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The Loss of a Legend: Remembering Marcia Dale Weary

Courtesy CPYB

"At every possible opportunity, I hope to instill in children a love for the arts and for classical music," said Marcia Dale Weary, beloved teacher and founder of Central Pennsylvania Youth Ballet. "Along with that, I hope to help them develop self-discipline, generosity and the ability to focus."

Weary passed away at the age of 82 on Monday, March 4, 2019.


Since opening her first school in 1955, Weary taught generations of students, training them for professional careers, and changing their lives through dance. In 1974, the Marcia Dale School of Dance became the Central Pennsylvania Youth Ballet, a nonprofit school and performing company, and the red barn behind her house in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, was established as an iconic ballet studio and center for dance education.

Many of her students, affectionately known as "barn babies," remember the way she created a safe and beautiful haven—a home away from home—that inspired both dreams and hard work.

Marcia Dale Weary shaping a student's tendu at the barre

Rosalie O'Connor

Weary had a magical way of commanding a student's attention. As one of CPYB's guest teachers, I remember sitting in the corner of the barn's Studio A, watching her teach a beginner level. Not one of those young dancers was fidgeting, talking or daydreaming. They were all completely engaged and eager to please, under her spell.

She was able to communicate and connect with students in a way that consistently brought out their best.

While I did not have the privilege of training with Weary, my husband and his sister grew up dancing in the barn and often speak of the impact she had on their careers and lives. My mother-in-law was one of Weary's first students and taught by her side for more than 30 years. Many of my professional colleagues studied with Weary, and each of them had a technical fearlessness, refined artistry, confidence and pristine attention to detail—trademark qualities of Weary's training.

Generations of students that studied with her are now teaching, dancing in major companies or directing them. So many more have excelled in other areas, due to the skills they learned under her watchful and caring eye.

Weary had high expectations for all her students. They learned discipline, focus and respect for the art form. They learned musicality and the importance of creative expression, as she often talked about showing your soul through movement.

She encouraged dancers to maintain a certain level of professionalism both inside and outside the studio. She was strict but had a sense of humor. She was a master who always kept learning and passed that knowledge to her students.

The first time I taught at CPYB's summer program almost 15 years ago, Weary watched the last few minutes of my class. Students were muddling through a series of big jumps but seemed to be enjoying the challenge. "They need to go back to the barre," Weary told me. "Break it down for them. Don't just make it fun." Her words resonated.

The practice of "breaking it down" was key to Weary's teaching philosophy. She could dissect and explain each step in a way that everyone could understand, and she never underestimated children. The young dancers she trained have a strength and maturity beyond their years and could often perform the repertoire typical of a major professional company.

She believed that all students could become dancers if they worked hard enough and had the passion. "There is a place for them in the ballet world if they really want it," she once said. Weary made dreams come true. She touched the lives of countless people and will remain in our hearts as future generations of dancers grow and blossom through her legacy.

Thank you, Marcia. We are grateful and enriched beyond words.

Music
Mary Malleney, courtesy Osato

In most classes, dancers are encouraged to count the music, and dance with it—emphasizing accents and letting the rhythm of a song guide them.

But Marissa Osato likes to give her students an unexpected challenge: to resist hitting the beats.

In her contemporary class at EDGE Performing Arts Center in Los Angeles (which is now closed, until they find a new space), she would often play heavy trap music. She'd encourage her students to find the contrast by moving in slow, fluid, circular patterns, daring them to explore the unobvious interpretation of the steady rhythms.


"I like to give dancers a phrase of music and choreography and have them reinterpret it," she says, "to be thinkers and creators and not just replicators."

Osato learned this approach—avoiding the natural temptation of the music always being the leader—while earning her MFA in choreography at California Institute of the Arts. "When I was collaborating with a composer for my thesis, he mentioned, 'You always count in eights. Why?'"

This forced Osato out of her creative comfort zone. "The choices I made, my use of music, and its correlation to the movement were put under a microscope," she says. "I learned to not always make the music the driving motive of my work," a habit she attributes to her competition studio training as a young dancer.

While an undergraduate at the University of California, Irvine, Osato first encountered modern dance. That discovery, along with her experience dancing in Boogiezone Inc.'s off-campus hip-hop company, BREED, co-founded by Elm Pizarro, inspired her own, blended style, combining modern and hip hop with jazz. While still in college, she began working with fellow UCI student Will Johnston, and co-founded the Boogiezone Contemporary Class with Pizarro, an affordable series of classes that brought top choreographers from Los Angeles to Orange County.

"We were trying to bring the hip-hop and contemporary communities together and keep creating work for our friends," says Osato, who has taught for West Coast Dance Explosion and choreographed for studios across the country.

In 2009, Osato, Johnston and Pizarro launched Entity Contemporary Dance, which she and Johnston direct. The company, now based in Los Angeles, won the 2017 Capezio A.C.E. Awards, and, in 2019, Osato was chosen for two choreographic residencies (Joffrey Ballet's Winning Works and the USC Kaufman New Movement Residency), and became a full-time associate professor of dance at Santa Monica College.

At SMC, Osato challenges her students—and herself—by incorporating a live percussionist, a luxury that's been on pause during the pandemic. She finds that live music brings a heightened sense of awareness to the room. "I didn't realize what I didn't have until I had it," Osato says. "Live music helps dancers embody weight and heaviness, being grounded into the floor." Instead of the music dictating the movement, they're a part of it.

Osato uses the musician as a collaborator who helps stir her creativity, in real time. "I'll say 'Give me something that's airy and ambient,' and the sounds inspire me," says Osato. She loves playing with tension and release dynamics, fall and recovery, and how those can enhance and digress from the sound.

"I can't wait to get back to the studio and have that again," she says.

Osato made Dance Teacher a Spotify playlist with some of her favorite songs for class—and told us about why she loves some of them.

"Get It Together," by India.Arie

"Her voice and lyrics hit my soul and ground me every time. Dream artist. My go-to recorded music in class is soul R&B. There's simplicity about it that I really connect with."

"Turn Your Lights Down Low," by Bob Marley + The Wailers, Lauryn Hill

"A classic. This song embodies that all-encompassing love and gets the whole room groovin'."

"Diamonds," by Johnnyswim

"This song's uplifting energy and drive is infectious! So much vulnerability, honesty and joy in their voices and instrumentation."

"There Will Be Time," by Mumford & Sons, Baaba Maal

"Mumford & Sons' music has always struck a deep chord within me. Their songs are simultaneously stripped-down and complex and feel transcendent."

"With The Love In My Heart," by Jacob Collier, Metropole Orkest, Jules Buckley

"Other than it being insanely energizing and cinematic, I love how challenging the irregular meter is!"

For Parents

Darrell Grand Moultrie teaches at a past Jacob's Pillow summer intensive. Photo Christopher Duggan, courtesy Jacob's Pillow

In the past 10 months, we've grown accustomed to helping our dancers navigate virtual school, classes and performances. And while brighter, more in-person days may be around the corner—or at least on the horizon—parents may be facing yet another hurdle to help our dancers through: virtual summer-intensive auditions.

In 2020, we learned that there are some unique advantages of virtual summer programs: the lack of travel (and therefore the reduced cost) and the increased access to classes led by top artists and teachers among them. And while summer 2021 may end up looking more familiar with in-person intensives, audition season will likely remain remote and over Zoom.

Of course, summer 2021 may not be back to in-person, and that uncertainty can be a hard pill to swallow. Here, Kate Linsley, a mom and academy principal of Nashville Ballet, as well as "J.R." Glover, The Dan & Carole Burack Director of The School at Jacob's Pillow, share their advice for this complicated process.

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Teachers Trending

From left: Anthony Crickmay, Courtesy Dance Theatre of Harlem Archives; Courtesy Ballethnic

It is the urgency of going in a week or two before opening night that Lydia Abarca Mitchell loves most about coaching. But in her role as Ballethnic Dance Company's rehearsal director, she's not just getting the troupe ready for the stage. Abarca Mitchell—no relation to Arthur Mitchell—was Mitchell's first prima ballerina when he founded Dance Theatre of Harlem with Karel Shook; through her coaching, Abarca Mitchell works to pass her mentor's legacy to the next generation.

"She has the same sensibility" as Arthur Mitchell, says Ballethnic co-artistic director Nena Gilreath. "She's very direct, all about the mission and the excellence, but very caring."

Ballethnic is based in East Point, a suburban city bordering Atlanta. In a metropolitan area with a history of racism and where funding is hard-won, it is crucial for the Black-led ballet company to present polished, professional productions. "Ms. Lydia" provides the "hard last eye" before the curtain opens in front of an audience.

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