Remembering Sarah Tayir, Ballet Dancer and Teacher
Sarah Tayir will live on as a legend in ballet. Here are some recollections and anecdotes, shared by a few of the countless people who loved her and appreciated her gift of both ballet and teaching, describing some perspectives on her life as it unfolded.
Sarah Tayir described her early training and career in very humble ways to Sara Jane Gould, professional dancer, coach and student in Miss Sarah's class for many years.
Sarah was the youngest of four kids. Recalling her first memory of hearing music, she was sitting in someone's lap, listening to a Brahms piece. (Decades later, Miss Sarah used the music of Brahms often in her classes). At the age of 3, when she "could barely reach to turn on the radio," she just "fell in love" with music. She would dance around and "it felt so good it had to be wrong."
Photo courtesy Honora Domines
A few years later, at the age of 10, Miss Sarah went to a class to watch her 13 year-old sister. A woman from the Ukraine had come to town to teach. Coincidentally, the woman's husband was a pianist with American Ballet Theatre. The class was at a recreation center. The room was carpeted, there were no mirrors, and no barre. The students actually used the backs of chairs for their barre! Miss Sarah "couldn't sit still" and asked to join the class.
Miss Sarah took tap, piano, gymnastics and baton lessons. She was a drum majorette in high school! Incidentally, the well-respected choreographer, Kevin Carlisle, went to the same school. When Agnes de Mille came to town to choreograph "Rodeo," Sarah was "the only kid who could do the time step."
Sarah loved to gather the "neighbor kids" and put on shows in the backyard. The clothes drying on the clothesline were the stage curtains.
Photo courtesy Honora Domines
Sarah's parents made her wait until she was 18 before she could go to New York...alone. There she studied at ABT, and Robert Joffrey, himself, taught her petite allegro.
When Sara Jane Gould remarked to Miss Sarah how impressed she was to hear about all she had accomplished as a child, she answered, "I was fearless!"
In these short glimpses of Sarah's first two decades, we see the emergence of an impassioned and determined artist.
Miss Sarah, as she was fondly known by her students at the Anna Cheselka Dance Center, inspired every dancer from novices to professionals for over four decades.
Erna Toback, PhD, remembers her very first class (of hundreds to follow) in this way:
"I took my very first ballet class with Sarah when I was an insecure, intimidated 35 year-old ballet beginner. Had it not been for Sarah's subtle, kind support and encouragement, I never would have made it through the first class. Decades later while recovering from an injury unrelated to ballet—and discouraged because I was unable to fully participate in class—Sarah came over to me and said, 'Erna, just come to class to listen to the music. Forget about everything else,' and laughed."
To this day, whenever there are "reasons" not to attend ballet class, Erna hears Sarah's voice reminding her to get to class "just to listen to the music." Although she is experiencing Sarah's passing as a deeply profound loss, she will "treasure Sarah's voice and her words, her kindness and empathy, artistry and grace—along with the beautiful music she chose to inspire our dance—and will keep them in my pocket every day, wherever I go."
Miss Sarah's classes focused on musicality, filling the air with music from Bach to Joplin, Schubert to movie scores. She created choreography that was at the same time simple and difficult, beautiful and challenging. With an over-riding personal grace and superb understanding of what makes dancers shine, Miss Sarah understood the essentials of technique and stamina, expressing the music in movement, a passion for ballet, and a feeling of community. She usually wore pastels—light blue, pink and peach—always with pink tights. She led stretches on the center floor. She loved port de bras, and every class had one just after the barre. Miss Sarah focused on flowing transitions, and wanted each student to enjoy ballet, and lose the anxiety of perfection. Kind of like Nike, "Just do it"!
Photo courtesy Honora Domines
Jonette Swider, a professional dancer and coach, recalls her time with Miss Sarah in this way:
"Miss Sarah began coaching me when I was in my early 20's. She taught me so much and I brought her inspiration with me throughout my performing career. I so admire her lifelong dedication to the ballet world. Dancer, teacher, and mentor to so many. I will never forget the gorgeous développé á la seconde. She would flow effortlessly into it, with her leg the highest in the room at age 80! Thank you Miss Sarah. You will be missed!"
Dr. Paula Thomson, professor of dance at California State University, Northridge, and author of "Creativity and the Performing Artist: Behind the Mask" remembers Miss Sarah as "a gifted and inspiring teacher. Every class was infused with technical accuracy and exquisite musicality. She continued the tradition and love of classical ballet for the many generations she taught." To quote Miss Sarah, "Remember to dance—it is how we express life."
Ronnie Cavalluzzi, one of Sarah's students, put her recollection into these words: "Sarah danced in the light, and brought all of us who knew her and followed her, into that light. She was a beautiful dancer and an inspirational teacher; she was a guide into the breathtaking inseparable worlds of music and dance. She is already missed more than words can express."
I was lucky to study with Miss Sarah over many years, fulfilling my childhood dream to learn ballet and pointe. For all of us, she leaves a legacy of love to those who were touched by her ballet magic, grace, wisdom and kind heart. We are extremely grateful for the opportunity to know her as a dancer, teacher and woman.
Last night, longtime theater legends (including Chita Rivera herself!) as well as rising stars gathered to celebrate one of Broadway's danciest events: the third annual Chita Rivera Awards.
The evening paid tribute to this season's dancer standouts, fabulous ensembles, and jaw-dropping choreography—on- and off-Broadway and on film.
As usual, several of our faves made it into the mix. (With such a fabulous talent pool of nominees to choose from, we're glad that ties were allowed.) Here are the highlights from the winner's list:
The way we create and consume dance is changing every day. Now more than ever, the field demands that dancers not only be able to perform at the highest level, but also collaborate with choreographers to bring their artistic visions to life. Dancers who miss out on choreographic training may very well find themselves at a disadvantage as they try to launch their careers.
When you're a foreign dancer, gaining legal rights to work in the U.S. is a challenging process. It's especially difficult if you're petitioning to work as a freelance dancer without an agent or company sponsorship.
The process requires professional muscle along with plenty of resources and heart. "There's a real misnomer that it's super easy," says Neena Dutta, immigration attorney and president of Dutta Law Firm. "People need to educate themselves and talk to a professional."
Here are four things every foreign dancer who wants to work in the U.S. needs to know to build a freelance dance career here.
What does it take to "make it" in dance? It's no secret that turning this passion into a profession can be a struggle. In such a competitive field, talent alone isn't enough to get you where you want to be.
So what kinds of steps can you take to become successful? Dance Magazine spoke to 33 people from all corners of the industry to get their advice on the lessons that could help us all, no matter where we are in our careers.
It's not often that a promising choreographer gets to stage work in a world-class theater, on a skillfully-curated program with professional dancers, and with the possibility of winning a substantial cash prize. But at the McCallum Theatre's Palm Desert Choreography Festival, that's been the status quo for over twenty years.
Since Shea New, the festival's artistic director, founded the festival in 1998, she's worked tirelessly with McCallum's director of education and festival producer, Kajsa Thuresson-Frary, and stage manager and festival production manager Joanna Fookes to build a festival that nurtures choreographers, highlights high quality work, powerfully engages the local community and cultivates an audience base for dance in the Coachella Valley. The trio is backed by a strong team of professionals at McCallum and the brilliant volunteers from the local and national level who serve as adjudicators.
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On May 18, 1919, Margot "Peggy" Hookham was born. She would grow up to become Dame Margot Fonteyn, England's first homegrown prima ballerina. She joined the Sadler's Wells School in 1934 and was performing principal roles with the precursor to The Royal Ballet the next year. Fonteyn was a company-defining figure, dancing Aurora for the re-opening of the Royal Opera House after World War II, creating numerous roles with Sir Frederick Ashton and forging a legendary partnership with Rudolf Nureyev.
Memorial Day is notoriously one of Chicago's bloodiest weekends. Last year, 36 people were shot and seven died that weekend. In 2017 and 2016, the number of shootings was even higher.
When Garley "GiGi Tonyé" Briggs, a dance teacher and Chicago native, started noticing this pattern, she was preparing her second annual Memorial Day workshop for local youth.
The event's original aim was simple: "I wanted the youth of Chicago to have somewhere they could come and learn from different dancers and be off the streets on the South Side on this hot holiday," she says.
A recent trip I took to Nashville coincided with the NFL draft. As we drove into town, my Uber driver was a fount of information on the subject.
I learned that there are 32 NFL teams and that the draft takes place over seven rounds. That the team that did the poorest during the previous season gets first pick. That during an earlier event called the scouting combine, the teams assess college football players and figure out who they want.
There is also the veteran combine for "free agents"—players who have been released from their contracts or whose contracts have expired. They might be very good players, but their team needs younger members or ones with a certain skill set. All year round, experienced NFL scouts scan games across the country, checking out players and feeding that information back to the teams. Players' agents keep their eyes on opportunities for their clients which might be more rewarding.
While I sat in the traffic of 600,000 NFL fans I got thinking, is there something ballet could learn from football? Could a draft system improve young dancers' prospects and overall company caliber and contentment?
Despite what you might think, there's no reason for dancers to be afraid of bread.
"It's looked at as this evil food," says New York State–certified dietitian and former dancer Tiffany Mendell. But the truth is, unless you have celiac disease or a gluten intolerance, bread can be a healthy source of carbohydrates—our body's preferred fuel—plus fiber and vitamins.
The key is choosing your loaf wisely.
It can be hard to imagine life without—or just after—dance. Perhaps that's why we find it so fascinating to hear what our favorite dancers think they'd be doing if they weren't performing for a living.
We've been asking stars about the alternate career they'd like to try in our "Spotlight" Q&A series, and their answers—from the unexpected to the predictable—do not disappoint:
"New York City Ballet star appears in a Keanu Reeves action movie" is not a sentence we ever thought we'd write. But moviegoers seeing John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum will be treated to two scenes featuring soloist Unity Phelan dancing choreography by colleague Tiler Peck. The guns-blazing popcorn flick cast Phelan as a ballerina who also happens to be training to become an elite assassin. Opens in theaters May 17.
The Brooklyn-based choreographer Gillian Walsh is both obsessed with and deeply conflicted about dance. With her latest work, Fame Notions, May 17–19 at Performance Space New York, she seeks to understand what she calls the "fundamentally pessimistic or alienating pursuit" of being a dancer. Noting that the piece is "quiet and introverted," like much of her other work, she sees Fame Notions as one step in a larger project examining why dancers dance.
What does Mikhail Baryshnikov have to say to dancers starting their careers today? On Friday, he gave the keynote speech during the graduation ceremony for the inaugural class of the USC Glorya Kaufman School of Dance.
The heart of his message: Be generous.