The essay below is adapted from an acceptance speech Hodes gave on November 25, 2019, as he accepted a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Martha Hill Dance Fund, New York City.
I asked Vernon Scott, President of the Board of Directors, if he would do me a favor: hold this event on Wednesday — because it’s my 95th birthday. He said no.
In the mid 1950s, I was sitting on the steps of my loft residence on East 17th Street talking with my neighbor Paul Mattick. He was an ardent anti-Fascist who had escaped Nazi Germany with his wife and baby. He was also a political theorist. When I said, “Well, I’m off to work,” he said, “You don’t work, you dance.”
I said, “Dancing is work.”
He said, “It’s effort, it’s not work. Work is effort that leads to a product. You produce nothing.”
I said, “I produce dancing.”
Paul thrust out a hand. “Can you put it there?”
I said, “There are many things you can produce but not hold in your hand.”
He said, “Such as?”
I said, “Love.”
Paul frowned, then said, “Well, I don’t need dance,” which revealed the flaw in his reasoning. To Paul Mattick, work was only effort that produced a product he needed. I, of course, need dance, as do all of you here tonight.
I need it for a lot of reasons, but the first one is: Dance is my doorway into “magic time.” May I ask how many of you know the term magic time? When you go onstage, even in the most tired old Broadway show, the dance captain says, “Get up kids, it’s magic time.” Magic time is an intensification of life, a moment when you are completely absorbed in what you are doing. I believe that animals live their entire lives in something much like magic time.
Dance is not the only way you can experience magic time. I experienced it competing with my high school swim team, playing and listening to music, and in forge class at Brooklyn Tech High School. I made a gate-hook when I was fifteen, and still recall the wonder of using only a hammer, an anvil, and coal fire to turn a hunk of iron into this amateurish yet recognizable gate-hook. It’s a crude gate-hook. I got a B, I did not get an A. But it was marvelous to make it.
People who makes things experience magic time too. I experienced magic time when I first flew an airplane by myself in the army, and many times when I flew thereafter. It would come and go. You don’t always experience magic time, but I cannot remember dancing without it happening. Flying, it does happen often enough to make people want to be pilots. I wanted to dance more.
Dancing is like flying, except you do not need an airplane.
And now I stand here before you getting an award for having had the luck to have lived my life dancing. The last person to put me to work as a dancer was Naomi Goldberg Haas. The first person who ever put me to work and paid me to be a dancer was Martha Graham. Martha Graham was a trip. I remember I was in the company about a month and a half, and I said to her, “Martha, I’ve realized something.” She said, “What’s that?” I said, “You’re not a saint.” She said, “Congratulations.” I’ve just written a book about Martha Graham, Onstage With Martha Graham. It’s coming out in April 2020, from University of Florida press.
I want to express my deep gratitude to the Martha Hill Dance Fund for this unexpected yet very welcome honor.
Stuart Hodes began his career as a professional dancer and choreographer with the Martha Graham Company in 1946, after serving in World War II as a B-17 pilot. He has danced on Broadway, taught modern dance (including at The New School), founded his own troupe, served as an arts administrator, written about dance, and has been an integral member of New York City’s dance community for over 70 years. He last danced, with the group Dances for a Variable Population, when he was 92 years old.