Freelance writer – creative – media-maker
1st ed., USA $24.99, 271 pp.
Publisher: HarperCollins, NY, 2011
Every Step You Take: A Memoir by Jock Soto is a book soon to find its way on to many a bookshelf. In it, Soto recounts his childhood, life as a student dancer, his career with the New York City Ballet and his rise through the ranks, retirement from the ballet profession and his post-retirement lifestyle.Unlike many other dancer memoirs, this book is less about the making of a star dancer than it is a kind of life review; Soto has paused to consider aspects of his life not previously acknowledged and to journey back through his family history.
Memories of Soto’s mother, who was diagnosed with cancer and passed away in 2008, permeate this book. Collectively, they provide it with a sort of ‘living past’ – Soto’s palpable grief and reverence of Mama Jo’s memory, though very much in the present, act as a natural gateway to reflections on his past as he relates his very first memory of dancing on the reserve with her in his childhood. Whilst at times, the memoir threatens to become more about Mama Jo than about Soto, I personally found these passages moving and thoroughly enriching to the whole.
Other aspects of Soto’s life treated in the book include his complicated relationship with his father, his mother’s Navajo family and his numerous romantic relationships. Raw and honest, even occasionally unflattering, Soto’s account of his life is in many ways nonetheless a classic rags-to-riches story (I use the word ‘riches’ in its broadest sense) about a talented dancer overcoming great personal, cultural and financial hurdles to achieve success. From amongst the chaos, dance consistently emerges as one of the least complicated aspects of Soto’s life, providing him the stability and purpose at times lacking in other areas of his life.
The flip side of this focus on the intensely personal, however, is that there is rather little about the everyday struggles of becoming a dancer; though we learn of Soto’s insecurities about his looks and physique, there is little about the difficulties of mastering technique, the teaching styles of his mentors, the discipline of the classroom, the mantras that kept him going when it all seemed too hard – in short, the sorts of aspects of Soto’s life that might appeal to young and aspiring dancers eager to see reflections of themselves in Soto’s memoir.
An engaging feature of the book is its many recipes. These are included at the end of each chapter and are connected with either a particular anecdote or theme contained within it. I have yet to try the recipes out, but some of them look quite appetising and it is only a matter of time. My particular favourite at the moment is the tiramisu, included thanks to a hilarious story involving a tiramisu filled with gorgonzola (a smelly blue cheese) instead of marscapone. The recipes reflect the growing importance of food in Soto’s life since his retirement, a facet augmented his post-retirement culinary studies and his long-term relationship with sommelier Luis Fuentes, who shares this passion.
Every Step You Take is a highly readable, personal take on a remarkable life. I recommend it not only to aspiring dancers and artists, but also to the general reader for whom Soto’s memoir will prove both relatable and inspiring.
Biography of Jock Soto (from the book cover):
“Jock Soto joined the New York City Ballet in 1981. He was promoted to soloist in 1984 and to principal dancer in 1985. He has danced featured roles in countless ballets, many of which were created specifically for him. He has been a permanent member of the faculty at the School of American Ballet since 1996, and in 2007 he was the subject of the critically acclaimed documentary Water Flowing Together. He lives in New York City with his partner, Luis Fuentes, a sommelier.”