dances in two worlds


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Dances in Two Worlds: a writer-artist’s backstory

Thordis Niela Simonsen, The Fundamental Note, 2011

8 x 9 1/2 inches, soft cover with 4″ flaps, 128 pages, 57 plates

ISBN 978-0-9629766-7-4



Funded in part by a grant from the Kittredge Educational Fund.
Winner of the Colorado Book Award 2012 in creative nonfiction.

Dances in Two Worlds is a writer-artist’s backstory composed of two parallel narratives, one verbal and one visual. Each of the twenty essays begins with a detail from Thordis’ childhood—postcards her grandmother sent, admonitions from her mother, scraps of wood found in her father’s workroom—and spirals forward in time.

The fifty works on paper span twenty years. Vibrant color and decisive strokes define Thordis’ paintings, which are often dreamlike. The early images, made in a Jungian therapy setting, are introspective and have a naïve, psychological quality. Recent pieces, based in nature, are more open and lyrical.

The paintings do not illustrate the text; the writing does not interpret the paintings. That said, both written and painted images spring, broadly speaking, from the same life experience. It is not surprising, therefore, that the solo traveler described in the essays paints solitary figures, that recollections of a childhood deprived of touch are reiterated in the form of hands painted on paper, that crimson resides in the color palette of someone who knows and writes about anger, that the hand that penned stories about bold steps toward freedom paints strikingly confident lines.

In the book’s first essay, “Fireflies,” Thordis recollects a summer activity familiar to anyone who grew up in the Mid-west—collecting lightning bugs in a jar. The jar that Thordis evokes is a metaphor for the light trapped in each of us. Every painting and essay in this luminous memoir represents a firefly released from that jar. Radiant and intimate, Dances in Two Worlds is both a testimony to this writer-artist’s irrepressible creative spirit and a catalyst for the reader-viewer’s own bold adventures in life and in art.

This is a stunningly beautiful book. Radiant and intimate, the paintings and essays are luminous reflections on Simonsen’s life. Together, the images and the writings reveal a joyful and generous and questing heart.
—Meredith Hall, Without a Map, Beneficence

Very many thanks for your lovely essays and pictures. I am very moved [by] your approach to the dance and the story and life.
—Sir Laurens van der Post, A Mantis Carol, A Far Off Place, A Story Like the Wind

Thordis Simonsen is a soul worth knowing. Her art and artistry ignite a flow of grace. Like May Sarton, she bears witness to the life well-lived.
—Julia Cameron, The Artist’s Way, The Right to Write

Additional information

Weight 12 oz
Dimensions 10.5 × 8.5 × 0.75 in