography.”—Nancy Reynolds, coauthor of No Fixed Points: Dance in the Twentieth Century

“What makes Dancing Past the Light so universally relevant is Protopopescu’s re-creation of a complex, creative woman in all her paradoxes and facets. Le Clercq's life was dominated by artistic geniuses—as well as a formidable mother—but her determination to be her own person could not be vanquished.”—Joel Lobenthal, author of Wilde Times: Patricia Wilde, George Balanchine, and the Rise of New York City Ballet

Dancing Past the Light is absolutely fascinating, packed with remarkable details and photos I’ve never seen before, and very well written. It does great justice to Le Clercq and all the people who were part of her life.”—Stephanie White, former soloist, Grand Ballet Classique de France

“Through Protopopescu’s writing, one understands why Le Clercq became representative of the ideal Balanchine dancer. The story of Le Clercq’s life after her illness is equally enthralling. Reading Dancing Past the Light, one becomes thoroughly acquainted with the person within this amazing artist.”—Laura Smeak, former soloist, Ballet du Grand Théâtre de Genève

"Protopopescu tells this story in a way that allows you to feel ‘Tanny’s’ stellar qualities, as both a dancer and a person.”—Wendy Perron, former editor-in-chief of Dance Magazine

  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ University Press of Florida; 1st edition (September 28, 2021)
  • Language ‏ : ‎ English
  • Hardcover ‏ : ‎ 398 pages
  • ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 0813069025
  • ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-0813069029
  • Item Weight ‏ : ‎ 1.52 pounds
  • Dimensions ‏ : ‎ 6 x 0.81 x 9 inches