Swayze's Ballet Past

Movies about dance weren’t always the craze they are now. Once upon a time there were only a token few to bring the public into the dancer’s private universe. The 80s sensation, Dirty Dancing, was among them, and with the death of its sexy star, the world of dance loses yet another mover and shaker. Patrick Swayze died last night after nearly a 20-month battle with pancreatic cancer. That makes this year’s death toll of influential dancers…. way too many.

Patrick Swayze may be best known for his acting chops, but before Dirty Dancing launched him into superstardom he was primarily a ballet dancer. In fact, Swayze has even admitted to holding back on showing his full dance ability in Dirty Dancing in order to make the film more realistic (since his character never had any formal training). His mother, Patsy Swayze, was a dancer, dance teacher and choreographer who inspired her son to do the same. He studied classical ballet throughout his childhood and even moved to New York City at the age of 20 to train with the Feld, Harkness and Joffrey ballet schools. His wife, Lisa Niemi, was a dancer as well who he met at the age of 15 at his mother’s studio. Swayze’s musical theater days included the starring role of Danny Zuko in Grease on Broadway, but he turned to acting after a series of injuries.

In a September 1984 issue of People Magazine, Swayze referred to himself as “the Godzilla of ballet” because he “looked like a man on stage.” Swayze certainly showed the world how manly dancers could be. His smooth moves on the silver screen wooed a generation and will certainly continue to inspire for years to come.

Teaching Tips
A 2019 Dancewave training. Photo by Effy Grey, courtesy Dancewave

By now, most dance educators hopefully understand that they have a responsibility to address racism in the studio. But knowing that you need to be actively cultivating racial equity isn't the same thing as knowing how to do so.

Of course, there's no easy answer, and no perfect approach. As social justice advocate David King emphasized at a recent interactive webinar, "Cultivating Racial Equity in the Classroom," this work is never-ending. The event, hosted by Dancewave (which just launched a new racial-equity curriculum) was a good starting point, though, and offered some helpful takeaways for dance educators committed to racial justice.

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Higher Ed
The author, Robyn Watson. Photo courtesy Watson

Recently, I posted a thread of tweets elucidating the lack of respect for tap dance in college dance programs, and arguing that it should be a requirement for dance majors.

According to onstageblog.com, out of the 30 top-ranked college dance programs in the U.S., tap dance is offered at 19 of them, but only one school requires majors to take more than a beginner course—Oklahoma City University. Many prestigious dance programs, like the ones at NYU Tisch School of the Arts and SUNY Purchase, don't offer a single course in tap dance.

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Teaching Tips
Getty Images

After months of lockdowns and virtual learning, many studios across the country are opening their doors and returning to in-person classes. Teachers and students alike have likely been chomping at the bit in anticipation of the return of dance-class normalcy that doesn't require a reliable internet connection or converting your living room into a dance space.

But along with the back-to-school excitement, dancers might be feeling rusty from being away from the studio for so long. A loss of flexibility, strength and stamina is to be expected, not to mention emotional fatigue from all of the uncertainty and reacclimating to social activities.

So as much as everyone wants to get back to normal—teachers and studio owners included—erring on the side of caution with your dancers' training will be the most beneficial approach in the long run.

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