Leif Anderson’s Dancing with My Father is both a loving tribute to her unusual and famous father, Mississippi artist Walter Anderson, and an honest look at the effects he has had upon her personal life and her artistry. Due to Walter Anderson’s erratic behavior and recurring absences, Leif Anderson experienced a difficult childhood. Never comfortable with home and fatherhood, Walter Anderson often affected family life as an alien and fearful force. Through her lyrical vignettes, Leif Anderson gradually comes to accept and, in the end, to cherish the artist’s intense presence and his influence on her dance and her performance art.
The slices of life in Dancing with My Father describe encounters both awkward and endearing, express a daughter’s frustrated longing for a father’s attention, and give insight into Walter Anderson’s struggles. Leif Anderson reveals how her burdens-the urge to abandon the ＂normal＂ world and the tug of familial expectations-closely match those of Walter Anderson and how this realization helps her to comprehend him. In one vignette, she tells vividly of his solitary dancing. In another, she recounts her mother’s story of Walter Anderson dancing with infant Leif in his arms. Leif Anderson reflects upon her father’s love for birds and sees her talent as a way of representing those very birds. She begins to sympathize with his frequent escapes to Horn Island, knowing her own need for a haven that nurtures solitude and artistic expression.
Many previously unrevealed glimpses of Walter Anderson as artist, naturalist, husband, and father are offered throughout the book. In his foreword Christopher Maurer, Walter Anderson’s biographer, puts the relationship in context. Brush and ink drawings by both Walter Anderson and Leif Anderson draw the eye further into the author’s vision of making peace with a paternal legacy of brilliance and pain. Dancing with My Father grapples wisely and firmly with two artists’ lives and is a poignant portrayal of forgiveness, acceptance, and reconciliation for both daughter and father.