I have, for many years, considered The Joffrey Ballet School my “professional home”. Throughout my teaching career Joffrey has given me consistent employment, limitless support and a full understanding of my vision for what dance education can be. But I certainly didn’t start my teaching career at Joffrey. I started at Hamilton Dance. The brilliant Rita Hamilton who trained generations of dancers in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, took a chance on an aspiring ballet teacher with absolutely no experience, and in 1989 gave me my first teaching job. She was a consistent and loyal mentor, role model and dear friend from our first meeting and I could have never become the teacher that I am without her guidance, support and love.
When we found ourself in the midst of a pandemic, and studios closed, Rita made her school accessible to me, and this little studio in Greenpoint became my new home. I could safely teach all of my Zoom classes for five different schools in this studio (my apartment is far too small), I could give myself daily class in this studio, I could work on choreography in this studio, and she never took a dime in rent. And as the pandemic raged on I had some online triumphs and I had some online disasters. I felt inspired to dance and I felt resigned to dance. I felt at home, and I felt imprisoned; and all in this tiny studio.
In the midst of this pandemic Rita became quite ill (not COVID-19 related) and required extensive surgery. Anyone who has ever met Rita Hamilton would describe her as a force of nature and a power to be reckoned with; I had no doubt that she would recover. But I was wrong. And Rita tragically left us much too soon. And the despair in that tiny studio engulfed me. But the studio was there. And I danced.
Well, it appears that this beautiful studio that Rita Hamilton built will be closing its doors forever. The countless children that have been touched by her brilliance will have to find a new place to dance, and I am losing my home. I have been helping with the clean-up/clean-out. I have been finding homes for dance wear, costumes and barres. I have been quietly saying goodbye to my professional home. And I never knew that it would be so hard.
So I am now, once again, looking into the future with uncertainty; a place that I have found myself so many times before. My online classes will have to be taught from somewhere, I’m just not sure where that will be. My grandmother, with whom I was very close, used to say: “When a door closes, a window opens”. Well this is a very big door and it is slamming shut very hard. And I keep looking. And I don’t see that window. At least not yet.
One of the most important things that I have learned from my dance training is the importance of relentlessly looking and searching. I have spent decades searching for just the right line, just the right the right placement, just the right musicality, phrasing and quality. Some of things I have found and figured out. Some things I’m still working on. And it is this search that has been central to my growth as a dancer and educator. Now I’m facing a different kind of search and a different kind of challenge. Rita was limitlessly optimistic and always had confidence in me; much more than I had in myself. And so as I search for a new place to dance and to teach my virtual classes, I am searching for the confidence in me that Rita always saw. I hope that Rita’s limitless optimism and confidence will help me find, and open that window. Only time will tell.