What Jacques d'Amboise Believes Dance Can Give The World
When Jacques d'Amboise talks about dance, his eyes light up, his chest opens and his famously handsome smile takes over his face. It's immediately clear that the former New York City Ballet star, now a spirited age 83, has a love of dance that doesn't tire.
Today, he's creating new generations of dance lovers through the National Dance Institute. He founded the program in 1976 out of a desire to teach dance to public school students. Now led by Ellen Weinstein, NDI reaches 6,500 students every week, not only in New York City, but across the country and even in international cities like Shanghai. And d'Amboise's dream of inspiring others through the art form he loves so much continues as strong as ever.
Why He Wanted To Teach Kids to Dance
"I realized that in Washington Heights, kids were joining gangs at 9 years old. Meanwhile, here I am at the ballet and dancing with these beautiful ballerinas. I'd come home from performing in Paris and see this culture of the street. There's no place in ballet for that life. Ballet is the art of the aerial. It's above the ordinary; it's extraordinary. I wanted to share that."
How He Inspired A Revolt
"At first, I only taught boys. I would go to the principal of the school and say, Would you like free dance classes for the boys? Well, the girls in the classes revolted. They made a petition. So then it became the whole fifth grade class."
D'Amboise with Mikhail Baryshnikov at NDI's Event of the Year in 1979. Photo courtesy NDI
What It Was Like to Stop Performing
"I was depressed. It's very hard because you have to leave the follow spot, go up to the booth, aim the follow spot at someone else, and help them be better than you. Rather than looking at pictures of how you used to dance, and saying, 'I used to do that,' and, 'I used to do this.' But having started NDI allowed me to segue into another world."
What Dance Can Teach Us As Humans
"In dance, you can set a goal that's a little higher than you think you're capable of at the moment. And you work until you reach it. And the skills that you learned to climb those rungs make you capable of climbing higher. The steps taken toward excellence never end."
D'Amboise teaching in China. Photo courtesy NDI
The Best Surprise of Starting National Dance Institute
"To watch one of our teachers teach...the love, the discipline, the humor. I never expected that, as a byproduct of this mission, we'd be training some of the best teachers in the world."
In the middle of one of New York City Center's cavernous studios, Misty Copeland takes a measured step backwards. The suggestion of a swan arm ripples before she turns downstage, chest and shoulders unfurling as her legs stretch into an open lunge. She piqués onto pointe, arms echoing the sinuous curve of her back attitude, then walks out of it, pausing to warily look over her shoulder. As the droning of Ryuichi Sakamoto and Alva Noto's mysterious "Attack/Transition" grows more insistent, her feet start to fly with a rapidity that seems to almost startle her.
And then she stops mid-phrase. Copeland's hands fall to her hips as she apologizes. Choreographer Kyle Abraham slides to the sound system to pause the music, giving Copeland a moment to remind herself of a recent change to the sequence.
"It's different when the sound's on!" he reassures her. "And it's a lot of changes."
The day before was the first time Abraham had seen Copeland dance the solo in its entirety, and the first moment they were in the studio together in a month. This is their last rehearsal, save for tech, before the premiere of Ash exactly one week later, as part of the opening night of City Center's Fall for Dance festival.
Back in 2011 when Joe Lanteri first approached Katie Langan, chair of Marymount Manhattan College's dance department, about getting involved with New York City Dance Alliance, she was skeptical about the convention/competition world.
"But I was pleasantly surprised by the enormity of talent that was there," she says. "His goal was to start scholarship opportunities, and I said okay, I'm in."
Today, it's fair to say that Lanteri has far surpassed his goal of creating scholarship opportunities. But NYCDA has done so much more, bridging the gap between the convention world and the professional world by forging a wealth of partnerships with dance institutions from Marymount to The Ailey School to Complexions Contemporary Ballet and many more. There's a reason these companies and schools—some of whom otherwise may not see themselves as aligned with the convention/competition world—keep deepening their relationships with NYCDA.
Now, college scholarships are just one of many ways NYCDA has gone beyond the typical weekend-long convention experience and created life-changing opportunities for students. We rounded up some of the most notable ones:
Dancers are understandably obsessed with food. In both an aesthetic and athletic profession, you know you're judged on your body shape, but you need proper fuel to perform your best. Meanwhile, you're inundated with questionable diet advice.
"My 'favorite' was the ABC diet," says registered dietitian nutritionist Kristin Koskinen, who trained in dance seriously but was convinced her body type wouldn't allow her to pursue it professionally. "On the first day you eat only foods starting with the letter A, on the second day only B, and so on."
"The show must go on" may be a platitude we use to get through everything from costume malfunctions to stormy moods. But when it came to overcoming a literal hurricane, Houston Ballet was buoyed by this mantra to go from devastated to dancing in a matter of weeks—with the help of Harlequin Floors, Houston Ballet's longstanding partner who sprang into action to build new floors in record time.