I just finished reading Every Step You Take, the new memoir by former New York City Ballet principal dancer Jock Soto, which goes on sale to the public on October 4th. Throughout the 90s, Jock was one of my favorite dancers to watch on stage at NYCB, and his partnership with Heather Watts – and later with Wendy Whelan – was spectacular. So I’ve enjoyed reading the “back story” in Soto’s new memoir, which ties together his childhood growing up on a Navajo reservation in Arizona (he is half Navajo, half Puerto Rican), his early years scraping by in New York City, and his personal and professional relationships that shaped and influenced his career as a dancer.
For dancers and dance fans, the book offers insights into the creative process and struggles he faced as a dancer, including bad reviews from critics, injuries, being a perfectionist, or difficulty in the rehearsal process. For non-dancers, Soto reveals many personal challenges: being the gay son of a macho father, choosing to leave the reservation (and his entire family) to try and make it in New York, and how he grappled with retirement from performing at age 40, in 2005, and thought about life after NYCB. In addition to photos from his professional and personal life, each chapter of the memoir includes a related recipe that marked a pivotal moment in Soto’s story (he is passionate about food, and co-authored a cookbook with NYCB dancer Heather Watts in 1998). The recipes cover a lot of territory and reflect his surroundings, growth, and the people that impacted his life: the first is for “Mama Jo’s pork chops” with poblano peppers (Soto’s mother was a powerful influence in his life, and not just because of her cooking), later is the “accidental adolescent’s grown-up version of Hamburger Helper”, and later, a bagel and caviar sandwich inspired by George Balanchine’s favorite – an English muffin with lots of sweet butter and black caviar.
Soto’s writing is honest, straightforward, and full of reflection and contemplation. Coming to terms with his upbringing, his escape from his childhood to pursue his career, and his professional life after performing, Soto clearly has embraced his many identities. He writes, “I can now say with complete confidence that I am one very happy, very lucky Navarican-Puertojo-desert-born-New-York-bred-gay-recently-engaged-part-time-cook-fledgling-choreographer-proud-first-time-home-owner-recently-published-author-retired-dancer-ballet-teacher.”
Every Step You Take, by Jock Soto, goes on sale October 4th.