Particular Passions

Particular Passions: Talks with Women who Shaped our Times

Agnes de Mille

Joy Ding’s Review Of Lynn Gilbert’s Oral History Profiles, Particular Passions

Agnes de MilleLynn GilbertComment

This review was posted in 'Synchronized Chaos' in honor of March being National Women’s History Month.

Particular Passions: Talks with Women Who Have Shaped Our Times is a treat and an essential read for any woman out to make history. Written by Lynn Gilbert with the help of Gaylen Moore, Particular Passions brings together forty-six profiles of accomplished women such as Betty Friedan, Julia Child, and Gloria Steinem. With every chapter, the reader gets the opportunity to meet and become intimately acquainted with the life, decisions, and experiences of a woman accomplished in her own right, in fields as disparate as science and dance. Gilbert’s black and white photographs show each woman with dignity and honesty, and her decision to use the oral history format is a stroke of genius, allowing each woman to speak for herself in first-person.

Gilbert’s chapter on Agnes de Mille is no exception. Rather than merely covering de Mille’s background—an American choreographer and dancer whose work elevated dance in musical theater from mere accessory between acts, to the story-telling function it serves today – Gilbert’s oral history brings out de Mille’s self-effacing humor, stubborn perseverance, and drive to make things better for artists.

 Selected excerpts from the Agnes de Mille chapter:

“I think it is a miracle that I turned into anything of worth…I was the petted daughter in a fairly wealthy household, in which being a lady was the thing.”

“It was very rough going out into the world…my work wasn’t good enough, my technique wasn’t sound enough, my hair would fall down, my stockings were wrinkled. It just wasn’t professional…I didn’t have a classic body. I had a long torso and shortish legs. They are pretty legs, but very short. What I did have was a real acting ability and inventive, creative thought. I couldn’t fit into the mold so I made my own, that’s all.”

“I didn’t set out to change the world of dance. I had to do it because nobody cared a damn about dancing and I got fed up with people’s ignorance and indifference; particularly the American men scorned it.“

Even though the oral history format effectively removes Gilbert from the transcript, the expansiveness and gleam of each profile testifies to her ability to ask questions and to draw meaningful stories out of her subjects. Particular Passions is a rare gift to the women’s movement, providing forty-six unique role models to inspire the next generation of leaders.

Joy Ding is a writer living in San Francisco. You can reach her at


Agnes de MilleLynn GilbertComment
cover of Live Your Best Life, The Oprah Magazine

"We can't become what we need to be by remaining what we are." 

Oprah Winfrey Oprah accomplished in her life, what I suspect we all aspire to, the best at what we do, success in our chosen profession, freedom to make choices, and financial comfort.

Oprah is a media brand, producer, publisher, book critic, actress, international celebrity, philanthropist: a woman… African American, who succeeded in a male dominated field.

How did she succeed at so many things, while others struggle?  It’s often the negative in a person’s life that is the catalyst for an outcome that is positive. Oprah’s dysfunctional family background and abuse, must have made her realize life could be far better.  Only she could make it happen. She lived with her mother in poverty after living with her grandmother until she was six, and then was shipped off to her father.

The stories of the 46 women, in Particular Passions: Talks with Women who Have Shaped our Times, make you realize background is not a component of success.

One of the pioneering women in Particular Passions, Agnes de Mille, transformed dance with storytelling and ushered musical theatre into its’ golden age.  She had everything, but not the body she needed to be a dancer.  The outcome: finding a way to express herself.

As De Mille said in Particular Passions, “There are very few people in the world who are truly creative.  I wanted to be one of them. ... It takes great energy to do anything creative. ... You have to care so much that you can’t sleep, you can’t eat, you can’t talk to people. It’s just got to be right.  You can’t do it without that passion.”

Pick any one of a dozen chapters, e-published at $.99, and benefit from a lifetime of wisdom revealed in these oral biographies. Amazon , Apple , more about the book

The book was reviewed as "One of those rare, rare books that pick your life up, turn it around and point it in the right direction." — K.T. Maclay

Enjoy, be inspired! You wont be disappointed.