The dance historian and critic Sally Banes died on June 14th. The last time I saw her was several years ago in front of the Joyce Theater. She was in a wheelchair, smiling at me and speaking in a gentle voice, after her husband, philosopher Noël Carroll, had discreetly mentioned my name to her. I reminded her that the necklace I was wearing had been made by her mother; she told me politely that it was becoming.
The Sally who didn’t recognize me was no longer the brash, quick-talking, brilliant, no-nonsense scholar, writer, colleague, and friend whom I had once taught, worked with, and learned from. In 2002, while teaching at the University of Wisconsin – Madison, she had suffered a massive stroke, which left her, in Wikipedia’s grim words, “cognitively and physically severely handicapped.” With Noël’s help, she struggled on, before that became impossible for her.
In the 1980s, when Banes was working on earning a PhD at New York University’s Department of Performance Studies, she took one of the courses that I taught there. Her dissertation was published in 1983 as Democracy’s Body: Judson Dance Theater, 1962-1964. That was just one of the books that she produced over her lifetime, prominent among them Terpsichore in Sneakers: Post-Modern Dance (1980) Writing Dancing in the Age of Postmodernism (1994), and Dancing Women: Female Bodies Onstage (1998). She also edited Dance Research Journal from 1982 to 1988.
Together she and I taught the newly established dance history course at NYU-Tisch School of the Arts on Second Avenue, splitting the graduate students from the undergraduates and boning up on the subject ourselves as we did so. I have a vivid memory of hurrying into the university’s Bobst Library as Sally was exiting it. “I just discovered that the ‘Ballet Comique de la Reine’ was never actually performed,” she called out, barely stopping her trajectory. “No, wait!” I yelled back, telling her that I had fortunately just come across a full account of the 1581 landmark and its audience. Then we raced away in opposite directions.
During the years when Sally taught at Wesleyan University and then at Cornell, she and I conducted workshops for dance writers in London at the Dance Umbrella and in Lee, Massachusetts at Jacob’s Pillow. We travelled, shared stories, worried about our methods and our students. It’s at Jacob’s Pillow, perhaps in 1988, that the photo below was taken. How young we looked. How little we knew what lay ahead.