This blog is intended to be about writers over 50, but I’m already diverging. When I asked Vicky if I could write about an amazing dancer over 50, she reminded me that the essay, “When Last on the Mountain,” from which we took the name of our anthology, ends with, “One day I will write my last downhill run, not on snow, but on paper. Not today. No. I dance, stop, dance, stop, dance, dance, dance down the mountain.”
So Lenore Latimer, a marvelous dancer, choreographer, and teacher, is my subject today. She is also an aunt of one of my daughters-in-law, but we might not have bonded as we did on a rainy New York street corner, if I had not discovered at that moment that she had danced with the José Limón company. I said, “Doris Humphrey,” and we became friends.
During my research for Clues to American Dance, I had the opportunity to watch Doris Humphrey’s dance concepts of fall and recovery being taught. I fell in love with the excitement of that method immediately. Although Humphrey and Martha Graham had been classmates, Graham had the greater sense of publicity and promotion, and Limón’s is the only major company based on the Humphrey concepts.
Talking with Lenore this week was like taking a walk through dance history. She had been sent to dancing school when she was 7 years old because she was pigeon-toed. “I’ve followed pigeons, and they don’t walk that way,” she said. After five years, Lenore’s teacher told her she’d never be a dancer, that she didn’t have the body for dance. Absolutely crushed, she cried and cried. When her younger sister was sent to another dance teacher, Lenore was to accompany her to and from classes. That teacher had been taught by Mary Wigman, the German dancer who is considered the pioneer of expressionist dance, and Lenore found herself arriving earlier and staying later, and finally asked if she could begin classes again.
She has not stopped dancing since. She majored in dance at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. During her second year there, she saw the Limón company on tour, and called her father to say that she wanted to transfer to Juilliard, where Limón taught. She didn’t know that she couldn’t “transfer,” or that she would have to audition to be accepted at Juilliard; she packed up and moved to New York.
She was admitted. She spent four years at Juilliard, studying choreography with Doris Humphrey, and with Louis Horst, one of the first to create choreography as a distinct discipline; dance with Limón, of course, and two years of ballet with Antony Tudor, the great English choreographer. “I should have taken ballet earlier. He tore me to shreds. I left every class bloody and raw. But,” she added, characteristically, “he was always happy to sit next to me at lunch.”
Limón invited Lenore to join his company as soon as she graduated, and she toured with him from 1959-69. In 1960, the State Department sponsored their tour of every country in South America and, in 1963, a tour of the Far East. She also danced in Anna Sokolow’s company, with the American Dance Theater at Lincoln Center, and many others. In 1979, she formed her own company, Latitudes.
“But in 1983, two of my male dancers and two of my male lighting people died. That was a horrible year. It seemed that every time the phone rang, I heard that someone else had died of AIDS. So I closed the company.”
Over her career, Lenore has choreographed 27 dances. She has taught dance for 50 years. Since 1979, she has been teaching and choreographing at Bard College, where I’ve been fortunate enough to see two of her dances, both amazingly creative and filled with energy and humor.Told at the age of seven that she’d never be a dancer, Lenore has been dancing up and down the mountain for over 70 years.