Jeri McAndrews is a classically trained ballet dancer who ran away from the School of American Ballet in New York and the demands and discipline of ballet. She landed eventually in southwestern Colorado, where among other things, she taught dance and choreographed and performed in modern dances in wild outdoor settings including the Great Sand Dunes National Monument. The title of the book is apt: while dance is certainly a core of McAndrews’ life, so it seems is running away, getting away from… many things: teaching middle school English (to be fair, a challenge only a few people are cut out for), marriage, parenthood, big cities (can’t argue with that one).
Why did she run? We’ll never truly know. It’s impossible to fully cover forty years or more of a person’s life in barely 250 pages and do it justice. Far more is left out than put in, but what is left out here may be the more important story. Memoir is one of the most difficult kinds of writing to do because it demands honesty of the author, the willingness to expose one’s flaws and weaknesses for all to see, and then, perhaps, to try to make some sense of them. A friend of mine is trying to write the memoir of a difficult time in her life, one that had major implications for literally millions of people, and I’ve watched her struggle. It’s hard, then, to criticize McAndrews if she ended up dancing around the dark places, running away from telling their secrets.
The book has its strengths. McAndrews has a dancer’s sense of timing and rhythm in the way she tells her tales, leaping, sometimes wildly, from one adventure to another, yet with a certain flow to each story. And she possesses a poet’s sense of language: her unique turns of phrase give her writing a distinctive voice.
This book is one that illustrates both meanings of the fact that independent publishing allows anyone to write a book. On the positive side, Runaway Dancer might never have seen print were it not for independent publishing. On the negative side, while McAndrews thanks many people for editing her work and helping her with formatting the book, it’s not clear that she took her editors’ advice or that the formatters truly knew how to do it. Proper editing would have been a challenge, cleaning up the structural errors without destroying the author’s special voice and style. For someone with McAndrews’ financial limitations, that kind of editor might well have been out of reach.
All that aside, rating sites that allow only whole integer-star ratings can do a book like this an injustice. In my opinion, while Runaway Dancer deserves more than a three star rating but less than a four, 3.5 is mostly unavailable.
Read this book for McAndrews’ voice, for the adventures she had, for the places she was willing to go, whether those decisions were wise or not. It’s a look into a unique life.