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I Was a Dancer Hardcover – Deckle Edge, March 1, 2011

4.6 out of 5 stars 36 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


"Highly engaging. . . with many passages of particular import for Balanchine devotees. . . enthusiasm is what he does best, and he makes it infectious."
—Alastair Macaulay, The New York Times Book Review

"In his memoir, I Was a Dancer, Jacques d’Amboise proves that great artists are not necessarily limited to their own fields of accomplishment. He leaps gracefully from one superbly written paragraph to the next, carrying the reader high in the air through a fascinating life, illustrated by wonderful photographs and his own amusing illustrations."
—Hannah Pakula

"God of music, poetry, and the arts. It’s no coincidence that Apollo was Jacques’s greatest role. And when he tossed me into the air in Swan Lake, I knew I could really fly. An honest and revealing glimpse into the soul of one of our greatest dancers. The heart of a lion, the stamina of a thoroughbred, the grace and beauty of a Michelangelo. Unpredictable, generous, dependable, infuriating and consistently brilliant. In other words: Jacques d’Amboise. The fascinating journey of one of our great dancers, honest, revealing and beautifully told."
—Allegra Kent

“Jacques d’Amboise is one of the great dancers of our time. His story is an American story: how did a poor street-kid from Washington Heights rise to the summit of ballet and make himself an American Apollo and a household name? It is all here in this poignant and personal memoir: he did it through discipline and poetry; through romantic love and fierce intelligence. Above all, he did it through dancing.” 
—Jennifer Homans, author of Apollo’s Angels

“Jacques’ searingly honest, endlessly-fascinating voice takes you on a wild, fun-filled ride through the world of dance, introducing you to unforgettable characters and entertaining adventures. It is a tribute to Jacques that he speaks to readers as if he was talking to his best friends.”
—Donald Newhouse

About the Author

Jacques d’Amboise was a principal dancer with the New York City Ballet for more than thirty-three years. In 1976, he founded the National Dance Institute, and is the author of Teaching the Magic of Dance (1983). He has been the recipient of numerous honors and awards, among them the Kennedy Center Honor, the National Medal of Arts, and fellowships from the Academy of Arts and Sciences and the MacArthur Foundation. He has won an Academy Award, six Emmy Awards, and the Peabody Award. He lives in New York City and Hunter, New York.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 464 pages
  • Publisher: Knopf; 3rd edition (March 1, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1400042348
  • ISBN-13: 978-1400042340
  • Product Dimensions: 6.6 x 1.6 x 9.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (36 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #202,473 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
First, I must confess that I have been a fan of Jacques d'Amboise for decades, even though I've never seen him dance in person. I approached his autobiography with the hope of getting to know this gracious, gifted and extraordinary man a little better. I was not disappointed. His descriptions of some of the family, friends, and colleagues who've accompanied him over his eventful life are exquisite. True to his roots, humble and compassionate, with an impish sense of humor, Jacques d'Amboise takes us from the table of his indomitable and ardently supportive French-Canadian mom, through the rough streets of New York City, to his first ballet class, tours in London and Paris when he was only 15 and 16, his work and friendship with Balanchine, his willful self transformation as a dancer, his insights into some of the glitterati of the ballet world, and his compassionate, caring approach to his aging friends and to the promising young people he encounters through his generous work with the national dance Institute. He made me laugh out loud and also sob, sometime from one page to another. I found this to be an uplifting book, just as I imagine sitting down with this lovely man for a cup of tea would be. His autobiography is a reminder to all of the power of self-discipline, a positive and joyful attitude, combined with intense focus in attaining a rich and happy life.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
More people should know about Jacques D'Amboise. His contribution not only to the arts as a ballet dancer but to the lives of thousands of children at his National Dance Institute is an inspiration. He is a man who sees what's possible in life and who sees and nurtures the potential in every child. Dance is his medium but the appreciation of the human spirit is his true talent in my opinion. I hope he is known more widely through this book.
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“When Madame Seda said, ‘There are better teachers than I,’ she sent me to a crucible, a laboratory of theater and dance that would shape and influence the performing arts in this country for the rest of the century. There, I would plié, changement, and pirouette my heart out, guided by some of the greatest artists and innovators residing in New York City, most of them from pre-Soviet Russia, role models who demanded the best of their students.”

Jacques d’Amboise began his dance career in a small Washington Heights studio prior to World War II. His mother and the teacher conspired to encourage Jacques to join in his sister’s dance classes through a dare. “See if you can jump as high as the girls.” Pretty soon, he was joining in the part of the class where they practice leaps. Then came another challenge: “Now leap in the air and change your feet so when you land, your left foot is in front.” That move is called a changement, and Madame Seda soon had Jacques doing thirty-two of them. It wasn’t long before he was taking the entire class and on his way to becoming a danseur. D’Amboise was eventually sent to the School of American Ballet and George Ballanchine, where he became a favorite student and friend of the master. D’Amboise became a corps member of the New York City Ballet at the age of fifteen, and eventually a principal dancer and star in his own right.

I admit I love the ballet and I love reading about dancers and their journeys. But, D’Amboise is such a natural story-teller, this memoir is much more than an autobiography. It is a glimpse into a perfect point in time – when the world of dance brought together the most amazing talents in one place, and achieved greatness that has yet to be matched. His stories are funny, fascinating and charming. And I loved every minute of this wonderful book. Even if you know nothing about the world of ballet, you will enjoy I Was a Dancer.
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I have worked as a volunteer for National Dance Institute in the past and have always loved the work that Jacques and NDI do with the children. To read of his dance journey in his words is a treat. Makes me smile the same way Jacques does...well done. What a beautiful dance filled life this dear man enjoys!!
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Format: Hardcover
Jacques d'Amboise has been instrumental in bringing ballet into popular culture: first as a dancer with the New York City Ballet and later in his career as a teacher and founder of the National Dance Institute. His institute brings ballet to inner-city children. D'Amboise was one of the first high culture performers to use television to reach a wider audience. D'Amboise's philosophy is: "Fill your trunk with the best that is available from the wealth and variety of human culture. Those treasures will nourish you and your children." Anyone who is lucky enough to see the filmed version of //Afternoon of a Faun// and d'Amboise's incredible lifts of Tanny LeClerq feels wealthy indeed.

This is a very readable and well written book which follows d'Amboise from the rough neighborhood in New York to his rise to worldwide prominence. Of course, there are many stories of his work and friendship with George Balanchine, his stalled, but ultimately successful courting of his ballet dancer wife, Carrie, and his world travels. The photographs throughout the pages bring immediacy to the narrative. For the most part, everyone comes off pretty well in his recollections. The hard work of ballet and the intense lifestyle makes for an interesting inside look at this world. For anyone interested in dance or a Horatio Alger story of luck, talent and perseverance, this is a great and interesting life story.

Reviewed by Julia McMichael
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