The Beatrice Interview

Eve Babitz

"I don't want to jitterbug. I want to do slow dances."

interviewed by Ron Hogan

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Eve Babitz started learning the tango when it first began to catch on in Los Angeles, back in the mid80s. From there, she moved on to several other types of dances, including the Texas two-step and Hollywood swing. In Two By Two, she writes about her forays into the Los Angeles dance scene, and about the instructors and eager pupils who populate it. She describes the research as undifficult: "Dancers can talk a blue streak. In fact, that's the trouble with them. They'd rather talk than dance, once they get great. No matter how great people get, though, they always wonder why somebody hasn't asked them to dance. It's just like high school, only not as bad." Babitz and I discussed Two by Two over lunch at the legendary Musso and Frank's on Hollywood Boulevard. RH: What was it that drew you to the tango?

EB: It just looked like something so evil. It equaled my opinion of romance, it was a torture dance. It was better than romance, because all my romances turned out so horribly I figured if I just went and did the dance it'd be easier. And less expensive. Plus it was exercise. I love exercise, but I'd done yoga and all these other things, and they were so lonely. I thought this would be fun; at least you got to talk to people.

But it has its own tensions. You've got people criticizing your looks. Which is kind of a bummer, but I don't care. To be a dancer means that you are how you look. If you don't dress up and have the right clothes, you're not doing your art. You can't just do the dance, you have to be the dance. And tango is such torture that I was glad to discover the Texas two-step, which was much more fun.

RH: Learning these different dances took you to many different parts of LA.

EB: I loved it. At one point I was going to a different dance every single night. I had all these outfits and costumes, though I usually wore the same shoes every night because they were easy to dance in.

RH: When did you start to realize this was something you wanted to write about?

EB: I always wanted to write about it, but noone will let you write about dancing. And then Simon and Schuster said okay. I was thrilled, get money and be a dancer is almost impossible. To be a dancer you have to spend money. So I was thrilled to get this job.

RH: And then, just as you'd completed the book, you had a life-threatening accident, burning yourself in your car.

EB: It was wild. I didn't think the book was ever going to come out, or that I'd ever be able to get up. Luckily, I got up, and it did come out. But that was two years ago.

RH: Do you dance still?

EB: Nope. I want to do something else right now. When I danced, it was all I ever thought about. Maybe sometime I will. Every time I go back to one of my various scenes, it's going through a phase where they place the music too loud and all anybody wants to do is jitterbug. I don't want to jitterbug. I want to do slow dances. Nobody wants to slow dance anymore, because guys don't know how and they don't think they can do it. There's only about four people in LA who have the confidence to think they can do a foxtrot, so nobody plays the foxtrots.

It's so much trouble to get all dressed up and go someplace. But you can do it in your imagination. I do other things now. I do pilates, I go on walks. I've got other books to do that I'm working on.

RH: What are they going to be about?

EB: One's fiction and the other's nonfiction. The nonfiction book is about my experiences in the hospital. The other's a fictionalized version of my parents' lives in Los Angeles, my father's Russian Jewish side and my mother's Cajun French side.

RH: What are some of the biggest changes you've seen in Los Angeles over the years?

EB: There's not enough parking and there's too much traffic. (long pause) The restaurants like this are mostly gone; Musso and Frank's is one of the last of its kind. But the new restaurants are great and they have do have incredible chefs there. So...I don't know. I like old places to stay the same. Things are built to last one year here now, so I guess if a place lasts fifty years I should be happy.

RH: Who are some of your favorite writers?

EB: M. K. Fisher. Colette. Recently, I read Lois Gould's Mommy's Dressing, which I liked... I like murder mysteries and true crime stories. I'm reading John Grisham's The Testament right now. I've never read him before. He's pretty good.

I like people who are smart and funny. I read the New Yorker, I read New York magazine, and the New York Observer. There's a guy who writes for them, Ron Rosenbaum, he's a great writer... Basically, I like anybody who's good, who's not too horrible and isn't a Republican.

BEATRICE Suggested further reading
David McCumber | Complete Interview Index | Karen Salmansohn

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