Dance Teachers Trending

The Influence of Pavlova Protégée Kathleen Crofton

Photo by John Lindquist, Houghton Library, Harvard University (Courtesy of Jacob's Pillow Archives)

When Kathleen Crofton arrived in the unlikely destination of Buffalo, in 1967, she carried with her an astonishing legacy. Many of her students at the Ballet Center of Buffalo, myself included, had no idea that she had danced in Anna Pavlova's company (1924–28) and was a close colleague of Bronislava Nijinska. We were unaware that she had partnered with Frederic Franklin in the Markova-Dolin Ballet, had performed with the Opéra Russe à Paris where Nijinska was ballet master/choreographer, and taught at the Metropolitan Opera Ballet in New York and The Royal Ballet in London. Crofton didn't boast that Margot Fonteyn and Rudolf Nureyev were frequent drop-ins at the school she owned in London for more than 15 years.


Many of Crofton's Buffalo students flourished in their professional careers, but it is in their teaching where the rich information of her ballet heritage can be seen best. Pavlova biographer Jane Pritchard mentions the impressive list of teachers who came from Pavlova's company, including Crofton. What's astounding is the number of prominent teachers from Crofton's lineage, mostly during the few years in the late 1960s when she directed the Ballet Center of Buffalo.

Be it the attention to the whole body, the spiral thread of energy that runs through the body, or the sense of proportion and scale that ultimately makes ballet fit any body, Crofton quietly carried her message through to a set of young dancers, who are now in key positions to impact the next generation. I spoke with four of these teachers, who shared their memories of Crofton's impact. Although none had ever witnessed their treasured teacher dance onstage, they are fairly certain she transferred at least some of the Pavlova DNA to them.

Hess, working with students of Canada's National Ballet School in TorontoPhoto by Johan Persson (courtesy of Canada's National Ballet School)

Deborah Hess

Canada's National Ballet School

Hess joined the artistic faculty at Canada's National Ballet School in 1981. She also serves on the jury for the Youth America Grand Prix and International Ballet Schools Competition in Havana, Cuba.

Crofton combined the best of Cecchetti with Russian training from Olga Preobrajenska. "There was the petit allégro, which was very fast, and then she would want us to reverse it, and then there was the fiendishly complicated grand pirouette combinations," says Hess. Crofton wore her hair in a swooping over-the-ears bun, like a vintage ballerina. Hess recalls her gently whistling to convey the rhythm of a phrase. "She called me 'Debbie Darling Duckie Sweetie,'" she says, laughing.

Crofton was well into her 60s by the time she headed up the Buffalo school, so she demonstrated in a very particular way, which did not involve full-out movement. "She would show us what she wanted by the subtlest movement of her upper body. We could see the nuance, that curved line running through the body." If the students looked flat, Hess remembers Crofton said, "You look like a signpost."

Corbett taught Forsythe rep at the summer dance festival in Vienna (now ImPulsTanz) 1996-2006Photo by Marianne Weiss (courtesy of Corbett)

Elizabeth Corbett

American Dance Festival

Elizabeth Corbett danced with the Joffrey Ballet and the Milwaukee Ballet, becoming a soloist with William Forsythe's Frankfurt Ballett. She's been on faculty at Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker's school P.A.R.T.S. and with ImPulsTanz Vienna International Dance Festival, and is on her 11th season at the American Dance Festival.

Although it was the Forsythe legacy that she is most associated with, Corbett credits Crofton for her early foundations in classical technique. "All those hours led into the exciting works I would be a part of with Forsythe, especially the importance of épaulement. Forsythe would agree that the body-mind connections we develop through our épaulement extend deeply in terms of 'roots and branches' across the repertoire," says Corbett. "I can remember Crofton's presence, her words, movements and her teaching, as if it were yesterday. In retrospect, her patience, calm demeanor, attention to detail and teacher's wisdom laid the groundwork for the world of teachers and teaching that I would aspire to become a part of."

Today, she mines that Crofton connection with her students: "As I speak about weight shifts, I lift a student's elbow, rotate the lower arm, glance over the ring finger, breathe through the fondu, reach out through the toes and lower leg in extension, and prepare with a breath. I'm channeling my inner Crofton," she says.

Glauber-Mendel is ballet co-chair for The Ailey School's Professional DivisionCourtest of New Jersey Dance Theater

Lynn Glauber-Mandel

The Ailey School

Lynn Glauber-Mandel trained with Crofton from 13 to 16. As she launched her professional career, an uncanny thing happened to her. While auditioning for Maurice Béjart, he called her "Pavlova." She went on to become the youngest member of his company. She joined the Joffrey Ballet in 1977.

"Kathleen was a huge influence on me," Glauber-Mandel says. "She had these round, big, fleshy arms and made a beautiful frame around her shape, it was such a gracious port de bras." All of this comes in handy to Glauber-Mandel's contemporary students. "It makes their upper body so much more alive," she says.

Glauber-Mandel remembers being in the room with Nijinska while she was setting Les Biches on the company (at that time the Buffalo Ballet). "She had these huge, expressive hands and spoke almost no English, yet we connected to her mannerisms," she says. "Crofton and Nijinska were like twins, from the same era and intention."

Ross at 15, the summer after her first year at Miss Crofton'sPhoto by Same Ellis (courtesy of Ross)

Donna Ross

Donna Ross School of Classical Ballet, Dallas, Texas, area

Former Joffrey soloist Donna Ross was a principal in Crofton's short-lived Buffalo company and danced alongside Dame Margot Fonteyn at the Eastman Theatre in Rochester, New York, in 1973.

Ross remembers Crofton's obsession with feet, what a stickler she was about port de bras and her luxurious center adagios. She regularly shares her ties to Pavlova and Crofton with her students today. "I show them photos and tell them that I am passing on their teachings," she says. "I am proud of that lineage." Ross also recalls Crofton's difficult pirouette combinations loaded with attitudes and arabesques. "Students were fearless and full-bodied in their movement, so dramatic and athletic. What she did was create dancers."

The list of teachers with Crofton ties includes such prominent dance educators as Raymond Lukens, former director of ABT's National Training Curriculum, Anna-Marie Holmes, who directs the Jacob's Pillow Ballet Program, Diane Lewis at Hochstein School of Music and Dance, Joanne Zimmerman at Amsterdam University of the Arts, Barry D. Leon at University of Minnesota, Michael Uthoff (guest artist) at Webster University, Tim Draper, founder of the Rochester City Ballet, and Donna Schoenherr, founder of Ballet4Life.

Crofton's charges recall her ability to carry a delicate sense of proportion in the port de bras that worked on a dancer's own body. The same was true of her concept of arabesque, where the leg and back work in harmony. She had a knack for customizing technique so dancers looked the best they could be.

Crofton also offered dance history as part of her training. Former ABT dancer and State Street Ballet founder Rodney Gustafson credits Crofton for his early attachment to ballet. "She had such a sense of respect for the artform," he says. "I fell in love with dance; she put it in my heart."

After her stint in Buffalo, Crofton went on to direct companies in Rochester, NY, and Baltimore, Maryland. She died in 1979 at the age of 76. DT

Nancy Wozny studied with Crofton during her tween years in Buffalo, sadly without an inkling of who was calling her "Duckie."

Dance News
Getty Images

Dancers are resilient by nature. As our community responds to COVID-19, that spirit is being tested. Dance Teacher acknowledges the tremendous challenges you face for your teaching practice and for your schools as you bring your offerings online, and the resulting financial impact on your businesses.

Perhaps we can take hope from the knowledge of how we've managed adversity in the past. I'm thinking of the dance community in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. I'm thinking of 9/11 and how that changed the world. I'm thinking of the courageous Jarrah Myles who kept her students safe when the Paradise wildfire destroyed their homes. I'm thinking of Jana Monson who rebuilt her studio after a devastating fire. I'm thinking of Gina Gibney who stepped in to save space for dance in New York City when the beloved Dance New Amsterdam closed.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored by Dance Teacher Web
Courtesy Dance Teacher Web

While summer usually sparks dreams of warm vacations in the sun, many dance teachers don't have the luxury of taking a week off to lounge by the pool. But what if a stellar educational opportunity for dance instructors just happened to take place in sunny Las Vegas?

The Dance Teacher Web Conference and Expo, happening August 4–7 and founded and directed by longtime successful studio owners and master teachers Steve Sirico and Angela D'Valda Sirico, gives dance teachers and administrators a chance to learn, network and recharge during a one-of-a-kind working vacation. Here, attendees can rub shoulders with esteemed industry professionals, get inspired by a variety of workshops and even walk away with a new certification or two:

Keep reading... Show less
Studio Owners
Misty Lown delivers a seminar in Austin. Photo courtesy of More Than Just Great Dancing

Business leader Misty Lown convened (remotely) more than 700 dance studio owners to create an action plan in response to COVID-19 studio closures. ICYMI, here are the takeaways:

  • Studios can deliver value to customers with online content.
  • Owners can preserve enrollment with caring communication.
  • The federal stimulus package is a strong short-term safety net.
Keep reading... Show less
Site Network
Photo by Jason Hill, courtesy of Disenhof

When dancer Katherine Disenhof found out her company, NW Dance Project, would be shutting down indefinitely due to the coronavirus pandemic (on Friday the 13th, no less), she immediately went in search of ways to stay connected and in shape.

At that point, a few virtual class opportunities had emerged, so Disenhof decided to aggregate them on an Instagram account called Dancing Alone Together.

She launched the account that Monday, and by mid-week she'd also created a website. Now, just a few weeks later, Dancing Alone Together has 22K followers—and virtual classes are more than just a growing trend, but a phenomenon that has reshaped the dance world at an unprecedented speed.

Keep reading... Show less
Dance News
Photo by Kyle Froman
Update March 31, 2020: This article was first published in Dance Teacher, February 2009.

One of today's leading ballet masters, German-born Wilhelm Burmann exerts a magnetic attraction on the professional students he teaches five days a week at Steps on Broadway in New York City. “Taking Willie's class" has become a tradition for many top dancers of both New York–based companies and those simply passing through town.

Standing ramrod straight at age 69, Burmann embodies the authority and skills he acquired during an extensive global career. He was a corps member of the Pennsylvania Ballet and New York City Ballet, a Frankfurt Ballet principal dancer, Stuttgart and Geneva company principal and ballet master, and ballet master for The Washington Ballet and Le Ballet du Nord, among others. After he retired from dancing in 1977, Burmann took up guest teaching and is still in great demand at prestigious American and European companies and schools: This year he will teach in Florence and Milan, Italy.

Keep reading... Show less
Photo courtesy of Courtesy Ahearn

Elizabeth Ahearn never imagined that she'd teach her first online ballet class in her kitchen. Adding to the surreality of the situation: Rather than give her corrections, her student, the director of distance learning at Goucher College, had tips for Ahearn: Turn the volume up, and move a little to the left.

Ahearn, chair of the dance department at Goucher, is among thousands of dance professors learning to teach online in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic. The internet may be exploding with resources for virtual classes, from top dancers teaching barre to free warm-ups courtesy of the Merce Cunningham Foundation, but in academia, teachers face many restraints. Copyright laws, federal privacy regulations, varying tech platforms and grading rubrics all make teaching dance online a challenge.

Keep reading... Show less
Site Network
Talia Bailes leads a Ballet & Books class. Lindsay France, Courtesy Ballet & Books.

Talia Bailes never imagined that her ballet training and her interest in early learning would collide. But Bailes, a senior studying global and public health sciences at Cornell University, now runs a successful non-profit called Ballet & Books, which combines dancing with the important but sometimes laborious activity of learning to read. And she has a trip to South America to thank.

In 2015, before starting at Cornell, Bailes took a gap year and headed to Ecuador with the organization Global Citizen Year to teach English to more than 750 students. But Bailes, who grew up training at a dance school outside Cincinnati, Ohio, also spent time teaching them ballet and learning their indigenous dances. "The culture in Ecuador was much more rooted in dance and music rather than literacy," she recalls. Bailes was struck by the difference in education and the way that children were able to develop and grow socially through dance. "It left me thinking, what if dance could be truly integrated into the way that we approach education?"

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teacher Tips
Choreographer Molly Heller with musician Michael Wall. Photo by Duhaime Movement Project

Love electronic music? Calming notes of a piano? Smooth, rich trumpet? Want music in clear meters of 3, or in 7? This week is the ideal time to check out musician Michael Wall's abundant website soundformovement.com. I myself have enjoyed getting to experience his music over the past five years—whether to use in a teen class, older-movers class or for my own MFA thesis choreography.

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

On Wednesday, March 18, I was supposed to return to Juilliard and teach Pilates after a two-week spring break. Instead, I rolled a mat onto my bedroom floor, logged in to Zoom and was greeted by a gallery of 50 small-screen images of young ambitious dancers, trying to make the best of a strange situation. As I began class, I applied our new catchphrase: "Please mute yourself," then asked students to use various hand gestures to let me know how they are coping and how much space they have for movement. I asked dancers to write one or two things they wanted to address in the sidebar, and then we began to move.

This is our new normal. In the midst of grave Covid-19 concerns, dance professors across the country faced university closures and requirements to relocate their courses to the virtual sphere. Online education poses very specific and substantial challenges to dance faculty, but they are finding ways to persist by learning new methods of communication, discovering untapped pedagogical tools, expanding their professional networks, developing helpful new resources and unearthing old ones.

Keep reading... Show less
Site Network
Getty Images

As Broadway goes dark and performances are canceled across the country, the financial repercussions of a global pandemic have gone from hypothetical to very real. This is especially true in the dance community, where many institutions are nonprofits or small businesses operating on thin margins, and performers rely on gigs that are being canceled. It's a scary and uncertain time.

Keep reading... Show less
Site Network
Courtesy of Wroth

The effects of COVID-19 on college dancers might have been devastating. Performances were canceled, seniors trying to savor every last moment together were left without a graduation ceremony, students were encouraged to go home, and at each moment, a question has sounded: How can a student learn how to become a better performer when they are not allowed to perform?

Here at Indiana University's Jacobs School of Music, the ballet department rallied quickly and adapted its programming, choosing to see this hiatus as an opportunity to encourage reflection and self-improvement.

Keep reading... Show less
Getty Images

Q: We always seem to lose the most students after our recitals. How do I prevent post-show fallout?

Keep reading... Show less

mailbox

Get DanceTeacher in your inbox