One More Time
Book Review of Jock Soto’s Autobiography “Every Step You Take”
by Dean Speer
I’ve long been convinced – and have become increasingly so – that we have an obligation to record and preserve our histories, particularly our personal stories. Not only from my own experience but from colleagues and friends, I often hear comments like, “If only I could talk to so-and-so again” or “I wish I knew more about my family history.”
This is all the more true for those who are not only observers of history but who are also participants in its making. So when any kind of autobiography shows up about dancers, we eager and hungry readers eat them up.
Such is the case with the recent release of Jock Soto’s autobiography, “Every Step You Take,” which I enjoyed over the Christmas Holidays. A retired principal dancer with the New York City Ballet, Soto works to balance telling us his professional story – its hard work , victories, and challenges – with that of growing up Navajo and Puerto Rican and discovering too that he was a gay man.
My own bias runs toward wanting more stories and information about his years with NYCB and perhaps less about his personal life, but I can see too that he believes his personal “jacket” is an important part of his identity and persona.
One part of Soto’s life has centered around food and the culinary experience, so it seems appropriate that he includes recipes and short one- or two-page stories about each one – from the family’s fry bread to yummy inventions he’s created with his partner, Luis, who is a professional chef and sommelier in his own right.
His recollections of the famous such as Balanchine and Robbins are miniature treasures as are his recounting of his partnerships with many ballerinas such as Lourdes Lopez and Heather Watts. I loved his telling of how when he was first working with Watts, being young, inexperienced and nervous, how he accidently dropped/let go of her and her sharp retort being, “Don’t you ever drop a ballerina!” and how they went on to form a long collaborative partnership and friendship that ended only with her retirement – and how he learned to be a better partner technically.
Since his own retirement from performing in 2005, he focuses on teaching and is on the faculty of the School of American Ballet where he confesses to especially liking teaching pas de deux class. As a teacher myself, I would have liked some more stories or insights and maybe an additional “ah-ha” into performing beyond the few where he wonderfully describes how it was when everything worked and came together.
Nevertheless, for the general reader, Soto’s voice has about the right balance and is a good, fairly quick read that will appeal to ballet-goers who are familiar with his career and to those who want to know more about recent history at what has become one of the world’s biggest and best ballet companies.