Tobi Tobias passed away on February 13th after a long illness. She leaves her husband Irwin, her children, John and Anne, and four grandchildren. Those are bleak words, unlike any that usually come to mind when I think of Tobi and the wonderful, illuminating dance criticism she wrote for decades. I’ve just been re-reading with delight some of the pieces she posted on her artsjournal.com blog between 2002 and the end of October of 2013. Like many dance writers, she came into prominence when the field began to flourish, not long after President Lyndon Johnson established the National Endowment for the Arts in 1965, and choreographers received government funding for the first time. When it turned out that dance merited—needed— enlightened criticism, the NEA helped make it possible for dance critics from all over the United States (and some from abroad) to attend summer workshops, either in the east or on the west coast. Tobi was in on the founding of the Dance Critics Association and vital among those laboring to obtain funding and plan its annual conferences. Who knew that we critics—often paid skimpily or not at all—could form a fellowship?
And she wrote and wrote and wrote. New York Magazine published her reviews for over twenty years. She wrote for Dance Magazine and edited its criticism for almost ten years. She contributed reviews to Bloomberg News and the Village Voice before she began writing for Arts Journal.She wrote wonderfully well about fashion, although only when I became a mother did I realize that while Tobi was raising her offspring, she was writing dozens of children’s books. She gifted my son Toby with a bunch of them.
Her Arts Journal blog also featured what she called her “Personal Indulgences.” Re-reading the witty one she called “Pick-Up Danish,” I marvel all over again that New Yorker Tobi Tobias—who had travelled to Denmark for the Royal Danish Ballet’s 1979 Bournonville Festival—revisited Copenhagen many times, compiling an oral history of the technique and training that lay behind August Bournonville’s 19th-century ballets, learning quite a lot of Danish, and receiving a knighthood from Denmark’s Queen Margrete II.
That means, perhaps, that I should long ago have saluted her on bended knee. I do so now for other reasons: her support, her comradeship, her writing.