Dancer from the Dance

by Andrew Holleran

Paperback, 2019



Call number



Vintage (2019), 288 pages


One of the most important works of gay literature, this haunting, brilliant novel is a seriocomic remembrance of things past -- and still poignantly present. It depicts the adventures of Malone, a beautiful young man searching for love amid New York's emerging gay scene. From Manhattan's Everard Baths and after-hours discos to Fire Island's deserted parks and lavish orgies, Malone looks high and low for meaningful companionship. The person he finds is Sutherland, a campy quintessential queen -- and one of the most memorable literary creations of contemporary fiction. Hilarious, witty, and ultimately heartbreaking, Dancer from the Dance is truthful, provocative, outrageous fiction told in a voice as close to laughter as to tears.

User reviews

LibraryThing member jwhenderson
This is a beautifully-written novel about gay life in Manhattan in the decadent years. About the "pleasure-seekers, so bent on pleasure that they were driving right through Happiness" on their way to Fire Island as the season was ending. The story of Malone's descent is told with believable details
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and facets of the fabulous life--dancing and pretending that everything is brilliant and gay. With vivid imagery, lush language, and captivating depiction the gay men searching for love and acceptance in harsh, dreamlike urban landscape become as real as their life in the nineteen-seventies. The novel is notable for its literary quality and its fine portrayal of the party atmosphere of Fire Island, a summer community on Long Island.
The title of the novel is from the last line of William Butler Yeats's poem "Among School Children" which ends, "O chestnut-tree, great-rooted blossomer,/ Are you the leaf, the blossom or the bole?/ O body swayed to music, O brightening glance,/ How can we know the dancer from the dance?"
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LibraryThing member yooperprof
Remarkable how influential this novel was, how so much of its tone has shaped gay consciousness and discourse over the last two generations. It's set in the fast and furious sexual and social world of lower Manhattan and Fire Island in the 1970s. "Dancer" pre-dates the onslaught of AIDS/HIV, but
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even so, an elegaic atmosphere of memory and loss pervades its pages. Certainly the novel reflects the rampant coupling and promiscuity that was the rule in the post-1960s era of Gay Liberation. But in a larger sense, "Dancer from the Dance" is about the Education of Americans. It echoes early novels about initiation and enlightenment set in New York, most notably "The Great Gatsby." Like the Fitzgerald, "Dancer" is terribly disillusioning. In American culture, those who seek to go "over the rainbow" ultimately realize that Oz is an illusionary world of people wearing green-tinted glasses....
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LibraryThing member RobinReardon
Once upon a time, I didn’t know there was a genre called gay literature. Not being gay myself, perhaps this is understandable—but not forgivable. When I discovered this rich world, the first book I read was this one. It’s not likely that anyone who knows anything about gay lit hasn’t read
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this book, so I’ll just offer the ways in which it affected me rather than try to describe the book itself.

The Stonewall riots weren’t even a decade behind the timeframe of this story, and in the eyes of someone outside the gay community, this book depicts how people who had been cruelly restrained by persecution and societal shame began to express themselves explosively and unabashedly, even as they carried their past shame with them. Certainly, the main character, Malone, seems to struggle to express his true nature while wallowing in shame that was forced on him from external sources, and he carries both to extremes.

This book, along with the next books I read from this genre (by authors such as Edmund White and John Rechy), are the reason I didn’t go to see Brokeback Mountain. By the time that film came out, not only did I not need to be told what happens when people are forced to live lives that are against their natures, but also I was chomping at the bit for stories in which gay people had promising futures, stories in which their fortunes were not dictated by their sexual orientation alone, but by the entirety of who they are as people. And these are the stories I write. So to Holleran’s classic I owe the impetus for my own work in a genre I didn’t even know about before I read this book.
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LibraryThing member aulsmith
This is a truly amazing pre-AIDS novel suffused with suffering and death but full of hope, almost as if Holleran was preparing the community for the on-slaught waiting in its wings. He has a lot of say about what's superficial and what's important in life and ultimately how they're intertwined, not
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to mention distorted by drugs. I've read and heard first-hand accounts of circuit scene in New York in the 70s, and I thought Holleran added nuance and insight into a period that I think is a really important on in the history of sexual liberation.

Oh, and the writing is gorgeous.
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LibraryThing member lydia1879
I read this book for a 20th Century Queer project, where I am reading 100 books for 100 years, one for each year in the 20th century.

I adored this novel. Which, I realise now, at the end of lots of period-accurate racism and fetishisation, is a position of privilege. This project has taught me
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that although reading 100 books from 100 years of LGBTQ history seems like a great idea and a wonderful exploration of my ancestors, uh, a lot of the people published during that time were cis, white, able-bodied, gay and for the most part racist, transphobic, biphobic and ableist. And whether it's the characters or the author, it hurt then, and it hurts now.

(Hence why I am determined to read, purchase and support LGBTQ living authors as well, but this is a train of thought you're not here for, you're here for the review).

Behold, Dancer from the Dance by Andrew Holleran. Dancer from the Dance begins with two letters between friends. One, still living in New York City, is updating his friend on the drama, the gossip and the hook ups and break ups. On page 12, it reads:

"I am in fact so depressed that last night while Bob Cjaneovic was sitting on my face, I began to think how futile life is, no matter what you do - it all ends in Death, we are given such a short time, and everything truly is, as Ecclesiastes says, Vanity, Vanity, Vanity. Of course, that only made be burrow deeper, but still - to have the thought!"

And from page 12, I was hooked. So many readers these days are tired of New York City as a setting for a book, and that I understand, but listen. Holleran brings New York to life in this novel. Few authors have so artfully rendered New York as the hot and heaving beast of my memory.

This long, sprawling book goes on and on and on about men shirtless in the summer, sleeping in parks because it's too hot to sleep in their apartment. Fire hydrants spewing water out into the street, and soda cans cooling in fridges of bodegas.

There's something Proustian about Holleran's writing, which feels odd to say, but he writes in such a worshipful way, going over every detail again and again with such care and attention that you can really feel the craft of it all.

“The greatest drug of all, my dear, was not one of those pills in so many colours that you took over the years, was not the opium, the hash you smoked in houses at the beach, or the speed or smack you shot up in Sutherland's apartment, no, it wasn't any of these. It was the city, darling, it was the city, the city itself. And do you see why I had to leave? As Santayana said, dear, artists are unhappy because they are not interested in happiness; they live for beauty. God, was that steaming, loathsome city beautiful!!! And why finally no human lover was possible, because I was in love with all men, with the city itself.”

The book certainly has its flaws. A lot of it sounds the same. The racism, the sex, and the characters just go on and on and ON. Sometimes it feels a little bit self-important, but somehow still satirical. It's a hard book to recommend, because either you'd love it or you wouldn't.

That is to say, this book is not a fast read, but a slow, meandering one. Complete with a nameless narrator in the style of Daphne du Maurier and I have to say it reminds me more of Henry James or any other great American author, perhaps a little like F Scott for all the excessive drinking, drugs and beautiful parties surrounded by beautiful people.

Glittering, gluttonous, how will we ever tell the dancer from the dance?

tw: racism, fetishisation, suicide (p. 220 or so)
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LibraryThing member robfwalter
Don't give up on this novel halfway through, as I almost did. Even though in the middle stretches the characters become tiresome and the prose tries too hard to charm the reader, it all picks up again in the final quarter. The queens age and the death mentioned at the beginning approaches and the
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story derives some direction from both of these elements. There are a couple of quotable passages, too, so all in all reading this somewhat flawed book is an experience I'm glad I've had.
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Original language


Original publication date


Physical description

288 p.; 7.8 inches


1529110769 / 9781529110760
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