Ten years ago, Finis Jhung, the legendary ballet master extraordinaire, who danced soloist and principal roles with the San Francisco, Joffrey and Harkness Ballet companies in the 1960s, began experiencing excruciating pain and instability in his right leg. Severe arthritis, diagnosed his doctor. The risk and recovery time of hip replacement convinced Jhung to seek alternative solutions—cortisone treatments, chiropractic therapy, acupuncture. Nothing helped. A weekly deep-tissue massage, to relax his abductors and inner-thigh muscles, and his own self-designed stretching regimen worked for a while.

And then it didn't. Teaching five ballet classes a week demanded increased recovery time, while his ability to demonstrate simple ballet steps was decreasing. Last summer, soon after Jhung turned 80, he decided to reconsider surgery.


Jhung's internist referred him to Dr. Roy Davidovitch, director of the Hip Center at New York University Langone Medical Center. He's the first surgeon in New York City to perform the minimally invasive (MIS) Anterior Approach Total Hip Replacement. Unlike the traditional posterior (back) or lateral (side), the anterior (front) approach allows access to the hip joint without cutting through major muscles or tendons, enabling a quicker return to normal activity. Jhung could expect to return home the day of the surgery and begin teaching again in four to six weeks. He was sold!

Pre-surgery with Dr. Roy Davidovitch. Photo by Jason Jhung

Three weeks after Jhung's hip replacement surgery on September 6, we caught up over e-mail.

Giannella M. Garrett: Congratulations! How are you feeling?

Finish Jhung: Last night was a breakthrough night. The swelling has almost completely disappeared. Only slight discoloration in the right foot and inner ankle. I could even sleep on my side in two-hour increments. I'm feeling very good this morning. Sitting at the computer is much more comfortable because my knee bends. So, 19 days after surgery, almost no swelling. No pain. No discomfort. I can walk unaided with a cane in the house. I'm going to start outpatient physical therapy today.

Here's where the incision happened. Photo by Jason Jhung

GG: What has been the most difficult or challenging aspect of the surgery? What (if anything) has been easier than you expected?

FJ: My biggest challenge has been getting a good night's sleep. The first two weeks I slept with calf pumps, which constantly pressed and released in order to prevent blood clots, and I had long cables stemming from the calf sleeves to the powering device. This made getting in and out of beds and chairs a very complicated process. I would often get up from sitting, forget I was connected to the device-wire connected to the outlet and suddenly be jerked back.

What's easier than expected: walking without pain or limping. This past weekend I left the apartment for the first time and ate at a neighborhood restaurant, and only because it is good and walkable from my apartment.

GG: When are you planning to begin teaching again?

FJ: I return to teaching my full-time schedule on Sunday, October 1. I am not allowed to turn out or stand a lot, so my Team Finis demonstrators, Mayumi Omagari and Ari Miyagawa, will assist me these first few weeks. I must spend most of the class sitting with my right foot elevated. But I'll be perfectly capable of demonstrating with my hands and pointing out details. Hmm. I probably could use a pointing stick!

Post-surgery with his song Jason. Photo by Jason Jhung

GG: What propels you?

FJ: My mission in life as a Buddhist is to help others. When I see people in trouble in ballet class, I want to help them solve their technical and artistic problems. I can't see any point in letting students continue working incorrectly, when they would look so much better if they followed my instructions. What else is there to do in life but help others? And, solving these problems in class leads me to create instructional videos, which can be used by people all over the world. I try to instill in my students what we call in Buddhism "a seeking spirit." To learn the truth so that you can apply it and better yourself. You know, ballet is the "bitchy" art, where it is common among dancers to wish others the worst so they lag behind. And this kind of attitude shows onstage—people who give, and those who don't. People who are generous and have ample room in their lives to help others. We all need to be giving in the sense of helping when we can.

GG: Your childhood dream was simply to become a ballet dancer. Could you have imagined who you are today? What would your child-self say to your present-self?

FJ: No, I could never have imagined when I was 9 years old starting ballet in Honolulu that I would, at age 80, be looking back at all the things I've done and see that indeed, all my childhood dreams have been fulfilled: dancing in New York and Hollywood; performing in distant lands like Egypt, Russia, India, Afghanistan, Iran; performing classical roles in white tights; becoming a prominent teacher in New York; teaching thousands all over the world with my videos; and most of all being a father to my wonderful son Jason. In a sense, I had a guiding star leading the way. I was never unemployed, and setbacks were momentary instead of permanent—especially after becoming a Buddhist—and I was able to build up my life force and make my life large enough to encompass all the problems that came to me. As long as I held on to my dream, each step I took brought me closer to fulfillment. This is what I was taught as a child: Always do your best. And because I did my best, one thing led to another. I've been very fortunate, beyond my wildest dreams.

GG: You have said your biggest dream now is to become a 100-year-old ballet teacher. What are your plans? What are your dreams? How might the two be different?

FJ: I only say this because these days there are many people over 100 who are living vital energetic lives. So, why not me? My plans are to continue teaching, giving workshops and creating more videos. Right now I am finishing up my pictorial-memoir. I have been gathering notes for a second book, which will be somewhat like "chicken soup for ballet teachers and students"—opening your eyes to reality: YOU ARE WHAT YOU ARE. (Title subject to change.)

Day two post-surgery, at home working on his memoir. Photo by Jason Jhung

GG: In addition to the freedom from pain and the ease of movement that the hip replacement will give you, how do you hope your life will change as a result of your surgery?

FJ: For one thing, I won't have to constantly be applying various massage tools to relieve hip-muscle tension. That will give me tons of free time. I will continue seeing my massage therapist once a week for 60 minutes because that is a very special treat I greatly deserve. And, I'm looking forward to being able to execute pirouettes outside and inside, relevé in arabesque and waltz across the floor in class. No jumps for probably two years, after which, ANYTHING can happen!

The Conversation
Dance Teachers Trending
Photo by spinkickpictures.com, courtesy of Mitchell

"Popular music has an overall energy that lends itself to the street-jazz style," says Derek Mitchell. But over the last eight years or so, the choreographer, who also teaches contemporary, jazz funk and musical theater, has noticed a lack of great musicality and interesting lyrics. As a result, Mitchell's music searches often gravitate toward the classic hits from artists like Prince and Janet Jackson. "Rarely do I hear a new song that makes me go, 'Oh, I want to dance to that!'"

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teacher Tips
Photo by Andy Mogg, courtesy of Marin Ballet

As a young student, Becky Erhart Moore did not go on pointe with the rest of her class. "My teacher felt I wasn't ready, so I wore flat shoes when everyone else wore pointe shoes," she says. "My mom had to deal with my tears for weeks!" Moore, who is now artistic coordinator and faculty member at Marin Ballet in California, says that the setback she experienced as a child motivated her to work even harder. "When I finally went up on pointe with my class, it was that much sweeter."

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored by Harlequin Floors
Courtesy Harlequin Floors

Just like your car, your studio needs periodic tune-ups to keep it humming along smoothly. If you take the time to address a few small fixes, your business will stand out. And you don't have to break the bank, either—you might be surprised how low-cost, DIY improvements can make a surprising difference.

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teachers Trending
Students in Pulinkala's Cocoon. Photo by Robert Pack, courtesy of Kennesaw State

When Ivan Pulinkala was preparing for his interview at Kennesaw State University to create the school's first dance program, he figured the whole thing would be a lark, at best. After all, the New Delhi–born choreographer had just gotten his green card, which meant he could teach anywhere, and Kennesaw, Georgia (a half-hour outside of Atlanta), wasn't his first choice as a location. But after doing a scan of collegiate dance in Georgia, he began to change his mind. "I thought, 'Wow, if someone starts a big dance program at a public institution, the market's wide open,'" says Pulinkala. "There were some good programs, like Emory University, but they were niche—private and expensive."

Keep reading... Show less
To Share With Students
Getty Images

When your students graduate and move to the big city to pursue their dreams, they'll almost immediately discover that there's a void left where your studio once was. Not only will they miss your instruction and daily support, but they'll miss having a physical space to work through challenging movement, polish their technique and improv with no one watching. Help them with their adjustment period by telling them about the studio spaces they can rent out when they need some one-on-one time with the mirror and the music.

Here are five for you to share with them—you're welcome!

Keep reading... Show less
Site Network
Gabriel Figueredo in a variation from Raymonda. VAM Productions, Courtesy YAGP.

This week, more than 1,000 young hopefuls gathered in New York City for the Youth America Grand Prix finals, giving them the chance to compete for scholarships and contracts to some of the world's top ballet schools and companies. Roughly 85 dancers made it to the final round at Lincoln Center's David H. Koch Theater on Wednesday. Today, the 20th anniversary of YAGP came to a close at the competition's awards ceremony. Read on to find out who won!

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teacher Tips
Photos by Kyle Froman

A few years ago, Mary Ann Lamb got a phone call from Ann Reinking, who was choreographing a production of The Visit starring Chita Rivera. Lamb was thrilled when Reinking offered her the role of Young Claire without even asking for an audition. "And then she said, 'In the first act, you're going to play Chita Rivera when she's a 17-year-old virgin,'" Lamb says, "and I'm like, 'What am I gonna do? I'm like 50 years old!' I started panicking. My dream was to be in the room with Ann Reinking and Chita Rivera, but I was scared to death I was going to make a fool of myself."

Keep reading... Show less
Dancer Health
Thinkstock

Q: A student of mine recently got a bad sprained ankle, and it's been weak ever since she returned to class. Are there any exercises you suggest to strengthen it?

Keep reading... Show less
Dance News
YouTube

"WOD" is back for Season 3, and once again, the internet is loving it! How much do they love it, you ask? Well they've watched many of the dances millions of times, so it's safe to say—A WHOLE LOT! We did some research and discovered which dances have been watched the most since Season 3's premiere, and the results may surprise you.

Here are the top-four most viewed "WOD" videos of the season so far! Let us know your favorite over on our Facebook page!

Keep reading... Show less
Unsplash

When it comes to running a thriving dance studio, Cindy Clough knows what she's talking about. As executive director of Just For Kix and a studio owner for more than four decades, she's all too aware of the unique challenges the job presents, from teaching to scheduling to managing employees and clients.

Here, Clough shares her best advice for new studio owners, and the answers to some common questions that come up when you're getting started.

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teacher Tips
Thinkstock

Q: As a dance teacher, which products do you prefer, Apple or Google?

Keep reading... Show less
Just for fun
Getty Images

The one thing that can unite all of us on April 15 is the fact that everyone hates doing their taxes. Though they are necessary, they are exhausting and time-consuming, and just plain no fun for anyone!

To help you cope, we've captured what doing taxes feels like through a series of dancer memes.

YOU'RE WELCOME!

Keep reading... Show less

mailbox

Get DanceTeacher in your inbox