From Scrappy Youth to Balanchine Prodigy to Founder of the National Dance Institute, Jacques d'Amboise Receives DT's Lifetime Achievement Award

Jacques d'Amboise hugging Ellen Weinstein and surrounded by NDI teachers. Photo by Matthew Murphy

In the dance world, Jacques d'Amboise is a living legend. He was a tough street kid who rose to the rank of New York City Ballet principal as George Balanchine's protégé, choreographed several ballets for the company and wrote and directed for film and television. He has authored several books on dance and remains a leader in dance outreach and education.


During his performance career, d'Amboise originated more Balanchine roles than any other dancer. Among them are some of Mr. B's most iconic and classically American ballets: Who Cares?, Jewels, Stars and Stripes and Raymonda Variations. D'Amboise was perhaps most celebrated for the title role of Apollo (though he did not help create the part), captivating audiences with his energy, handsome features and unmistakably cool and commanding presence. Ironically, Balanchine summarized the theme of this ballet as: “A wild, untamed youth learns nobility through art."

D'Amboise's foray into teaching began in the late '60s, while he was still dancing professionally. His first class gathered on Saturdays at the School of American Ballet and was made up of a group of young boys, including d'Amboise's two sons.

At age 50, nearly 35 years after joining NYCB, d'Amboise left the company to fully invest himself in dance education. In 1976, he established the National Dance Institute with the goal of providing children, regardless of financial status or background, the opportunity to experience the arts. Today, NDI's free programming annually reaches over 40,000 New York City public school students and provides additional after-school programming, teacher training (with a codified method of pedagogy) and national residencies. NDI currently operates 12 schools and will open another in Shanghai in September.

“What keeps him going is his incredible thirst to continue learning," says NDI artistic director Ellen Weinstein, who first met d'Amboise while studying at SUNY Purchase, where he was dean of the dance department. “It's genuine and real. And you feel it. You're inspired. And that's the lesson for the kids––to believe in something 100 percent and share that with others."

D'Amboise's sense of humanity and agelessness has allowed many to find inspiration through his work. “He believes that every moment is the most important moment," says Weinstein. “And he sees the possibilities of excellence in everyone he meets."

His latest endeavor, the memoir I Was a Dancer, recounts his incredible life in a manner every bit as lively as the man himself.

With a Kennedy Center Honor, a National Medal of Arts, a MacArthur fellowship and multiple honorary degrees and doctorates to his name already, DT honors the contributions of d'Amboise with another accolade—the 2011 Dance Teacher Lifetime Achievement Award.

For more on Jacques d'Amboise, read "Lifetime Acievement Award: Q & A" and "Lifetime Achievement Award: Always a Dancer"

News
Courtesy Russell

Gregg Russell, an Emmy-nominated choreographer known for his passionate and energetic teaching, passed away unexpectedly on Sunday, November 22, at the age of 48.

While perhaps most revered as a master tap instructor and performer, Russell also frequently taught hip-hop and musical theater classes, showcasing a versatility that secured him a successful career onstage and in film and television, both nationally and abroad.


His resumé reads like an encyclopedia of popular culture. Russell worked with celebrities such as Bette Midler and Gene Kelly; coached pop icon Michael Jackson and Family Guy creator Seth McFarlane; danced in the classic films Clueless and Newsies; performed on "Dancing with the Stars" and the Latin Grammy Awards; choreographed for Sprite and Carvel Ice Cream; appeared with music icons Reba McEntire and Jason Mraz; and graced stages from coast to coast, including Los Angeles' House of Blues and New York City's Madison Square Garden.

But it was as an educator that Russell arguably found his calling. His infectious humor, welcoming aura and inspirational pedagogy made him a favorite at studios, conventions and festivals across the U.S. and in such countries as Australia, France, Honduras and Guatemala. Even students with a predilection for classical styles who weren't always enthused about studying a percussive form would leave Russell's classes grinning from ear to ear.

"Gregg understood from a young age how to teach tap and hip hop with innovation, energy and confidence," says longtime dance educator and producer Rhee Gold, who frequently hired Russell for conferences and workshops. "He gave so much in every class. There was nothing I ever did that I didn't think Gregg would be perfect for."

Growing up in Wooster, Ohio, Russell was an avid tap dancer and long-distance runner who eventually told his mother, a dance teacher, that he wanted to exclusively pursue dance. She introduced him to master teachers Judy Ann Bassing, Debbi Dee and Henry LeTang, whom he credited as his three greatest influences.

"I was instantly smitten, though competitive with him," says longtime friend and fellow choreographer Shea Sullivan, a protégé of LeTang. "Over the years we developed a mutual respect and admiration for each other. He touched so many lives. This is a great loss."

After graduating from Wooster High School, Russell was a scholarship student at Edge Performing Arts Center in Los Angeles, where he lived for many years. He founded a company, Tap Sounds Underground, taught at California Dance Theatre and even returned to Edge as an instructor, all while maintaining a busy travel schedule.

A beloved member of the tap community, Russell not only spoke highly of his contemporaries, but earned his place among them as a celebrated performing artist and teacher. With friend Ryan Lohoff, with whom he appeared on CBS's "Live to Dance," he co-directed Tap Into The Network, a touring tap intensive founded in 2008.

"His humor, giant smile and energy in his eyes are the things I will remember most," says Lohoff. "He inspired audiences and multiple generations of dancers. I am grateful for our time together."

Russell was on the faculty of numerous dance conventions, such as Co. Dance and, more recently, Artists Simply Human. He was known as a "teacher's teacher," having discovered at the young age of 18 that he enjoyed passing on his knowledge to other dance educators. He wrote tap teaching tips for Dance Studio Life magazine and led classes for fellow instructors whenever he was on tour.

In 2018, he opened a dance studio, 3D Dance, in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, where he had been living most recently.

Russell leaves behind a wife, Tessa, and a 5-year-old daughter, Lucy.


"His success was his family and his daughter," says Gold. "They changed his entire being. He was a happy man."

GoFundMe campaigns to support Russell's family can be found here and here.

Teaching Tips
@jayplayimagery, courtesy Blackstone

Zoom classes have created a host of challenges to overcome, but this new way of learning has also had some surprising perks. Students and educators are becoming more adaptable. Creativity is blossoming even amid space constraints. Dancers have been able to broaden their horizons without ever leaving home.

In short, in a year filled with setbacks, there is still a lot to celebrate. Dance Teacher spoke to four teachers about the virtual victories they've seen thus far and how they hope to keep the momentum going back in the classroom.

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News
Betty Jones in The Moor's Pavane, shot for Dance Magazine's "Dancers You Should Know" series in 1955. Zachary Freyman, Courtesy Jacob's Pillow

An anchor of the Humphrey-Limón legacy for more than 70 years, Betty Jones died at her home in Honolulu on November 17, 2020. She remained active well into her 90s, most recently leading a New York workshop with her husband and partner, Fritz Ludin, in October 2019.

Betty May Jones was born on June 11, 1926 in Meadville, Pennsylvania, and moved with her family to the Albany, New York, area, where she began taking dance classes. Just after she turned 15 in 1941, she began serious ballet study at Jacob's Pillow, which was under the direction of Anton Dolin and Alicia Markova for the season. Over the next three summers as a scholarship student, Jones expanded her range and became an integral part of Jacob's Pillow. Among her duties was working in the kitchen, where her speedy efficiency earned her the nickname of "Lightning."

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