Paul Taylor's 1974 Letter to His Dancers

March 4, 2015

How does a great director nurture great dancers? In 1974, Paul Taylor wrote a letter to his company members (which he suggested they keep “tucked in each of your costumes where it will be handy to get at”) on the topic of what he calls “zunch.” His words are passionate, sometimes cheeky, yet completely sincere. He writes:


“Zunch is the ability to focus what may be only an infinitesimal gesture and hurl it splatch from one soul to another. It can be the little extra push that may make a leap only an eighth of an inch higher but astonishes with its valor because it comes from the dancer’s total commitment. It is whatever your favorite dancers do to allow you to see their special and mysterious human values.


It is not really a partly open mouth, burning eyes, spread fingers and forward-tilted pelvis. But if we did this position with true conviction it might pass, I suppose. Zunch is nothing we can clamp onto the outside of our bodies and hold there no matter what. It is something that has to ebb and flow and breathe. There is no single key to every door, no one energy for every step. It is sometimes as simple as the difference between looking towards another dancer onstage, or really seeing that person. But if really seeing makes us late, let’s not do it.


It is the difference between us going to the theater and earning our salaries or going to the theater and putting that audience in debt to us.


Zunch is fullness. It is not merely authority and, naturally, not technical brilliance. We cannot do much without authority and technique, but zunch should underlie these other talents—and not take a back seat to them. Perhaps we tend to wall up zunch in our concern with other qualities we wish to excel in. Or hide behind, perhaps? Sad thought.


Zunch is being generous with your spirit. As differentiated from that thing in us that is not body, brain or cute personality.


Zunch is opening up. Focusing intent in or out. Turning the burner on. Going beyond. Isn’t it what makes a dancer out of a pedestrian? Both walk, sure, but one is illuminating, the other locomoting…


Whatever step we perform remains dull rote until it is brought to life. Are we to show the public an assortment of choreographic moves or are we to show them dance? Ourselves dancing. Do not misunderstand—zunch does not require us to shout ME ME or for us to act a role, necessarily. It is more the gathering of our intents and instincts and letting them out from inside. Our instincts will help us know what is right. Do not mistrust them. They are close knit to all of this. However, if my instinct disagrees with yours, you will hear a loud “Stop that, you are ruining my dance!” ”


He ends by summing up: 


“Let’s just be ourselves—but more so.”



This entire letter is printed in “Paul Taylor Dance Company: The Diamond Anniversary” (Delphinium Books), a limited-edition 60th anniversary tribute. Catch Paul Taylor’s American Modern Dance in its inaugural season at Lincoln Center next Tuesday, March 10.