Three Graces

"I’m lucky indeed to have worked with Sharon, Carolyn and Ruthie over a span of 21 years, from 1962 when Sharon joined my company, through 1983 when Ruthie retired. They’ve had an impact on our field far beyond the many roles they created and the exemplary influence they had on fellow company members. In an artform that—more than any other—relies on one generation to pass its knowledge on to the next in the most personal way, they have a knack for preparing young dancers to become the best artists they can be."
—Paul Taylor

Over the years, hundreds of American Dance Festival students, guided by Adams, Andrien and Kinney, have transcended themselves to meet the demands of such Taylor classics as Aureole and Esplanade. In tribute to their collective “zunch” and lifelong dedication to their chosen path, this summer ADF awarded these three artists the 2009 Balasaraswati/Joy Ann Dewey Beinecke Endowed Chair for Distinguished Teaching. “Their collective contributions and shared dedications have helped shape a generation of modern dancers,” says ADF Dean Donna Faye Burchfield.

“How interesting that these three marvelous teachers came out of Taylor’s company,” says ADF Director Charles Reinhart. Taylor didn’t particularly like to teach and avoided it when possible, according to Reinhart, who managed the Taylor company, 1962–72. About the women, Reinhart says, “All three have that inner light which comes across in both their teaching and performing.” He notes that today’s dancers, in cultivating an independent career, often look for a teacher with whom they have a special affinity, or a teacher who has specialized information, rather than devoting themselves to a particular style or technique. “In teaching,” he says, “that inner light is more essential than ever.”


Carolyn Adams performed with the Taylor Company for 17 years (1965–1982), becoming one of the dancers most strongly identified with the Taylor repertory. Some of the memorable roles that Taylor created on her: the fleet-footed, running solo in Esplanade; the Little Girl in the terrifying Big Bertha; and the mysterious solo in Runes. Sharon Kinney remembers: “Carolyn had a unique combination of qualities. She was petite and appealing, and at the same time elegant, a princess. When she entered, it was like royalty coming onstage.”

Reinhart remembers Adams’ audition: “Her delightful spirit infected the room,” he says. “When the audition was over, Paul immediately invited her to join the company. ‘I can’t,’ she said, ‘I have to finish college.’ So Paul waited for her to graduate from Sarah Lawrence, and a year later she joined the company.”

Soon after she joined Taylor, Adams and her sister Julie opened a dance school in Harlem. They produced musicals that became popular neighborhood events. Children, parents, Broadway dancers, friends and Taylor dancers all took part, reaffirming Adams’ belief in the arts as a community activity. On the faculty at Juilliard since 1983, Adams likens teaching to parenting. “You never really know your impact,” she says. To her students she says, “My job is to teach you everything I know, in the hope that you will go on to do something I never saw or dreamed of.”

Concerned that dance is the only art that doesn’t provide ongoing access to its masterpieces in the public domain, she co-founded the American Dance Legacy Institute. Now sponsored by Brown University and funded by the National Endowment for the Arts, the Institute documents and preserves works by important modern choreographers. Dance “études” based on material from such repertory classics as Donald McKayle’s Rainbow ’Round My Shoulder or Anna Sokolow’s Rooms are available, with a teacher/director, for study or performance.

In 2002, Adams and her husband Robert Kahn (also a Taylor alum) adopted two half-sibling children, then 9 and 13, from Azerbaijan. The children spoke no English, and the new parents were unprepared for the gaping cultural abyss between them and the children. Three years ago Adams earned a masters in social work from Fordham University. “I undertook this degree because I wanted to better understand the dynamics of the complicated family we had suddenly become.” (As this article was being written, Adams was organizing a wedding for her now 21-year-old daughter.)



Ruth Andrien, who danced with the Taylor Company, 1974–83, is one of the premier restagers of Mr. Taylor’s work for universities and dance companies around the world, among them the Paris Opéra Ballet, American Ballet Theatre and in Tunisia for the State Department’s international exchange program. She currently directs The Paul Taylor Project at ADF. In 2007 she completed her MFA in Dance from Hollins University/ADF. “Working for Paul opened visions of other worlds, through the mystery of his phenomenal dances. When I began to teach, I found that these visions were transferable. Paul also challenged and cared for me as an artist and as a person, so it was natural to pass this encouragement on to others.”

Leaving her husband at home in Pennsylvania, Andrien remembers being desperately homesick while on tour, and at the dress rehearsal for the premiere of Polaris, she kept bumping into the set. Finally, Taylor asked, “What is wrong with you?” At that point, she remembers, she buried her face in his shirt and blew her nose on his necktie. “I don’t think he minded that so much,” Andrien says, “because he knew that dance sometimes asks for more than anyone can give. We Taylor dancers were lucky enough to work for a choreographer who appreciated striving more than perfection.”

“I saw that dance could come from a love for enchantment,” she says. “I try to help students find that enchantment by connecting their inner lives to movement. I’m enjoying new opportunities for learning and growing as a teacher. I just finished a semester at Southern Methodist University, teaching technique and setting Cloven Kingdom on the students and, as usual, working with the kind of dreamers who find their way into this artform. My recent master’s degree from the Hollins/ADF program opened my eyes to new ways of thinking about dance and its contexts.”

Andrien says that the Taylor technique is hard to pin down. “The notes I usually give have to do with increasing volume, using a kind of body undertow, finding the stillness in focus, unleashing the need to move violently or wickedly or moving in partnership with space. But yeah, point your feet, too.”


Sharon Kinney began working with Taylor in 1962. She remembers the thrill of those early days in the studio when Taylor was investigating and developing his choreographic voice. During her four years with the company Taylor created major pieces of his repertory: Aureole, Scudorama, Piece Period, Party Mix and others. She values the teaching experience she gained, thanks to Taylor’s personal aversion to teaching. “Paul always said to us, ‘You teach your own class. Teach whatever interests you.’ He let us teach some of the repertory, and watched us to make sure we were on track,” she says. “I still have permission to teach some of his rep in my classes.”

Kinney says that the freedom Taylor gave them in teaching was liberating. “I didn’t want to be just one thing. I’ve lived like a gypsy, traveled the world, danced with other choreographers—Twyla Tharp, Dan Wagoner, Yuriko—collecting different experiences,” she says. “I want my students to experience that freedom, too. Finding modern dance when I was 14 years old allowed me to express my desire to be many things. I’m still hoping to dance in a movie musical!”

Kinney has taught at Juilliard, New York University, Ohio State University, Virginia Commonwealth University, California State University–Long Beach and the Paul Taylor Studio, among others. “I want to pass on the wisdom and inspiration given to me by my early teachers, Josephine Schwarz in Dayton, and Helen P. Alkire at Ohio State,” she says.

Reflecting on the 11 summers she taught at the American Dance Festival, she says, “As much as Paul Taylor influenced my life, so did ADF, by giving me the opportunity to test myself as a teacher and choreographer, to try out new ideas and teaching methods. I made my debut with the Taylor Company there, in Aureole.

In 1997 she moved to Los Angeles to be close to her two sons and their families, and to earn her MFA in choreography for dance and the camera from UCLA. She has choreographed more than 30 dances and three films (including Robert Altman’s Popeye). Currently, Kinney teaches composition at Cal State–Long Beach. This summer she directed the Paul Taylor Summer Intensive in New York City. “Being a former member of the company is a special honor,” says Kinney. “When I go back to see performances or visit the studio, the current dancers are always generous and loving to me. And admiring. They make me realize that I have a lot to offer younger dancers.”

Dancer/choreographer Linda Tarnay is a longtime faculty member at NYU Tisch School of the Arts.

Photo by Rachel Papo

*Click here to watch a modern class with Carolyn Adams at Juilliard, and clips from the 2009 ADF award ceremony.  

Teachers Trending
Alwin Courcy, courtesy Ballet des Amériques

Carole Alexis has been enduring the life-altering after-effects of COVID-19 since April 2020. For months on end, the Ballet des Amériques director struggled with fevers, tingling, dizziness and fatigue. Strange bruising showed up on her skin, along with the return of her (long dormant) asthma, plus word loss and stuttering.

"For three days I would experience relief from the fever—then, boom—it would come back worse than before," Alexis says. "I would go into a room and not know why I was there." Despite the remission of some symptoms, the fatigue and other debilitating side effects have endured to this day. Alexis is part of a tens-of-thousands-member club nobody wants to be part of—she is a COVID-19 long-hauler.

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Teachers Trending

Annika Abel Photography, courtesy Griffith

When the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis last May catalyzed nationwide protests against systemic racism, the tap community resumed longstanding conversations about teaching a Black art form in the era of Black Lives Matter. As these dialogues unfolded on social media, veteran Dorrance Dance member Karida Griffith commented infrequently, finding it difficult to participate in a meaningful way.

"I had a hard time watching people have these conversations without historical context and knowledge," says Griffith, who now resides in her hometown of Portland, Oregon, after many years in New York City. "It was clear that there was so much information missing."

For example, she observed people discussing tap while demonstrating ignorance about Black culture. Or, posts that tried to impose upon tap the history or aesthetics of European dance forms.

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Studio Owners
Courtesy Tonawanda Dance Arts

If you're considering starting a summer program this year, you're likely not alone. Summer camp and class options are a tried-and-true method for paying your overhead costs past June—and, done well, could be a vehicle for making up for lost 2020 profits.

Plus, they might take on extra appeal for your studio families this year. Those struggling financially due to the pandemic will be in search of an affordable local programming option rather than an expensive, out-of-town intensive. And with summer travel still likely in question this spring as July and August plans are being made, your studio's local summer training option remains a safe bet.

The keys to profitable summer programming? Figuring out what type of structure will appeal most to your studio clientele, keeping start-up costs low—and, ideally, converting new summer students into new year-round students.


Find a formula that works for your studio

For Melanie Boniszewski, owner of Tonawanda Dance Arts in upstate New York, the answer to profitable summer programming lies in drop-in classes.

"We're in a cold-weather climate, so summer is actually really hard to attract people—everyone wants to be outside, and no one wants to commit to a full season," she says.

Tonawanda Dance Arts offers a children's program in which every class is à la carte: 30-minute, $15 drop-in classes are offered approximately two times a week in the evenings, over six weeks, for different age groups. And two years ago, she created her Stay Strong All Summer Long program for older students, which offers 12 classes throughout the summer and a four-day summer camp. Students don't know what type of class they're attending until they show up. "If you say you're going to do a hip-hop class, you could get 30 kids, but if you do ballet, it could be only 10," she says. "We tell them to bring all of their shoes and be ready for anything."

Start-up costs are minimal—just payroll and advertising (which she starts in April). For older age groups, Boniszewski focuses on bringing in her studio clientele, rather than marketing externally. In the 1- to 6-year-old age group, though, around 50 percent of summer students tend to be new ones—98 percent of whom she's been able to convert to year-round classes.

A group of elementary school aged- girls stands in around a dance studio. A teacher, a young black man, stands in front of the studio, talking to them

An East County Performing Arts Center summer class from several years ago. Photo courtesy ECPAC

East County Performing Arts Center owner Nina Koch knows that themed, weeklong camps are the way to go for younger dancers, as her Brentwood, California students are on a modified year-round academic school calendar, and parents are usually looking for short-term daycare solutions to fill their abbreviated summer break.

Koch keeps her weekly camps light on dance: "When we do our advertising for Frozen Friends camp, for example, it's: 'Come dance, tumble, play games, craft and have fun!'"

Though Koch treats her campers as studio-year enrollment leads, she acknowledges that these weeklong camps naturally function as a way for families who aren't ready for a long-term commitment to still participate in dance. "Those who aren't enrolled for the full season will be put into a sales nurture campaign," she says. "We do see a lot of campers come to subsequent camps, including our one-day camps that we hold once a month throughout our regular season."

Serve your serious dancers

One dilemma studio owners may face: what to do about your most serious dancers, who may be juggling outside intensives with any summer programming that you offer.

Consider making their participation flexible. For Boniszweski's summer program, competitive dancers must take six of the 12 classes offered over a six-week period, as well as the four-day summer camp, which takes place in mid-August. "This past summer, because of COVID, they paid for six but were able to take all 12 if they wanted," she says. "Lots of people took advantage of that."

For Koch, it didn't make sense to require her intensive dancers to participate in summer programming, partly because she earned more revenue catering to younger students and partly because her older students often made outside summer-training plans. "That's how you build a well-rounded dancer—you want them to go off and get experience from teachers you might not be able to bring in," she says.

Another option: Offering private lessons. Your more serious dancers can take advantage of flexible one-on-one training, and you can charge higher fees for individualized instruction. Consider including a financial incentive to get this kind of programming up and running. "Five years ago, we saw that some kids were asking for private lessons, so we created packages: If you bought five lessons, you'd get one for free—to get people in the door," says Boniszewksi. "After two years, once that program took off, we got rid of the discount. People will sign up for as many as 12 private lessons."

A large group of students stretch in a convention-style space with large windows. They follow a teacher at the front of the room in leaning over their right leg for a hamstring stretch

Koch's summer convention experience several years ago. Photo courtesy East County Performing Arts Center

Bring the (big) opportunities to your students

If you do decide to target older, more serious dancers for your summer programming, you may need to inject some dance glamour to compete with fancier outside intensives.

Bring dancers opportunities they wouldn't have as often during the school year. For Boniszewski, that means offering virtual master classes with big-name teachers, like Misha Gabriel and Briar Nolet. For Koch, it's bringing the full convention experience to her students—and opening it up to the community at large. In past years, she's rented her local community center for a weekend-long in-house convention and brought in professional ballet, jazz, musical theater and contemporary guest teachers.

In 2019, the convention was "nicely profitable" while still an affordable $180 per student, and attracted 120 dancers, a mix of her dancers and dancers from other studios. "It was less expensive than going to a big national convention, because parents didn't have to worry about lodging or travel," Koch says. "We wanted it to be financially attainable for families to experience something like this in our sleepy little town."

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