Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Tobi Tobias (GSAS '62): Renowned Dance Critic, Pulitzer Nominee--and she Blogs!

tobitobias.jpegTobi Tobias is a well-known critic and blogger known nationally and internationally for her writing on dance. She was New York magazine's dance critic for twenty-two years, wrote for Dance magazine for nearly a decade, and has regularly published reviews with Bloomberg News and the Village Voice.

Most recently, Tobi was recognized as a finalist for the 2012 Pulitzer Prize in Criticism for her blog titled, Seeing Things, published by ArtsJournal. Tobi's work, according to Pulitzer, "reveals passion as well as deep historical knowledge of dance, her well-expressed arguments coming from the heart as well as the head."

We had the absolute pleasure of speaking with Tobi about her career in criticism and her experience in breaking "the blogger barrier."  

Can you talk about what elements of your education or career eventually led you into dance criticism?

As a pre-adolescent I saw a small black and white photograph in Life magazine. It showed a woman in an extraordinary pose--strange and beautiful. I showed it to my mother as she stood at the stove preparing dinner and asked, "What's that?"

My mother gave the picture a quick glance and said, "That's ballet."

"What's ballet?" I asked, but my mother had already turned her attention back to housewifery. Inevitably, though, one thing led to another. The woman, by the way, was Diana Adams, one of George Balanchine's muses. I should add that I had been a writer from grade school on.  

You were recently one of three finalists up for the 2012 Pulitzer Prize in Criticism for posts on your Seeing Things blog hosted by ArtsJournal. In another article published on ArtsJournal, you were described as having “broken the blogger barrier.” How did your career in criticism transition into the blog-sphere, and how is Pulitzer’s recognition of your blog ground-breaking?

My career in print publication was cut off because of the disastrous state of the economy. I was fortunate that Doug McLennan then invited me to write for ArtsJournal. The Pulitzer recognition will strengthen the public's belief that serious dance writing is being done on the Internet.  

How does writing criticism on a blog format differ from writing for print? Does it require a change in writing style, process or approach?

Blog format offers the writer an immense freedom, an occasion to, if you will, find one's voice. In most cases it does not offer editorial services at any level, technical assistance (for which I am grateful to my husband), a wide audience, or financial compensation. My work at ArtsJournal has expanded to the point where I feel that I'm running a small magazine, now with three departments: The title is SEEING THINGS, which comprises in-depth dance reviews; 150-words, tops, pieces called GLIMPSES; and PERSONAL INDULGENCES, an ongoing series of personal essays on non-dance topics. I hope to write enough of these, eventually, to constitute a book.  

What was your experience like at NYU—are there any memories in particular that have stuck with you?

I can't really say it was an experience. It took me three years to acquire a Master's degree that should have been earned in one. During that time I brought two children into the world and undertook the job of hand-raising them. I went to class and did the studying and paper-writing at home. I had a couple of terrific professors--Richard Poirier and a gentleman who was not convinced I was A+ material (a useful corrective). I remain grateful to the Woodrow Wilson Foundation for supporting part of my NYU studies.  

When we spoke on the phone, you mentioned when you conduct an interview, you love to ask about favorite travel destinations. I’d like to turn the table and ask you that question—if you could travel to any part of the world, where would it be and why?

Paris and Copenhagen, familiar destinations, where I can exercise my French and my Danish in addition to being in these cities' well-known delights; Japan, where I've never been, though its art and literature amaze me.

Do you have anything you’d like to add about your career, NYU, or anything else?

I never really think of my writing as a career. It's simply what I do. In addition to the dance writing, I've published some two dozen books for children.  

Be sure to subscribe to Tobi's blog, Seeing Things, published by ArtsJournal.

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