Lim Chong Yah: An Autobiography – Life Journey of a Singaporean Professor
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On the eve of the Great War, they had the world at – and watching – their feet. If God is in the details, they were divine. Vernon and Irene Castle were the world’s first true celebrity couple. He was the son of a pub landlord from Norfolk, she, his wife and dance partner, a New York doctor’s daughter. He was tall and slim, as poised as an elegant evening out, a template for the Hollywood idols who would follow. In a staid age, she was a glorious, modern beauty, with her haired cropped into a ‘shock’, a disdain for crippling corsets, a love of a martini and a good time. The Castles taught the world to dance to an altogether different tune, bringing social dancing out of stuffy ballrooms and into dance halls, night clubs and restaurants. For the first time, they made dancing in public respectable – and fun. Convention was discarded, fashion and style established. As a result, the couple lived and tangoed through torrential showers of stardust. When, in 1939, Hollywood filmed their story, Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers played, and danced, the title roles. Together, they beat the censors and made their vibrant dancing acceptable for all. In the fashionable quarters of New York they opened a dance school and night clubs to which Society flocked. They broke the rules by touring with black musicians, and led the way forward to the Charleston-galloping Gatsby Generation. They enlightened and enchanted from London to Paris to New York, spreading a breathless joy, as though their music had one note, and their dances one step, too many. Launching one racy dance craze after another, they taught the world to dance – and often dress – the way we do today. Adored and acclaimed, they were stars long before the celebrity constellations grew crowded. Yet the whirlwind story of perhaps the most influential dance team ever is also one of tragedy. Their timing, so perfect in everything else, saw Vernon Castle, at the height of their fame, return to England to enlist in the Royal Flying Corps; he saw action as a pilot on the Western Front, winning the Croix de Guerre, while his wife made special appearances to support the Allied war effort. And then, in February1918, he was killed in a flying accident in Texas, while training American pilots for war. Irene received a last note from him: ‘When you receive this letter I shall be gone out of your sweet life. You may be sure that I died with your sweet name on my lips – be brave and don’t cry, my angel.’ She and many others did cry, for as far as the world was concerned Vernon and Irene Castle could have danced all night, and for ever.
About the Author
Douglas Thompson is the acclaimed author of more than twenty books, many of them bestselling biographies, including working with Christine Keeler to write her own revealing memoir. A biographer, broadcaster and international journalist, he is a regular contributor to major newspapers and magazines worldwide. Douglas is a director of one of Britain’s major literary festivals, and divides his time between a medieval Suffolk village and California, where he was based as a Fleet Street correspondent and columnist for more than twenty years. His most recent work for John Blake Publishing is Stephen Ward: Scapegoat, a study of the rakish charmer at the centre of the Profumo Scandal.
About the Author
John Van Wyhe is a historian of science and one of the world’s leading experts on Charles Darwin and Alfred Russel Wallace. He is a Fellow of Tembusu College, National University of Singapore, and a Senior Lecturer in the Departments of History and Biological Sciences.
About the Author
Shlomo Sand studied history at the University of Tel Aviv and at the Ecole des hautes etudes en sciences sociales, in Paris. He currently teaches contemporary history at the University of Tel Aviv. His books include The Invention of the Land of Israel, The Invention of the Jewish People, and On the Nation and the Jewish People.
Raised in a desperately poor village during the height of China’s Cultural Revolution, Li Cunxin’s childhood revolved around the commune, his family and Chairman Mao’s Little Red Book. Until, that is, Madame Mao’s cultural delegates came in search of young peasants to study ballet at the academy in Beijing and he was thrust into a completely unfamiliar world. When a trip to Texas as part of a rare cultural exchange opened his eyes to life and love beyond China’s borders, he defected to the United States in an extraordinary and dramatic tale of Cold War intrigue. Told in his own distinctive voice, this is Li’s inspirational story of how he came to be Mao’s last dancer, and one of the world’s greatest ballet dancers.
About the Author
Li Cunxin was born in a village near the city of Qingdao, northern China, in 1961. At the age of eleven, he was chosen to become a student at the Beijing Dance Academy. After attending a summer school in America, he defected to the West and became a principal dancer for the Houston Ballet. Li now lives in Australia with his wife and their three children.