Lydia Joel’s career in dance involved many different roles: performer, editor, writer, and educator. To all her enterprises she brought a quick mind, buoyant vitality, and unbounded curiosity. Born in New York City on July 27, 1914, to Abraham and Helen (Mandel) Tarnower, she was the oldest child and grew up with three brothers. Her father was a manufacturer of millinery, and her mother was a housewife and part-time singer.
While growing up in New York City, she attended many dance performances. After her graduation at eighteen from New York University with a B.S. in English and journalism, she studied dance with Hanya Holm and Harald Kreutzberg at the School of American Ballet. She spent her summers at the Bennington School of the Dance, which attracted the most important choreographers and teachers of the time. Her first performance was as a soloist in the Max Reinhardt spectacle The Eternal Road. She also performed in Hanya Holm’s monumental work Trend in the Bennington premiere and later in the New York season.
From 1938 to 1944, she taught dance at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, where she also led her own dance group, which toured throughout the Southwest. Her first husband, German conductor Gerhard Joel, whose name she retained for professional use, died in 1946. In 1947, she started working for Dance Magazine as the advertising manager, then took on the position of young dance editor, and then associate editor. She was married in 1953 to Edwin Miller, entertainment editor of Seventeen magazine, with whom she had two children: a daughter, Diana, who died at age sixteen, and a son, Eric.
In 1952, Joel had become the editor-in-chief of Dance Magazine. Under Joel’s direction, the magazine adopted a new interest in visuals, adding more photographs and creating striking covers. She expanded the magazine’s coverage to include reports on companies around the United States, correspondents abroad, and writings on a wide variety of dance forms, ranging from ballet and modern dance to Asian, jazz, folk, and television dance. Her emphasis on essays, criticism, and photographic features, and her ability to attract contributions from prominent dance writers, such as Edwin Denby, increased the magazine’s audience. During Joel’s tenure, the magazine grew from 24 to 120 pages per issue, and the staff increased from three to fifteen.
Among Joel’s frequent contributions to Dance Magazine was coverage of major dance festivals in the United States and abroad, including the Royal Swedish Ballet in Stockholm, Bejart at Avignon, and the Royal Ballet in London. Her writings were published in Vogue, Parents Magazine, the New York Times arts section, and various encyclopedias. She was regularly invited to lecture for clubs and colleges and to lead symposia. In addition, she was called upon to adjudicate dances by the National Association of Regional Ballet and the American College Dance Festival Association.
After leaving Dance Magazine in 1970, Joel served as a consultant to the United States Department of Education. In 1973, the School of Performing Arts in New York City, dedicated to training young professionals, invited Joel to head its dance program. In that capacity, she oversaw the curriculum, taught dance history, produced annual concerts, and, in 1982, arranged for the students to perform in a festival at Spoleto, Italy. After her retirement in 1984, Joel continued to write, publishing four articles on Catherine de Medici in Dance Magazine in 1990. She also was a founding member and served on the boards of the American College Dance Festival, the Association of American Dance Companies, and the National Association for Regional Ballet. Lydia Joel remained active in the dance world until her death on May 24, 1992.
Anderson, Jack. “Lydia Joel, Former Chief Editor of Dance Magazine, Dies at 77.” NYTimes, May 26, 1992, D16.
Joel, Lydia. “Edwin Denby Remembered.” Ballet Review 12 (Spring 1984): 37–39.
Miller, Edwin. Telephone interview with author, June 1996.
Moseley, Monica. Obituaries. Dance Magazine (August 1992): 26.
Obituary. Dancing Times (July 1992): 959+.
Tarnower, Helen, and Irving Tarnower. Telephone interview with author, June 1996.
Wasserman, Paul, ed. Who’s Who in Consulting (1973).
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Morgenroth, Joyce. "Lydia Joel." Jewish Women: A Comprehensive Historical Encyclopedia. 27 February 2009. Jewish Women's Archive. (Viewed on September 17, 2019) <https://qa.jwa.org/encyclopedia/article/joel-lydia>.