Back before that velvet-lined, aristocratic name, Jacques d’Amboise—born Joseph Jacques Ahearn—was a rough-and-tumble Irish-American kid growing up in Washington Heights. But his mother, a pint-sized French-Canadian force of nature, had loftier visions. She changed the family name to d’Amboise—her maiden name—and bartered her chestnut-stuffed chicken in exchange for her children’s music lessons. Ballet classes were part of her plan, and she brought 7-year-old Jacques to a local ballet mistress. He showed aptitude, and within a year he was hopping on the subway to take his place at the barre of the School of American Ballet, the feeder school for the fledgling New York City Ballet.

 

D’Amboise was a quick study. At 9, he caught Balanchine’s eye and was given the part of Puck in A Midsummer Night’s Dream; his mother made his costume. He was a company member by 15, and by 17, he had dropped out of high school to become a principal.

 

For the next 30 years, he held audiences in thrall with his explosive, athletic style. Yet d’Amboise was a gentleman, possessing a courtly, even reverent attitude toward his partners; he gave a little piece of his heart to each of them.

 

My first exposure to d’Amboise came in the 1970s. I was part of the army of ballet girls, all bony shoulders, tight buns and heavy bags, who paraded along Broadway, Seventh and Eighth Avenues, where so many of the city’s studios were located. My studio was on West 56th Street, and after class, my friends and I would head to City Center or Lincoln Center, where cheap student-rush tickets were available.

 

A veritable cornucopia of balletic genius spilled out before us. Although I usually reserved my worship for the female dancers, something about d’Amboise stirred me. I found him scintillating in Jewels and buoyant in Stars and Stripes. When I learned he had made movies in the 1950s, I hunted for showings at revival houses and watched him ignite the screen as Ephraim in Seven Brides for Seven Brothers and as the Starlight Carnival Barker in Carousel.

 

But it wasn’t until decades later that I actually met d’Amboise. Although retired from professional dancing, he was in the midst of a spectacular second act, as founder and chief ambassador for the National Dance Institute.

 

I was nervous about meeting my girlhood idol. But as soon as I walked through the door of his townhouse on 71st Street in Manhattan, I was instantly at ease. Jacques—as he insisted I call him—was all smiles, urging me to sit down, offering to take my coat, fetch me water, wine or a steaming bowl of his homemade soup. I was there to interview him for a magazine, and I discovered that the fire he exuded onstage and on-screen was every bit as bright in person. He introduced me to two of his four children—Charlotte and Christopher, both dancers themselves—and to his wife, Carolyn George. They had been partners on Balanchine’s stage, fallen in love and married. But when the children came—four in all—she retired and became a photographer; it was Carolyn who took the photos to accompany the piece I wrote.

 

Fast forward to 2010, when I was assigned to interview him on the occasion of the publication of his memoir, I Was a Dancer. To my amazement, he remembered our earlier meeting, and we easily fell to talking if not like old friends, then certainly like very friendly acquaintances. He shared not only details from the book, but also things he had left out, like his wife’s death two years earlier. He spoke movingly about his years with Balanchine, Lincoln Kirstein and Jerome Robbins; he waxed poetic, literally; he recited lines of Persian poetry—when discussing his wife, or the ballerinas with whom he had danced.

 

As the conversation wound down, d’Amboise began telling me about a snippet of ballet history that linked ballet movements to those drawn from fencing, and he grew animated as he described their connection. And then, compelled by his excitement, this 76-year-old man rose from the table, where his café au lait sat cooling, and began to demonstrate—that is, to dance. Although dressed unassumingly in a zip-front sweater, slacks and sneakers, everything about him was elegant, confident and poised.

 

It struck me then that the title I Was a Dancer was not accurate. What that moment revealed to me, and to the other astonished, delighted witnesses to his impromptu performance, was that this man is a dancer—and as long as he draws breath, he will remain one.

 

Read more about Jacques d'Amboise in "Lifetime Achievement Award: Jacques d'Amboise" and "Lifetime Achievement Award: Q & A"

 

Yona Zeldis McDonough is the author of three novels, including The Four Temperaments.

 

Photo by Martha Swope, ©New York Public Library for the Performing Arts

The Conversation
Dance Teachers Trending
Photo courtesy of Hightower

The beloved "So You Think You Can Dance" alum and former Emmy-nominated "Dancing with the Stars" pro Chelsie Hightower discovered her passion for ballroom at a young age. She showed a natural ability for the Latin style, but she mastered the necessary versatility by studying jazz, ballet and other forms of dance. "Every style of dance builds on each other," she says, "and the more music you're exposed to, the more your rhythm and coordination is built."

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

Running a dance studio is a feat in itself. But adding a competition team into the mix brings a whole new set of challenges. Not only are you focusing on giving your dancers the best training possible, but you're navigating the fast-paced competition and convention circuit. Winning is one goal, but you also want to create an environment that's fun, educational and inspiring for young artists. We asked Cindy Clough, executive director of Just For Kix and a studio owner with over 40 years of experience, for her advice on building a healthy dance team culture:

Keep reading... Show less
Just for fun
Via Instagram

Happy Father's Day to all of the dance dads in the world! Whether you're professional dancers, dance teachers, dance directors or simply just dance supporters, you are a key ingredient to what makes the dance world such a happy, thriving place, and we love you!

To celebrate, here are our four favorite Instagram dance dads. Prepare to say "Awwwwwwwweeeeeee!!!!!!"

You're welcome!

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored by Insure Fitness
AdobeStock, Courtesy Insure Fitness Group

As a teacher at a studio, you've more than likely developed long-lasting relationships with some of your students and parents. The idea that you could be sued by one of them might seem impossible to imagine, but Insure Fitness Group's Gianna Michalsen warns against relaxing into that mindset. "People say, 'Why do I need insurance? I've been working with these people for 10 years—we're friends,'" she says. "But no one ever takes into account how bad an injury can be. Despite how good your relationship is, people will sue you because of the toll an injury takes on their life."

You'll benefit most from an insurance policy that caters to the specifics of teaching dance at one or several studios. Here's what to look for:

Keep reading... Show less
Studio Owners
Getty Images

If you're a studio owner, the thought of raising your rates most likely makes you cringe. Despite ever-increasing overhead expenses you can't avoid—rent, salaries, insurance—you're probably wary of alienating your customers, losing students or inviting confrontation if you increase the price of your tuition or registration and recital fees. DT spoke with three veteran studio owners who suggest it's time to get past that. Here's how to give your business the revenue boost it needs and the value justification it (and you) deserve.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored by World Class Vacations
David Galindo Photography

New York City is a dream destination for many dancers. However aspiring Broadway stars don't have to wait until they're pros to experience all the city has to offer. With Dance the World Broadway, students can get a taste of the Big Apple—plus hone their dance skills and make lasting memories.

Here's why Dance the World Broadway is the best way for students to experience NYC:

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teachers Trending
Margie Gillis (left); photo by Kyle Froman

Margie Gillis dances the human experience. Undulating naked in a field of billowing grass in Lessons from Nature 4, or whirling in a sweep of lilac fabric in her signature work Slipstream, her movement is free of flashy technique and tricks, but driven and defined by emotion. "There's a central philosophy in my work about what the experience of being human is," says Gillis, whose movement style is an alchemy of Isadora Duncan's uninhibited self-expression and Paul Taylor's musicality, blended with elements of dance theater into something utterly unique and immediately accessible. "I want an authenticity," she says. "I want to touch my audiences profoundly and deeply."

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

Teaching arabesque can be a challenge for educators and students alike. Differences in body types, flexibility and strength can leave dancers feeling dejected about the possibility of improving this essential position.

To help each of us in our quest for establishing beautiful arabesques in our students without bringing them to tears, we caught up with University of Utah ballet teacher Jennie Creer-King. After her professional career dancing with Ballet West and Oregon Ballet Theater and her years of teaching at the studio and college levels, she's become a bit of an arabesque expert.

Here she shares five important tips for increasing the height of your students' arabesques.

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teacher Tips
Photo by Jennifer Kleinman, courtesy of Danell Hathaway

It's high school dance concert season, which means a lot of you K–12 teachers are likely feeling a bit overwhelmed. The long nights of editing music, rounding up costumes and printing programs are upon you, and we salute you. You do great work, and if you just hang on a little while longer, you'll be able to bathe in the applause that comes after the final Saturday night curtain.

To give you a bit of inspiration for your upcoming performances, we talked with Olympus High School dance teacher Danell Hathaway, who just wrapped her school's latest dance company concert. The Salt Lake City–based K–12 teacher shares her six pieces of advice for knocking your show out of the park.

Keep reading... Show less
Getty Images

Q: I'm looking to create some summer rituals and traditions at my studio. What are some of the things you do?

A: Creating fun and engaging moments for your students, staff and families can have a positive impact on your studio culture. Whether it's a big event or a small gesture, we've found that traditions build connection, boost morale and create strong bonds. I reached out to a variety of studio owners to gather some ideas for you to try this summer. Here's what they had to say.

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teacher Tips
Sam Williams and Jaxon Willard after competition at RADIX. Photo courtesy of Williams

Self-choreographed solos are becoming increasingly popular on the competition circuit these days, leading dance teachers to incorporate more creative mentoring into their rehearsal and class schedules. In this new world of developing both technical training and choreographic prowess, finding the right balance of assisting without totally hijacking a student's choreographic process can be difficult.

To help, we caught up with a teacher who's already braved these waters by assisting "World of Dance" phenom Jaxon Willard with his viral audition solos. Center Stage Performing Arts Studio company director Sam Williams from Orem, Utah, shares her sage wisdom below.

Check it out!

Keep reading... Show less
Studio Owners
Getty Images

Dance studios are run by creative people with busy schedules, who have a love-hate relationship with props and sequins. The results of all this glitter and glam? General mass chaos in every drawer, costume closet and prop corner of the studio. Let's be honest, not many dance teachers are particularly known for their tidiness. The ability to get 21 dancers to spot in total synchronization? Absolutely! The stamina to run 10 solos, 5 group numbers, 2 ballet classes and 1 jazz class in one day? Of course! The emotional maturity to navigate a minefield of angry parents and hormonal teenagers? You know it!

Keeping the studio tidy? Well...that's another story.

Keep reading... Show less

mailbox

Get DanceTeacher in your inbox