Daniel Lewis: A Life in Choreography
and the Art of Dance
Donna H. Krasnow and Daniel E. Lewis.
McFarland and Company, Inc., 2020. 239 pages; $39.95
Internationally renowned dancer, teacher, choreographer,
mentor, benefactor, and author Daniel (Danny) Lewis
declares that “luck” embraces his life’s story. Could it also
have been luck during the summer of 1980 when Donna
Krasnow took her first dance class with Lewis and now,
forty years later, Krasnow—a distinguished dancer, teacher,
choreographer, researcher, and author—would collaborate
with Lewis in writing his biography entitled, Daniel Lewis:
A Life in Choreography and the Art of Dance?
If “luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity,”
according to Roman philosopher Seneca, then the
reader is indeed lucky to have Krasnow as the coauthor of
this book. With direct knowledge of the ways in which Lewis’
life has embodied every bit of the discipline, Krasnow was
clearly the person to present this legacy-based biography.
Lewis and Krasnow create a compelling narrative including
his years at the Juilliard School, dancing with the José Limón
Dance Company, staging Limón’s masterpieces around the
world, directing his own company, and serving as Dean of
Dance at New World School of the Arts.
The book includes Lewis’ experience as a producer of
conferences and festivals. “He just always knew how to figure
out what was needed to make something happen and how to
make people feel comfortable in these large settings,” recalls
Teri Weksler—a member of Lewis’ company (106). Not only
did he host outstanding events with thousands of participants,
he threw elaborate parties and offered concerts and
galas. All the while—speaking firsthand as a colleague of
Danny’s at New World School of the Arts—he remained
calm and composed. His motto was “it’s going to be fine.”
One festival with 1,750 guests gave downtown Miami 1.8
million USD in revenue through hospitality sales; Lewis was
able to get entire communities involved in his endeavors.
Rare photographs and interviews by some of the top
artists in dance are included; they reveal Lewis’ impact felt
across the world of dance. “Danny helped all the people
with whom he came into contact” (112) proclaims Matthew
Diamond—a member of Lewis’ company. “His belief in the
ability to make a dream happen was obvious” (49) says
Alice Condodina—former Limón principal dancer. He was
the inspiration behind the foundation of companies as
iconic as Houlihan & Dancers, Battleworks Dance
Company, and Dance St. Louis. Laura Glenn, former
Limón company member, notes that Lewis is widely recognized
as “a great caregiver” (49) and also a creative force in
the José Limón Dance Company. Former student of Lewis’
and Executive Artistic Director of the Thomas Armor
Youth Ballet, Ruth Wiesen remembers Lewis as “enthusiastic
about each and every student” (181). Lewis helped
students “move from classroom to the stage” (183) recalls
Michael Uthoff—former Limón company member. “It was
Danny’s guidance that led me to focus and dedicate myself
to American contemporary dance for the past fifty years”
(122) notes Jim May—founder of the Sokolow Theater/
Dance Ensemble. He “had the puppet strings—in the best
way . . . he was an operator making things happen” (178)—
qualities that Robert Battle jokingly confessed had motivated
him to become the Artistic Director of the Alvin
Ailey American Dance Theater.
The segments of the book are beautifully dovetailed
together—so much so that it was hard to put the book
down. It combines historical references, artistic insights,
and storytelling; it is bound together with Lewis’ witty sense
of humor. It is valuable for educators and students, alike.
Teachers will grasp the value of mentorship. “They (students)
are the ones who are going to matter tomorrow.
And, we (teachers) learn so much from them” (33) noted
Lewis’ mentor, José Limón. The book is an inspiring example
for students to recognize that one achievement scaffolds
the next. Like Lewis, students may very well find that “luck”
could drive their life’s stories, too.
Danny’s luck has clearly resulted from true commitment,
and this book is a testimony to it. Please celebrate
Daniel Lewis by enjoying this captivating biography that
looks at the many roles he has played in the dance world.
Cynthia DuFault, MFA
© 2020 National Dance Education Organization