Jock Soto is a remarkable man, with a remarkable story. He was an acclaimed ballet dancer with the New York City Ballet, one of the worlds most famous companies. But as I turn the pages in his memoir Every step you take (written with Leslie Marshall), it is not the dancer Jock Soto he presents to me – it is the person. His background is indeed an interesting one, and the book is personal and involving.
The book starts out where Soto’s dancing career ended – with his retirement. An interesting tweak for a memoir, often written more chronologically. Through the chapters of the book, Soto takes us on a ride through his childhood, the situations that made him who he is, his training and the life as a dancer with the NY city ballet. He has a personal, honest tone through the entire book, you really get the feeling he is sitting in front of you, telling his story.
And what a story. The life in the ballet company of the famous Balanchine, aside stars like Peter Martins and Jerome Robbins, mingling with the celebrity elite of the time – his tales from in- and outside the theatre are most enjoyable. What a time it was – at one point in the book Soto tells about how the dancers would finish the barre, then have a cigarette in the studio before continuing on to the center exercises. This would, as he also says in the book, never, ever happen today. Spiced with family clashes and turbulent love affairs, every step you take is a story worth reading.
Unlike fellow writer Catherine Tully from 4Dancers.org, I wasn’t too thrilled with the included recipes in the book. I like the idea, to use food to back up a story or a feeling described in the book. But I found myself jumping the recipes parts of the book, as they simply break the flow. Maybe a compilation with the details on how to cook the meals in the end of the book would have done better?!
My biggest problem with Soto’s book is one that frankly shouldn’t exist. But, unfortunately, it does; Soto is a personification of all the stereotypes connected to male dancers. Exotic, a bit artsy, homosexual, slightly extravagant, fond of cooking and well schooled in fine art – it is almost like the prejudice 101 for male dancers. And however much I enjoyed getting to know his story, I can’t help myself but thinking that his book, read by someone outside the ballet world, will only help increase the prejudices male dancers meet every day.
Of course, Soto is not responsible for these prejudices, and it’s not like I mean he should have changed the book because of them. The memoir is great at letting you get under the skin of this remarkable man. But as an advocate for male dancers, I would perhaps chosen another story.
That said, the book is a well written, personal tale of a man with a tale quite different from most of us, and a great read. Maybe a christmas present for a ballet fan? Just give them a link to Tights and Tiaras as well, and the prejudice issue should be handled.
Disclaimer: This is a product review. I do not receive any payment for such reviews, and have no obligations to write anything other than my opinion. I do receive a copy of the book. If you are curious about the terms of product reviews at Tights and Tiaras, please read our terms here