Back in the day—1988—Sarah Kaufman was reviewing shows like MoMing's Dance & More for $1.98 for the Reader. I was her editor, and happy to have this incisive, opinionated 25-year-old Medill grad. She wrote that one small-town ballet company "incorporated two of the most damnable faults a performance can bear," one of them being "the attempt to distract from bad dancing with stunning sets," and gave mixed reviews of Chicago locals, including Jan Bartoszek, Julia Mayer, and Winifred Haun.
Kaufman, now of the Washington Post, just won a 2010 Pulitzer Prize for her criticism.
Kaufman was giddy when I talked to her today, and not just about her own success. No dance critic has won a Pulitzer since the Post's Alan Kriegsman in 1976.
Kaufman recalled staying up all night to write her first Reader piece, sitting at her dining room table and typing up fresh drafts, then driving down to the office to drop the copy off in a car whose brakes were going. She told me she did her first dance writing for Washington's City Paper, the Reader's longtime sister publication, even before she went to Medill. Once she became a staff writer at the Post, in 1996, she realized that she couldn't write just for dance aficionados. "As a survival mechanism," she said, "I needed to branch out." The results: such winning stories as a look at "kinetic" actors like Cary Grant and a screed against Nutcrackers. For a long time, she supported herself as a copy editor and wrote about dance on the side—like me, but I haven't won a Pulitzer.
Kaufman was up against theater reviewer Michael Feingold of the Village Voice and NYT film writer A.O. Scott. Worthy as they may be, I'm overjoyed a dance critic won. No offense to Scott, but it's unbecoming for film critics to whine about their canceled TV shows. They're at the top of the arts-writer food chain—as Scott acknowledged when he wrote that "the surviving full-time classical music, dance and even literary critics might have trouble filling out a bridge game."
Critics of fashion, restaurants, television, and automobiles have won Pulitzers over the last 40 years. Thank you, Sarah, for proving that dance has not completely dropped off the radar and that good criticism—great criticism—is still noticed and rewarded.