1910 saw George V ascend to the throne, the trial and execution of Dr Crippen, the publication of E M Forster’s Howard’s End and the birth of Alice Marks, later Alicia Markova, the country’s first prima ballerina. 1910 was also the year that Phillip J S Richardson founded Dancing Times – it was the first independent magazine devoted solely to dance.
The magazine soldiered on through two World Wars and the current Covid crisis, regularly giving its readership the latest in dance news. Remarkably, in 110 years it has only had four editors: Philip J S Richardson (1910–1958); Arthur H Franks (1958–1963); that doyenne of dance journalism Mary Clarke who led an all-female team through most of her tenure (1963–2008); and the current editor Jonathan Gray (from 2008).
Clement Crisp, a leading light of dance criticism for more than half a century and author of many respected books on dance – many with Mary Clarke – says,
The importance of Dancing Times is that it has always reflected in the most immediate terms what is happening in dance in the UK, and has been guided by intelligent and devoted people. What it does is provide a snapshot of the events of the time; it does not lie, it does not take sides, but simply reports on what ballet, social and exhibition dance is doing.
Since 1910 it has painted an extraordinary portrait of the UK as a country of dancers, from the founding of the national companies to the integral role of social dancing. Its value is essentially a mirror held up to our world; it tells the truth, so if you want to know what has happened, Dancing Times tells you and is, thereby, of extraordinary importance and value to current and future generations.
I am honoured to be a regular contributor to the magazine, and find Crisp’s comments to have fundamental importance: “It tells the truth…”, “It does not take sides…”. In a milieu where prima-donnas and obsessive fans can be found, there is great value in remaining neutral over subjective matters such as personalities and dance styles. However, the magazine has never held back from commenting on sensitive subjects, so has included features on female choreographers, gay men in ballet and recently a year-long series on dance in South America.
Ballet Black’s founder and Artistic Director Cassa Pancho says,
I have been reading Dancing Times since I was a child. Then, it was to learn about my favourite dancers and see photographs of companies from around the world. As an adult and the artistic director of my own company, I have come to appreciate how Dancing Times does not shy away from discussing the difficult issues we face in our industry.
Historically, the dance world has not been good at talking openly about its problems. With the support of publications like Dancing Times, we are able to examine and discuss uncomfortable subjects, as well as celebrate everything that makes the dance world incredible.
From the beginning, the magazine covered all forms of dance and reported worldwide. Its covers have included Anna Pavlova, Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, Margot Fonteyn, Carlos Acosta, Darcey Bussell, Dance Theatre of Harlem and the recent Black Dancers Matter cover with Birmingham Royal Ballet principal dancer Brandon Lawrence.
The 110th anniversary October issue, which is out now, features a tribute to Philip Richardson, a look at how Miami City Ballet has reimagined its upcoming season, photographer Chris Nash choosing contemporary dance images from his new book Alston Nash, and an interview with Strictly Come Dancing siblings Kevin and Joanne Clifton. In these strange times, it even has an article about dancers talking about their gardens and allotments during lockdown.
The magazine opens with quotes from supporters including Royal Ballet dancer and teacher Gary Avis; dance critic Clement Crisp; magazine subscriber Judy Kleeman; former director of the Royal Ballet, Dame Monica Mason; director and choreographer Drew McOnie; dance critic Barbara Newman; founder and artistic director of Ballet Black Cassa Pancho; director of English National Ballet Tamara Rojo; and artistic director of Elmhurst Ballet School, Robert Parker.
Current editor, Jonathan Gray, says,
Dancing Times is a magazine of record and I’m incredibly proud it has reached its 110th year. In 2020 it’s imperative we reflect on everything that is happening; diversity and difference are, rightly, to the fore and we cannot and must not ignore that. The magazine has to have curiosity and report on new areas of dance. These past months have made me realise how much culture matters to our country. I’m confident that whatever dance looks like in the future, Dancing Times will be here to observe and report on it.
I’m raising a glass.