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Ballet Talk for Dancers

The Critics: firing Tobi Tobias


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Guest Calliope

That last sentence is a little startling.

I thought dance audiences were actually growing. With companies adding longer seasons and more and more festivals popping up.

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Thanks very much for posting this, Ari.

 

What's exciting about this is that I think the dance community -- the presenters, the dancers, the company managers -- who have been gritting their teeth for the past 20 years about the dearth of coverage of dance, saying, "Of course, we understand. Times are tough." (During the '90s bubble????) "But could you please possibly cover the world premiere of our new work? Oh, thank you so much. Of course, we understand you couldn't begin to consider a preview," etc etc. They can't complain about little coverage because of fear of even less coverage as a "punishment" for daring to question the judgment of the accountants -- I'm sorry. I mean editors. BUT they can scream about no coverage. And they are screaming.

 

What I hope is that this will carry over to other publications. It's time that dance stood up and was counted. There is no basis for the assumption by many newspapers and magazines that there's no interest in dance. Dance USa has lots of statistics on this -- audience demographics, real numbers. Their favorite is that more people attend ballet performances than NFL games. The problem is that dance is not part of the world of most, if not all, editors and publishers.

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The Dance Insider piece is instructive. I note that the Ben-Itzak reminds dance people that "P.S: It's no secret that Tobi Tobias's dance criticism, which can be acid when she sees something she doesn't like, has rankled some dance artists. Please -- PLEASE -- don't let this deter you from supporting her and fighting to help her regain her podium." It's too bad that he felt impelled to do that -- that there are actually people out there who might say, "She slammed me, so good riddance," and not look at the larger issues.

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Time Out is covering this issue by running an interview with Tobias by Gia Kourlas; it will be on newstands next Wednesday. This is not on line, and I can't get this magazine down here, so I'm counting on New Yorkers to fill us in!

 

One error in the LATimes article -- the word "reviews" appears; it should be "previews."

 

And the last sentence in the Miller quote in the LATimes is an addition; it's not in the reply the magazine is using to respond to emailers.

 

Calliope, I haven't had time to run down the latest figures today; the people I need to talk to are out of town. I'll try Monday. The last survey I remember reading was that dance attendance was up, but that was several years ago and things can change very quickly.

 

dirac, none of the people I've talked to or gotten messages from have mentioned personal opinions about Tobias or her writing -- to everyone's surprise, I think. Perhaps Dance Insider is antcipating, as many did, that there would be some who'd say "she slammed me, good riddance," but people seem to be looking at the larger issue.

 

I've also found over the years that Tobias is one of those critics -- Croce was another -- that artists loved to mutter about, until she gave them a good review. THEN the opinion changed (which is perfectlly natural) and this is another way of saying that Tobias is respected.

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I frankly didn't expect this to be a continuing news story, but it's turning out that way. I've learned that there's one dance organization with a 1400 member name mailing list that has requested its members to email their views on this matter.

 

I'm going to move this over to the Books, Magazines and Critics thread. I'm also going to split off the letters that people have posted. Several people who aren't members here, and who, I think, are not accustomed to internet message boards, have sent me emails with copies of their letters to post, so I'll be doing that. People are checking the coverage here for updates.

 

I'd also like to emphasize that, although it's pretty obvious where I, and many others, stand on this issue, this, like any other topic, is open to discussion. If you think NYMagazine did the right thing -- please feel free to say so. And if you wish they'd reconsider and restore dance reviews to NYMagazine but think that your voice doesn't matter, it does. They're counting. 50 emails may not matter. 1,000 may well matter. So please write, if you haven't done so, or reply to Ms. Miller's letter, if you'd like to counter her points.

 

caroline_miller@newyorkmag.com

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This was emailed me today, with permission to post:

 

Dear New York Magazine,

 

Please reconsider your ill advised decision to drop Tobi Tobias and dance criticism. Tobi Tobias writes with enormous verve and clarity, and the entire cultural community will be diminished if her voice can no longer be heard via your widely read magazine.

 

Sincerely,

 

Emily Wortis Leider

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And here, belatedly, is mine:

 

Dear Ms. Miller,

 

I learned with alarm tonight that New York magazine will discontinue its dance coverage. As a dance critic for more than 20 years (Washington Post, Dance Magazine, etc.) and editor of two dance publications, I'm concerned because I believe that Tobi Tobias's voice is needed. She is a brilliant critic. She is one of the few people writing about dance today who can do so within a historical context; i.e., she's seen a lot and she knows what she's seeing. She is a fine writer with rigorous standards, which are particularly invaluable in the current dance climate.

 

I am also stunned that a magazine in the dance capital of the world does not consider dance worthy of coverage. Tobias's column is read. There are dance fans who buy the magazine and who subscribe to it solely to read her column.

 

I believe that a magazine which purports to cover the city's arts and

entertainment scene has an obligation to include dance in that coverage. I hope that you will reconsider this decision and, when next season begins, reinstate the dance coverage that those who care about dance in New York have depended on for so many years.

 

Sincerely,

 

Alexandra Tomalonis, Editor

DanceView and Ballet Alert!

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Posted with permission of the writer:

 

TO: Caroline Miller, Editor

New York Magazine

 

 

I write to urge you to reconsider your decision to eliminate Tobi Tobias's dance criticism and the dance column from New York Magazine.

 

Eliminating dance criticism in the pages of New York Magazine--and I don't mean occasional articles or previews or listings but informed criticism by an internationally renowned and respected critic--will have serious consequences.

 

Historically, dance and its sister arts have flourished in New York in an environment of articulate criticism, discussion, argument. We need more not less of this today when there are fewer and fewer print outlets for arts criticism.

 

New York Magazine has had a stake in the cultural life and vitality of the world's dance capital which it is about to give up--and for what reason? Are we next to learn that you are dropping music, theater, film criticism? And, if not, why is dance singled out? How does this best serve your readers--and the city?

 

There are some things that should not be measured in dollars, subscriptions or advertisers. Your decision sends a dreadful message to others in the print media as well as to the artists, companies, presenters and businesses in the city who are the engines of the creativity and innovation that have made New York--and New York Magazine--great.

 

I sincerely hope you may be persuaded to reconsider your decision.

 

Sincerely,

 

Sali Ann Kriegsman

Former President, Dance Heritage Coalition

Former Executive Director, Jacob's Pillow Dance Festival

Former Director, Dance Program, National Endowment for the Arts

Former Dance Consultant, Smithsonian Institution

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Another letter sent to us for posting:

 

A letter to Caroline Miller at New York Magazine:

 

I've just heard that New York Magazine will be cancelling its dance coverage. This is extremely disturbing and disappointing news. I have for years been accustomed to checking your table of contents at the newsstand, and if there is no dance review, I seldom, if ever, buy the magazine. Not because I'm such a fan of dance reviews, but because I always look forward to Tobi Tobias's writing. Whether or not I've seen the performance she describes, I'm always interested, even thrilled, to read one of her witty and thoughtful columns. There is little enough great dance writing in the world, so your unfortunate decision greatly diminishes a long-standing and much-needed artistic discourse.

 

Is it too late to reconsider? I'm heartbroken to think of doing without a writer who, for me, is sort of a conscience for the dance world. And then, whether you care or not, New York Magazine will be doing without a reader: me.

 

Sincerely yours,

 

June Omura, NYC

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Guest justafan

My letter:

 

Ms. Miller:

 

I know all too well that times are tough -- particularly in the publishing world. But count me as one subscriber very disturbed by your decision to cut your dance column. Let me note that I have no axe to grind. I am not involved in the dance world in any professional capacity. I am just a fan.

 

The key reason to subscribe to New York magazine is to be informed about life in our cultural capital. New York is considered by many to be the dance capital of the world, certainly the country. It's quite sad that when faced with budget cuts, you decided against continuing to provide an informed voice in this vital art form. To my mind, it is an indication that the magazine is a bit small-minded and has only commercial (advertising) issues at heart. Certainly, the world wouldn't miss New York's film criticism.

 

Unfortunately, it seems that New York is bent on becoming merely a lifestyle magazine. What a waste!

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The New York magazine response has changed slightly (this is what those who email NYMag are now getting as a response)

 

Thanks for your letter. It's true that we're not going to continue running Tobi's reviews, but, believe me, we are not abandoning dance coverage. We'll continue to run previews, listings and features, and are committed to making sure dance gets the attention it deserves, in every way we can. I know you're aware that every publication in America, like all arts organizations, has had to make painful descisions on how to deploy limited resources to give readers what they value most. This is something we feel we have to do at this point; nonetheless, as we go forward we'll continue to look for ways to support the dance community in the city.

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In the LATimes article of August 2, Ms. Miller (editor of NY Magazine) was quoted as saying "And it's no surprise to anyone that the audience for dance has diminished."

 

I haven't been able to find anything to support this. DanceUSA, which keeps the numbers on dance in this country, has the following information on its website in the "Snap Facts" section (www.danceusa.org)

 

This is a quote from the web site:

 

Dance in America: Snapfacts 2000

 

 

 

Professional dance companies in America have a direct economic impact of over $350 million.

 

A study by the NEA in 1997 estimated that 35.6 million people attend dance performances.*

* This figure may include pre-professional performances and recitals.

 

There are about 675 professional dance companies in the USA.

 

Of these, 15 have budgets in excess of $5 million.

An estimated 55 to 65 have budgets between $1 million and $5 million.

About 12 to 14 of these are modern companies; the rest are ballet.

New York City has more dance companies -- slightly over 200 -- than any other metropolis.

But this number includes only 13 of the 70 - 80 companies with budgets over $1 million.

 

Dance is a relatively young "industry" in America.

 

In 1965, the NEA identified 37 professional dance companies in America.

Only 72 companies claim founding dates earlier than 1970.

The oldest companies are the Metropolitan Opera Ballet (1895),

the Martha Graham Company (1926), the Atlanta Ballet (1929),

and the San Francisco Ballet (1933).

 

 

[emphasis added by A.T.; though these figures are from September 2000, and the NEA survey was from 1997, there has not been a major survey since that date, as far as I know. - A.T.]

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Guest Calliope

recitals and pre-professional.

does that count your 4 year olds "recital"?

 

I wonder what Ms. Miller's context of the audience diminishing is?

Just today Broadway announced the potential closing of 4 new shows, b/c of post-Sept 11th audiences looking for bargains and a decline of advance sales.

Somehow I doubt they'll cancel the theater column.

 

I don't think she gets the difference between press and a review.

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I agree with your last statement, Calliope (about not getting the difference between press and review). But I think Miller's latest response shows where the thinking comes from -- it has nothing to do with economic difficulties and everything to do with the perception that dance doesn't matter and there aren't enough readers who care about dance.

 

On your question about recitals, apparently it is extremely difficult to determine statistically what's professional and what is not in the dance field: there's no agreed upon definition. There are a lot of professionals who work for little or no money -- in peforming, this is especially true, of course, in modern dance. Choreogrpahes may not receive fees for their work, etc. etc. etc.

 

But from an editor's point of view, I'd be just as happy to have as a reader the parents of a four-year-old whose school has a dance recital as I would someone who only attends performances by the major companies, or the minor ones -- or never goes at all, but just dances. Who cares? As long as they're interested in dance.

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It doesn't look from the revised message that Miller is backing down in any crucial respect. Interesting that her observation to the effect that no one's that interested in dance any more is not reiterated in the e-mail.

 

I don't think it's necessarily wrong for her to say that, as long as she has evidence to back it up. If there is such evidence, I wish she'd produce it.

 

 

However, even if it's true that interest in dance is diminishing, it seems to me that fact in itself would not warrant elimination of dance reviews. There are things that reputable papers and magazines believe they have to cover, even if they're not the items that draw the most eyeballs.

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