Curtain Up

June 21, 2007

We all remember our favorite teachers fondly—their tone of voice, the way they demonstrate, their corrections. That time in class with a teacher you trust is precious. And their insights and values go with you wherever you go.

For this issue, we asked 18 top dancers who their favorite teacher was or is, and what that person means to them. In the case of Nancy Bielski, master ballet teacher at Steps on Broadway (and also a company teacher at American Ballet Theatre), we interviewed four dancers who take her class religiously and got four different sets of praise. In Bielski’s class Anna Larghezza got help for her jumps; Elizabeth Walker improved her adagio; Melissa Morrissey strengthened her pointe work; and Jenifer Ringer improved her placement. A good teacher helps where help is needed—and has the eye to see where the weak spots are.

At our photo session with Bielski, I decided to get some corrections for my own port de bras, and she gave me a gentle litany of reminders: “Chin up, hips forward, ribs in, earring to the ceiling.” I got a taste of the Nancy Bielski experience. These are the constant reminders that help us bring our thoughts into our bodies.

Talking about great teachers, Katherine Dunham passed away this spring (see “Transitions”). Of course, she was also a ground-breaking choreographer, anthropologist, and writer. But in everything she did, she was a teacher. I watched her give class a couple years ago, and she set the students dancing across the floor with astounding vigor and rigor. From her wheelchair, she used her hands to demonstrate the dynamics she wanted. “Put purpose in your pelvic movements,” she urged. In 2001, when she accepted a Bessie Award just 10 days after 9/11, she told us to believe in “peace, wisdom, courage, and love.” And then, to all of us gathered at the Joyce that night, she said, “Everything I have goes with you.” All that we’ve absorbed from Miss Dunham—or any of our teachers—is ours to keep.

Wendy Perron
Editor in Chief

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