Monday, August 1, 2011


I just finished reading Twyla Tharp’s autobiography, “Push Comes to Shove.” Tharp is an American dancer and choreographer. She began dancing early in life as a result of having a mother who was a musician, who pushed Twyla into dance. Her mother, who changed the spelling of “Twila” to “Twyla” because it seemed to her a name more suitable for a celebrity, decided from the time her daughter was born that she would become famous. That tells you in a nutshell the origin of the impetus for Tharp to work with an intensity and focus that did lead to her fame in the dance world.

For me the excitement of the book lies not only in Tharp’s determination and hard work to develop her dancing but also in her honesty in looking at how her personal life affected her work and how her work affected her personal life. She drew on her personal life to create dance sequences, and expanded her understanding of herself through her dance.

It was her life as a parent that took the brunt of her commitment to dance. Tharp admits that her son did not get much parenting except when he was with his friends’ families. When he was eleven years old, he told his mother that he loves her but that she’s weird and he asked to go to boarding school. Tharp was relieved because she could not give him what he needed and still do what she wanted to do in dance. (I think she was a better dancer than mother.)

The final chapter of the book is moving because of the way she ties together an amazing lifetime of work between the covers of a book. I printed out the following sentence and have it lying on my desk, reading it over and over: “How to protect and extend the lessons and beauty of that past without buying our own energies and imagination is the challenge for every artist.”

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