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New Twist in the New York Mag Issue

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A new -- and, to me, disturbing -- twist in the case of New York Magazine dumping its dance column -- whoops, no, now that's not what they did, no no, they meant to say they dumped Tobias.

Here's a press release from DanceNY, a representative of which met with NYMag editor Caroline Miller:

Ellen Jacobs (a member of the Dance/NYC Advisory Committee) and I met with Caroline Miller, Editor-in-Chief of New York Magazine this morning to discuss and clarify our concerns regarding the future of dance criticism in the magazine.  The conversation was invigorating, and her perception and sensitivity were stimulating. I am extremely pleased to report that Ms. Miller affirmed her own appreciation of dance and the magazine's commitment to continuing an ongoing page of dance criticism - but with "a new voice."  The future looks bright.  Ms. Miller has asked me to pass along the following statement:

I've been moved by the thoughtful and passionate letters I've gotten from many of you in the last couple of weeks about dance and the importance of New York magazine's role in covering it. I've answered as many as I could, and had an interesting dialogue with quite a few members of the dance community. This morning I met with Ellen Jacobs and Bob Yesselman to clarify our intentions. Here's what I told them, as I've told others I've corresponded with: I made the decision not to renew Tobi Tobias's contract because I felt the column didn't appeal to enough of New York magazine's readers. What we need to do is find new ways to bring the dance scene alive in the pages of the magazine, not only the established companies but new choreographers and dancers and companies. And we need a new critical voice that can speak to a broader audience. Until we find that person, we'll be covering the bases with Fall Preview (in fact we've had more dance in Fall Preview in the last two years, not less), Cue previews and listings, and upcoming features (including pieces on Sasha Waltz and Mark Morris). We haven't abandoned our commitment to serious culture; on the contrary, what we're doing is trying to change our approach to respond to the reality that we seemed to be speaking only to insiders and dance veterans, and not a broader audience. That is, after all, what we are all looking to do.  (Underlining is my own).


We are delighted with this result and hope it can serve as a model for our field to come together as a community, and to take effective joint action to address issues of common concern.  We send our thanks to our colleagues and friends at other service organizations and other art forms for their instant willingness to support dance.  A final thanks to Advisory Committee member Ellen Jacobs, who mined her wisdom and her contacts to help guide us in these efforts.



Robert Yesselman

Director, Dance/NYC

c/o The JEHT Foundatiom

120 Wooster Street, 2nd floor

New York, NY 10012

(p) 212-966-1638

(f)  212-966-9606

(e): info@dancenyc.org

(w):  www.dancenyc.org

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I have to admit, I was rather disturbed with Dance/NYC's take on this. I'm certainly not sure why this result should be held up as a model for advocacy, and I wrote to them as follows:

Dear Ms. Kite and Mr. Yesselman:

I'm really a bit disturbed by the tone of this letter.  I've read it a few times and can't quite fathom how anything that transpired can be interpreted as a bright future or a victory.

Ms. Miller now states she fired Ms. Tobias for editorial reasons.  Once upon a time it was for budgetary reasons, but it seems editorial reasons are more defensible.  So editorial reasons it now is?

I'm sure the concept of new voices and broader coverage appealed to Dance/NYC, but the reality stands that what Tobias covered was determined as much by the venue as the performance itself, or her own choices.  She had slowly dwindling column space in a general interest publication. Coverage was going to be major venues only, Lincoln Center, City Center, BAM and the Joyce as a cutoff.  And any successor to her is going to have to cover the same beat. Do you really think a general interest publication will be devoting what little column space they have to venues smaller than 400 seats or performances attended by 150 people?

Tobias may have been negative, but did NY Magazine fire John Simon?  I am not defending her tone, but I will defend her knowledge.  Is this unnamed successor slouching towards New York Magazine for the Second Coming (the promise of a successor seems only slightly less certain) going to have Tobias' expertise on ballet (and for that matter on modern dance)? Whatever you think of them, NYCB and ABT are the biggest shows in town for dance, and whoever covers dance in NYC has to know ballet, and even care about it.

I'm sure Ms. Miller is not a villain, and that she is acting in good faith, attempting also to keep the interests of her readership paramount.  She also has a right to make editorial decisions as she sees fit.  But I am very disappointed you took a canned statement, with no tangible promises any different than the constantly mutating emails she has sent out in response to the mounting protests and called it a victory.  There was no victory, unless the only victory you are looking for is simply increased visibility for your own organization.  Surely that is not the truth?

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Well I think it's good and bad. Yes, I like Tobi Tobias and I think it's a loss they can't realize what a gem they have, but somebody else will.

But at least it seems they will hire someone else, eventually.

It sounds as though they didn't want tell Tobias the truth in that they didn't want her anymore, which is poor business and to those that follow her column, upsetting.

But I'll give them the benefit of the doubt that will hire someone with half a brain and hope that Tobias finds room to print her voice elsewhere.

And if the person doesn't have half a brain, then just start the letters again, they did seem to have some effect.

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If Miller is truly searching for a "new voice" to review dance, that is indeed better news than dropping dance reviews altogether. But not much better. Given the ever-changing nature of Miller's comments, she's clearly decided that presenting the reason for Tobias' firing as editorial displeasure with Tobias' writing, rather than as a decision to ditch dance reviews. Of course saying "We love dance, it's Tobias who had to go!" is more palatable than saying "In these tough economic times we don't have the space or money for dance reviews," as she did originally. Certainly this spin is much more clever, as many in the dance community who took umbrage at Miller's original dissing of dance in general might eagerly welcome (as we've just seen) the her oblique promise of a new reviewer who might be less inclined to savage their particular offerings.

Is Miller now saying that she magically found a spot for dance reviews in the magazine's budget, a spot she'd somehow overlooked back when she was talking about painful economic necessities? Is this "reversal," if a reversal it be, a victory for anyone who loves dance? I think not.

If Miller really meant to replace Tobias, she'd have the replacement chosen and in print by now. Miller is clearly changing the spin on what's proven to be a poorly conceived and received decision on her part. The hue and cry may even have convinced her to start this search, and perhaps, one day, we'll see a dance review or two in New York magazine again (let me get my resume in the mail right away!). But it's extremely doubtful that these reviews will have even a fraction of Tobias' authority, discernment and morality (unless, of course, Miller hires me [note to presenters -- I CAN be bought!]).

Some says it's just not possible to be too cynical, is it?

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From the DanceNY press release

The conversation was invigorating, and her perception and sensitivity were stimulating. I am extremely pleased to report that Ms. Miller affirmed her own appreciation of dance and the magazine's commitment to continuing an ongoing page of dance criticism - but with "a new voice." The future looks bright.  

Or, alternatively: Caroline Miller patted us on the head and told us to be good and we agreed.

We are delighted with this result and hope it can serve as a model for our field to come together as a community, and to take effective joint action to address issues of common concern

Or, alternatively: We were so pleased to get a meeting with Caroline Miller that we will join her in any canard she wishes to throw out.

From the Caroline Miller statement:

And we need a new critical voice that can speak to a broader audience. Until we find that person, we'll be covering the bases with Fall Preview (in fact we've had more dance in Fall Preview in the last two years, not less), Cue previews and listings, and upcoming features (including pieces on Sasha Waltz and Mark Morris).  

Or, alternatively: We will run listings of upcoming dance events if they are sent to us and if space is available. If George Balanchine comes back from the grave to restage “Midsummer Night’s Dream” we will cover it and may even find space for a review.

Caroline Miller may be a fine editor but she should leave the spinning of unpopular choices to those who do it every day. Lots of magazines are cutting back. They must since they are selling fewer ad pages and possibly getting less revenue per page. It is one of the things that happen in a recession.

Arts coverage is marginal in many publications. When pages in a magazine have to be sacrificed dance, opera and serious music may be the first to go.

Manhattnik wrote:

Some says it's just not possible to be too cynical, is it?


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I'm absolutely appalled by this. First off, it sounds as though an organization has hijacked an issue for its own purposes -- and done very nicely. Oh, how important they are, suddenly. This is a group whose major constituency are the downtown dance people, who are always upset that they don't get much coverage (a very just cause!) but New York Mag, as a mainstream publication, will never cover them, any more than it will cover church basement theater or concerts. Tobias wasn't ignoring them; it's not the magazine's turf.

It is absolutely not credible that they intended to replace Tobias all along, that they thought there was a problem with her writing, or anything of the sort. If that had been the case, they would have said so at the outset, in Form Responses #1-3. I've known four other people who've lost their dance beats -- all older peoplel not coincidentally. One was told to his face that his writing had deteriorated (a blatant lie). One was told that there was nothing wrong with his writing but he'd been writing for the paper so long that they simply wanted a new voice. One was told the paper was changing its coverage from serious reviews to reviews with a more gossipy slant, and she'd be welcome to stay on if she could do that, and do features and interviews as well. And one was simply told the paper didn't want him any more. No explanation at all.

It's much more likely that Miller was desperate to find a way out of this and did. But it's not even a cousin of a victory. And, sometime next year, when Little Miss Jennifer Isawmyfirstballetlastyearandlikewow! breezes on, if that happens, I hope you'll all write again.

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and out of touch NYMag is to think that broadening (read "dumbing down") their approach to dance is the way to go.

Reminds me of Pauline Kael's remarks about modern audiences' penchant for "settling" for what's placed in front of them. With mediocrity becoming the norm (Think of the 3 Tenors receiving standing o's in megastadiums for barely average performances)

this is no time to lower the standards of our critics.

And if we're talking bottom line: for every dollar tourists spend on the NYC art scene other businesses (Hotels, restaurants, uh...magazines?) take in six more dollars.

Why do the hordes come to Lincoln Center? To see the best. How do they know it's the best? Because somebody (critics) told them. Who helps keep it the best? The critics, by demanding quality, pointing out bad choices and sloppy work, by holding AD's accountable. (See NYTimes/He's No Balanchine article)

I know this logic is much too convoluted for an editor counting inches and ads, whilst spinning like a top, but it's beyond frustrating to see one of the precious few serious regular dance columns reduced either in quantity or quality.

But then again...t'was ever thus...


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Miller must have fallen off her chair laughing after Jacobs and Yesselman had left the room. What a pair of self-aggrandizing brown-nosers, not to put too fine a point on it, willing to dance on Tobias' grave once they were promised a critic who will not only give them more coverage but will be less, um, critical.

Calliope wrote:

Yes, I like Tobi Tobias and I think it's a loss they can't realize what a gem they have, but somebody else will.

Uh-huh, general interest magazines are lining up to hire dance critics, as we all know. I'm sure Tobias is wading waist-high in offers.....

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Dirac, your sarcasm is bracing, like a good after-shave lotion...

(Bet no one ever said that to you before!)

Here in the Pacific (but not Peaceful) Northwest, our best dance critic, Martha Ullman West, is in a sort of semi-retirement, resulting in some of the most lazy, amatuerish and at best unknowledgable dance criticism I've ever read. In Portland's two papers it's mostly by theatre critics thrown the assignment by idiot editors. In Seattle, Mary Bayley has a good eye but a generous pen, resulting in reviews more than critiques.

Tobi T would be a welcome scourge.

With PNB, tours of ABT & RB, Kirov, the White Bird Series in Portland, a new AD at OBT, Eugene, Bodyvox, Conduit and lots of

modern and ethnic stuff, (plus trips down to SFB and up to Vancouver BC) Tobi could be kept very busy.

C'mon Tobes, take a chance!

(After years in NYC: Not bloody likely...)



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Ah, you recognized that great scent of Brut. :)

Watermill, in defense of your local critics, I think writers for dailies, especially regional dailies, are under more pressure to Think Positive, or, as George F. Babbitt of Zenith used to say, "It's Easy Enough to Criticize!" I agree it's unfortunate when papers have their theatre or music critics do double or triple duty as dance critics. It would be fine, of course, if they had some background in dance, but all too often they don't. A thriving dance scene such as you describe certainly deserves more.

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Just picked this up from a link that'd already been posted elsewhere on the board:


"Attitude With Altitude and Horsepower to Spare Trocks Transcendent"

by Elizabeth Zimmer August 21 - 27, 2002

It's a nice, entertaining Trockadero article but the last line is what got me. :)

"I was out of the country earlier this month when New York magazine saw fit to terminate the column of Tobi Tobias, a stellar dance critic whose writing has graced its pages since 1980. We will make room for her here."

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When all this first broke, I couldn't help wondering if Tobias' roasting of CERTAIN important NYC companies (no matter how accurate) somehow contributed to this firing. With the change in responses from Ms. Miller, she has just confirmed to me that this was probably the case. Certain important people may have put some pressure on Ms. Miller because they didn't like the acerbic reveiws? I don't like the smell of this.

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I'd like to gently point out that Bob Yesselman is a truly distinguished figure in dance administration (we can thank him for some great great years at Paul Taylor, among other things), and that Ellen Jacobs is the field's prima publicist (and herself an exceedingly discerning dance watcher). They serve and have served the field for decades of notable service. I sincerely doubt anyone ever fell off a chair laughing after dealing with either of them, never mind both, any more than people fall off chairs after meeting the Pope, or Madeleine Albright.

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I know the careers of both people involved (they have both been in the field a long time) but it still seems to me that the letter they sent out was either unfortunately worded or hideously cynical. Whatever one thinks of Tobias, this was her fight first. To step to the forefront of it as Dance/NYC did and then completely ignore her interests, as they also did in that letter, is just not right. I think it merits an explanation on their part, and I hope they offer one.

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I think it stopped becoming Tobias' fight when people were just fighting for criticism to still be in NY Magazine's pages.

While I think it's terrible they should have to go about firing someone in that way, maybe they just want someone else to do the reviews. Tobias is one of my favorites, but sometimes people don't understand the references she peppers in her reviews, and maybe that's the audience they're trying to gear to.

If Tobias can find work writing in other places, then who are we to tell NY Magazine how to run their magazine?

I sympathize with Tobias, and it's a loss for NY Mag, but a gain for someone else.

I think the negativity towards "certain" companies... I think she's been fair in her reviews, sometimes she likes them, other times she doesn't.

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Please do not become distracted by Miller's FIFTH version of her standard response, when it suddenly occurred to her that it sounded better to say she was replacing Tobias rather than cutting dance reviews. If that had been the intention, that would have been the initial statement. It was not. It took two weeks for the position to evolve to the "replace" "new voice," etc.

Calliope, if the initial statement had been that New York wanted a new, peppy, lively, uninformed voice that wouldn't bother its readers with references that assume more than a 5th grade education, you're right. It wouldn't have been any of our business, and there wouldn't have been any public protest. That's not what happened here. They are cutting the dance reviews. Period. If they rethink this -- and we won't know until next year -- that's another issue to be dealt with then.

LMCTech, the issue you raised was raised early on -- check up near the top of this thread. I don't know of many people who now believe that outside pressure from dance companies had anything to do with this decision and, in fact, people connected with the companies that, shall we say, did not always receive positive reviews in New York magazine were just as upset as those who enjoyed those less than favorable reviews. I also think that whatever a company, choreographer, artist, thinks privately about a particular critic, they don't want to lose coverage. They're grown ups.

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Alexandra is right about the indifference of companies to the reviews they receive, whether good or bad. Most seem to subscribe to the ancient law of Public Relations, "Love me or hate me, but dammit, SPELL MY NAME RIGHT!"

Editors receiving protests from companies which receive negative reviews can take pride that they've broken through a major shell, and caused response from an unexpected quarter, and if any protests were launched from a company over a critic's writing, the editor should be able to go on at least a three-day kvell!

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