Carrying the Torch

How two teachers who have taken over David Howard’s ballet classes embody his spirit

After years of subbing for Howard, Pam Pribisco now teaches in his evening time slot at Steps on Broadway.

When master teacher David Howard passed away in August 2013 at age 76, New York City lost one of its most valued—and beloved—dance educators. Clapping out his combinations rhythmically, his booming yet mellifluous voice encouraged dancers to “Lengthen!” and work from a “very high place.” With a simple, specific barre and a movement-oriented center section, Howard engaged professionals (like American Ballet Theatre principal Paloma Herrera) and recreational dancers alike—with some veterans regularly showing up for class well into their 80s. After a packed class, it was common to hear students say things like, “I feel so on top of my legs—and so free.”

Many would say Howard is irreplaceable. Fortunately, due to his long tenure (after teaching for the Harkness Ballet School, he operated the David Howard Dance Center for 18 years, then moved to Steps on Broadway and Broadway Dance Center), his approach has been soaked up by teachers who continue to source his ideas. Pamela Pribisco and Mary Carpenter are two of the instructors carrying on the David Howard legacy in their own ways, the former having taken over Howard’s regular evening slot at Steps and Carpenter teaching a more basic version of his class on Fridays. (Espen Giljane also recently took over Howard’s morning slots.) DT spoke with Pribisco and Carpenter to learn what they gleaned from Howard and how they’re incorporating his gifts.

“He saw how the body really wants to move,” says Mary Carpenter. “A lot of ballet technique can be antiquated, but David’s approach was athletic and musical, and it incorporated the latest biomechanical information.”

Another Howard trademark, she notes, was his reticence to give corrections, adamant that if a teacher spoke too much, the dancer never got to try the activity. Instead, he gave brief, active cues. “I can hear his voice in my head when I’m teaching,” Carpenter says. “He would never say ‘stay’ to help a dancer balance. He would choose words like ‘lengthen,’ ‘pause’ or ‘sustain.’ The difference in the reaction of a dancer to a static word or an action is huge, and I see the proof of that constantly.”

“I can hear his voice in my head,” says Mary Carpenter about her Friday night class at Steps.

A tiny, powerful slip of a dancer, the flame-haired Carpenter trained at Cincinnati Ballet Company College Conservatory of Music Prep Department before attending Butler University. A professional dancer at many regional companies, as well as at the Metropolitan Opera and in contemporary troupes, Carpenter started teaching at 21 while dancing with the Lexington Ballet. She studied on scholarship at Howard’s studio and also completed three rounds of his teacher training.

She says Howard’s approach worked particularly well, largely because the placement and technique was built in to the exercises—no explanation needed. He achieved this by working rhythmically with the steps at the barre, often combining movements by rhythm instead of the traditional step progression, like rond de jambe en l’air combined with battements.

His tendus followed a similar logic of practical application. “He always did tendus from first before tendus from fifth,” she says. “His rationale was that first position helps dancers feel alignment, while fifth helps us feel opposition. You don’t want a dancer who’s not yet aligned to try for opposition!”

Though Carpenter adheres to many of Howard’s signatures, she does give corrections in her children’s classes. “Sometimes you need to stop and give children the information of ‘I need your tummy in,’” she says.

She also makes sure her beginner adults aren’t taxed with too many weight changes—a standard of a more advanced Howard class. Discussing alignment specifically with recreational dancers who sit at desks all day or rush around NYC is unavoidable, despite her attempt to talk “as little as possible” in class.

While Pam Pribisco has adopted Howard’s technical ideas, one first notices the influence of his classroom etiquette in her affable, engaging attitude. “He was always totally professional and cheerful, and he made no fuss over the stars in class at all. When he made corrections, he had that dry, English sense of humor, so it was always witty and funny and never abusive. Students felt that it was a safe atmosphere for learning. That made the biggest impression.”

With her hair in a ponytail, bold lipstick and jazz shoes, Pribisco cuts the figure of a modern ballet teacher. She studied with Howard in the ’80s, at the height of the ballet boom in NYC, she recalls. His class was extraordinarily musical and very organic in nature. He used words like “circular,” and the emphasis was on the natural. He arranged combinations, not to make them difficult, but to help dancers succeed—preceding an arabesque turn with a chassé, instead of a dead, static position. He made ballet accessible.

A principal dancer with the Cleveland Ballet, Pribisco became the ballet mistress there and has held that position at American Ballroom Theatre, Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo and Complexions Contemporary Ballet. Her in-depth knowledge of anatomy and her proclivity to tease out the practical application of biomechanics through straightforward kinesiology exercises are unique—especially in a ballet class that equally values fluid motion and artistry. But this combination of technique and feeling is a hallmark of the Howard legacy.


“David always said the most important relationship he had was with the musician in the room,” Mary Carpenter says. “He never micromanaged and always trusted them, and I constantly work on that connection with the pianist to create that atmosphere. David was generous with his musician—and with everyone—and I hope that my part of continuing his legacy is that I’m generous, too.”

And yet placement, anatomy, biomechanics and kinesiology are more obvious in her class than they were in Howard’s. “I find that many students, when they understand something intellectually, can make it happen more easily,” she says.

Her class has other personal touches, too, including an explanation of the basics whenever possible. “I like to spend time in January on the positions: the eight body positions, the five positions of the head, the seven movements in dancing,” she says. “These are all essential parts of the ballet system that we need to go over. They were incorporated in David’s class, but I like to review them.”

Pribisco had already started fusing her own ideas with Howard’s while subbing for his classes over the years, but as she began to take over his time slot after he died, she felt the need to follow his approach more faithfully for a time. She remembers students so overwhelmed with emotion they cried through class. Now, she focuses on his general idea of “making the body—and dancers—feel good,” she says. “Dancers always said they felt better when they left his class than when they arrived because of the organic, natural movement and encouraging atmosphere. I try to copy that. I help them dance so they can succeed at dancing. It’s not an exercise class. The only way you learn to dance is by actually dancing, and David knew that.” DT

Lauren Kay is a New York City–based dancer and writer.

Photos (top 2) by Carey Kirkella; courtesy of Dance Magazine archives

Dance Teachers Trending
Photo by Kyle Froman

Darla Hoover was at Central Pennsylvania Youth Ballet's studios running a rehearsal in 2014 with director Marcia Dale Weary. Hoover had just returned the day before from staging a ballet in St. Petersburg, Russia. Jet-lagged, she mixed up her words when giving a correction.

Weary took Hoover's hand and gently said, "Honey, you work too hard."

Hoover, and the students, had a good laugh.

"Are you kidding me?" Hoover replied. "You're the one who made this monster. There is no off switch!"

Weary founded CPYB in 1955, and it quickly became an internationally known school that has produced countless principal dancers. Famous for her high standards and tough work ethic, Weary instilled those qualities in Hoover, who served as associate artistic director at CPYB under Weary, as artistic director at Ballet Academy East's pre-professional division in New York City and as a répétiteur for the Balanchine Trust.

Hoover took over as artistic director at CPYB in the spring this year after Weary died suddenly, and while she's committed to continuing Weary's legacy, students have begun to see some of Hoover's vision as well.

Keep reading... Show less
Studio Success with Just for Kix
Bill Johnson, Courtesy Just for Kix

Cindy Clough, executive director of Just For Kix, has been called the Queen of Fundraising by colleagues. A studio owner and high school dance coach with over four decades of experience, Clough is known for her smart and successful fundraising ideas.

Now, Just For Kix has created a new online tool to help everyone tackle their fundraising goals, whether you're raising money for uniforms, extra classes, or to cover the cost of travel for your dance team's next convention.

Clough shared a few of her best fundraising tips, including everything you need to know about the new tool:

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teachers Trending
From left: Daniel Novikov, Alla Novikova and Mishella Vishnevskiy at Blackpool 2018. Photo by NYC Digital Media, courtesy of Alla Novikova

Alla Novikova began her dance training at a ballroom studio called Edelweiss in Saratov, Russia, when she was 9 years old. She was immediately recognized for her natural talent and work ethic, placing third at the Russian Open just three months after beginning ballroom lessons. The lessons she learned at Edelweiss shaped her career and provided the foundation she needed to open her own ballroom studio: Work hard to prove that you're good enough to be here, and give honor to the experiences that brought you to where you are today.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored by NYCDA
Ailey II artistic director Troy Powell teaching an Ailey Workshop at NYCDA. Courtesy NYCDA

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:

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teacher Tips
Getty Images

Professions across the globe hold yearly conferences, and the dance industry is certainly no exception. Annual conferences exist for dance teachers, dance medicine professionals, dance educators and more. Taking the time out to attend them can be well worth your while for a number of different reasons. Let's take a closer look at four of them.

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teacher Tips
Father-daughter dance. Photo by Lisa Lee, courtesy of Dance Academy USA

Your year-end recital is your studio's pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. Not only is it the time for your dancers to celebrate what they've accomplished during the year, it's your opportunity to demonstrate to parents firsthand the value of a dance education. A successful recital can also grant your school an influential role in the local community. Whether a prominent conservatory or a small-town studio, and whether your dancers win competitions or take classes once a week, your year-end recital is the chance for your dancers—and your program—to shine.

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teacher Tips
Getty Images

Q: How do you approach gender when teaching in 2019? When I was training, male dancers were encouraged to make their movement masculine, while female dancers were encouraged to keep their movement feminine. Today, gender has become much more fluid, and the line between masculine and feminine performance has blurred. How does that impact the way we should be teaching?

Keep reading... Show less
Dance News
Photo courtesy of Z Artists Group

New York City–based pre-professional training troupe Z Artists Group, along with dancers from eight professional companies in the city, are joining together to combat gun violence with, "DANCERS DEMAND ACTION," a performance aligning art with activism at The Joyce Theater, this Monday, November 11, at 7:30 pm.

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teachers Trending
Photo courtesy of Infinite Flow

Last week, 2019 DT Awardee Marisa Hamamoto and her partner Piotr Iwanicki brought their boundary-breaking work to the "Good Morning America" stage in a segment highlighting her inclusive dance company Infinite Flow.

Infinite Flow is a Los Angeles–based wheelchair ballroom dance company (the first of its kind in the U.S.) that incorporates an equal number of disabled and nondisabled dancers, as well as a range of styles like hip hop, contemporary and other partner dances.

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teachers Trending

Since she was hired in 2006 to create a dance program at Washington & Lee University in Virginia, Jenefer Davies has operated as, essentially, a one-woman show. She's the only full-time faculty member (with regular adjunct support). Over the last 13 years, she has created a thriving program along with a performance company—at a school with fewer than 2,500 students—by drawing on her admittedly rare strength: aerial dance.

Keep reading... Show less
Site Network

Savion Glover is one of the biggest names in the dance world, and perhaps the biggest in the tap world. The trailblazing hoofer's hard-hitting, rhythmically intricate style has fundamentally altered the tap landscape.

Glover is also a master teacher. But during his many years on the scene, he's never appeared regularly at a major dance convention. That is, until this season: Glover is now teaching at JUMP Dance Convention, scheduled to appear at approximately 15 more cities on its 2019–2020 tour.

We talked with JUMP director Mike Minery, himself a gifted hoofer, about working with a living legend—and how Glover is already changing the convention class game.

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teacher Tips
Getty Images

Though she loved choreographing, the high school student showcase wasn't quite enough for Julie Deleger, a recent graduate of The College Preparatory School in Oakland, California. The answer for her was an independent-study project during her last semester there. "Choreography is so personal that sometimes you need to take more or less time with it," she says. "Doing it on my own was really helpful. I let the project guide me rather than having to adhere to a specific set of rules."

Keep reading... Show less

mailbox

Get DanceTeacher in your inbox