When the Career Transitions for Dancers annual gala kicked off last night with a swinging routine by the NYC school children of Yvonne Marceau and Pierre DuLaine's Dancing Classrooms, I immediately thought, "Who trained these kids?" Not only were they technically strong, their spirit was infectious, truly upholding the gala's title, Jump for Joy. Held at NYC's City Center, the night was a chance to honor the work of CTFD, an organization that provides career counseling, grants and training to dancers transitioning to their next line of work. (So it only seemed fitting that the evening began with artists just starting out.) The gala also celebrated a stage legend: The one and only Liza Minnelli accepted the Rolex Dance Award. Her speech highlighted the joys of dance and she even sang a bit from "New York, New York."
The event's other performances—including Suzanne Farrell Ballet, Hubbard Street Dance Chicago, Jason Samuels Smith and members of The Big Apple Circus—were also energizing, but the most inspiring moments were given by a few former dancers who acknowledged the looming scariness of retiring from dance. (Which is where CTFD comes in.) For instance, we heard from Leslie-Arlette Boyce, a former Dunham dancer and professor at Bard, whose grant from CTFD helped her find a new passion as a very successful photographer, and Lisa de Ravel, another former ballet dancer who went back to school to study psychology and now is the dean of students at Princeton Ballet School and works as an advisor to dancers and parents.
While the stories clearly illustrated the importance of arts organizations like CTFD, they more so proved (not surprisingly) the value of quality dance training. Not only does it create versatile and strong performers, but dance training helps to shape flexible, resourceful and intelligent human beings. The Dancing Classrooms students in their Swing, Swing, Swing routine certainly demonstrated this thought. (And if you've seen the documentary about Dancing Classrooms, Mad Hot Ballroom, you'll remember that the kids exposed to ballroom dance lessons exhibited a change in behavior, drive and an interest in academic work.) Dance training helps students learn to be adaptive, receptive and hard working. They learn to be fearless and dynamic. They learn cooperation, dedication and how to think critically. The list goes on. So while it was a truly amazing night of dance honoring the work of tireless career counselors and the invaluable organization, we should also celebrate the often thankless work of dance teachers around the world, because without them, many artists would be without crucial lifeskills that can come in handy at any point in their lives. Thank you!