May 27, 2017


Here is a nice little documentary on Daniel Nagrin, one of the greatest dancers of the 20th century.  I greatly admired Nagrin's book How to Dance Forever, and found it really helpful as I tried to learn some steps in my 40s.

Nagrin was the expert on this.  He was born in 1917, bringing down the house on Broadway in the 50s, dancing modern art pieces like Strange Hero in the 60s, and still doing really hard stuff in the the 1970s.  He seemed to figure out before everyone else that the main thing holding back achievement in middle age was acknowledgement of the limitations of middle age.  He simply proceeded as if he could dance into his 60s, then did so.

I was sitting in a tea shop in Chinatown about 10 years ago, and hit a particularly good passage in Nagrin's book, which I read to my wife while we were sitting there talking.  I happened to look up and saw a well known comic actor eavesdropping with amusement.  So he and I will always have that moment:  him amused at my earnest discipleship, me amused that a guy whose magnum opus was Deuce Bigalow: Male Gigolo would look down on Nagrin, who put sincere effort into his performances.

In the documentary below Bill T. Jones says Nagrin was "for me, the epitome of artist as warrior.  The battle is against sloth, insincerity, and indecision.  He believes that the artist must win this battle, through daily effort."  Nagrin himself said he watched a film of one of his performances late in his career and caught himself thinking "he's not pretending."  That's about as good an artistic credo as you could ask for, I think.

I don't know enough to say if that particular ethos played a role in his longevity.  He certainly seemed to think so, saying "it's important not to die young.  You've got to last."

I wrote Nagrin a brief fan letter a few years before he passed away, and he sent back a nice thank you.



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