"You're a fine dancer, but very strong-willed," said Sir Anton Dolin to 12-year-old Richard Marsden, a precocious ballet student with big dreams of performing.
His mentor's frank sentiment continues to elicit a touch of bashful guilt from the former New York City Ballet dancer, who could never have imagined the fulfilling ballet career in store for him. "Being strong-willed is not a bad quality to have now," says Marsden. "But back then, it wasn't accepted well in a dance class."
Marsden began training with Dolin, his godfather, at the age of 12, the same year he was awarded a scholarship to the School of American Ballet. He danced the repertory of George Balanchine, Jerome Robbins and Peter Martins at NYCB and performed as a premier dancer and guest artist with ballet companies throughout the world.
Ten years ago, Finis Jhung, the legendary ballet master extraordinaire, who danced soloist and principal roles with the San Francisco, Joffrey and Harkness Ballet companies in the 1960s, began experiencing excruciating pain and instability in his right leg. Severe arthritis, diagnosed his doctor. The risk and recovery time of hip replacement convinced Jhung to seek alternative solutions—cortisone treatments, chiropractic therapy, acupuncture. Nothing helped. A weekly deep-tissue massage, to relax his abductors and inner-thigh muscles, and his own self-designed stretching regimen worked for a while.
And then it didn't. Teaching five ballet classes a week demanded increased recovery time, while his ability to demonstrate simple ballet steps was decreasing. Last summer, soon after Jhung turned 80, he decided to reconsider surgery.