Discussing his memoir, I Was a Dancer, Jacques d'Amboise shares the exhilaration of his stellar ballet career.

Why is your memoir more an homage to New York City Ballet and George Balanchine than a complete recounting of your dance career?

I spent my life from age eight to 50 devoted to dance, and no one I met was on the level of George Balanchine. It was if someone was, as a child, mentored by Einstein. Balanchine was primary in all our lives, but he liked me, and his aesthetics hit a chord with me. My years with Balanchine needed to be written, because I had the luck to meet and hang out with one of the geniuses of my day.

Will you be covering your other dance activities in another volume?

My next book is going to be a thriller, involving ballet and a murder.

What do you miss most about dancing?

The fluidity of the athlete in top form, that's one thing. But I miss most the constant involvement with the evolution of an art form. You hope this performance will be slightly better than the night before; after a performance, you analyze it and try to be better. It's a constant quest toward achieving a goal that is continually being [changed]. Dancing also allows instant gratification; the audience, partners, when you come off stage—exhilarated, ravenous—it's thrilling, totally thrilling! I miss that. And the heft of the ballerina, her sweat, the mold of her body; it's lovemaking, but at the same time, I am her mentor, her partner. I just wish I could be dancing when I watch those ballerinas.

Early on, you wrote, directed, and acted in Hollywood. Had you truly known the toll on your body a dancer's career would take, might you have stayed in Hollywood after all?

No. I thought: maybe I could become a good actor, but I know I can be a great dancer. Why deviate from that path when I don't know how far I can go and when I have the greatest—teachers, dancers, musicians—around me? Now, though, I'd like to do some roles. I'm the perfect mobster for Law and Order, and I think I would be a wonderful mean judge.

Which is more difficult for you, to choreograph or to write a book?

Neither is difficult. I enjoy writing scripts, making up dialogue, but I have no discipline to sit and write. So I tell people ideas and as I talk, I edit. Nonfiction is different: I talk to someone who puts my words into a computer, and then I edit. I am very good at editing my own choreography or words. Each time, I notice things I should change—to avoid clichés, to make a paragraph into a sentence. If you have something to say, write it 10 times and throw nine of them away; don't use everything.

What's in your dance bag now?

Books—I'm always reading; my date book, cellphone, diary, and always a few pages of poetry.