Dancer vouches for art education

Former principal dancer with the New York City Ballet Jacques D’Amboise loves to be on stage.

D’Amboise, a dancer and choreographer, got back on stage on Thursday at a Master’s Tea in the Jonathan Edwards College Theater to discuss his nonprofit National Dance Institute and the importance of an education in art. At the talk, D’Amboise said he believes that ensuring art is included in education is essential because it offers students a more fluid perspective on learning than traditional education.

“Music used to be in public schools — but these were gone, as if these are not important,” he said. “So I thought at least I could give that back to them and give them another way to learn.”

D’Amboise said he founded the National Dance Institute, a nonprofit that offers music and dance classes to public school students, in 1976 based on his belief that promoting art education can motivate and empower children. Since he established the first National Dance Institute in New York City, the organization has expanded to 13 more cities throughout the country and opened a location in Shanghai last year.

A distinction exists between learning and education, D’Amboise said, because people are continuously learning, but education stops when a degree is given.

“The most talented artists and poetry writers are children around 4 or 5. Then they start going to school to get an ‘education,’ and they’re told to draw straight lines,” he said. “So now they can’t draw those crazy rays of wire and convoluted lines.”

D’Amboise said he learned to value an unstructured education from his mother, who insisted that he and his siblings learn a variety of skills such as public speaking and French. Due in part to his mother’s conviction, D’Amboise added, he read “anything and everything” all the time. At age 8, his mother sent him to the School of American Ballet to expand his arts education, and while there, he met George Balanchine, co-founder and choreographer of the New York City Ballet.

D’Amboise said his career took off when he was 8 after Balanchine cast him as Puck in “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” and he left school to join the New York City Ballet by age 15. D’Amboise said he had tea with the queen of England before he turned 16, and had been on “The Ed Sullivan Show” three times by the time he was 35 years old. In his career, D’Amboise has received many awards including a MacArthur Fellowship, a Kennedy Center Honors Award and a National Medal of the Arts.

D’Amboise said that in his career he hopes the National Dance Institute will immortalize his goal of educating others.

“I formed this nonprofit because I could hire other people, and then quit or die, and the place would continue,” he said. “It doesn’t depend on [me].”

Megan Valentine ’16, who participated in a demonstration on stage where she was instructed to combine dance and science, said she felt that she better understood D’Amboise’s message about learning after participating in the demonstration.

“[D’Amboise] decided to teach me how to be a molecule, which was pretty exciting because I’ve never learned to do that in school before,” she said.

Amymarie Bartholomew ’13, president of the Yale Ballet Company, said she had been looking forward to meeting D’Amboise because he has made such a significant impact on the dancing community.

“He has a lot of character,” she said. “People always have such interesting stories, especially about Balanchine because he’s such a canonical figure in American dance.”

A documentary film made about D’Amboise called “He Makes Me Feel Like Dancin’” won an Academy Award for best documentary feature in 1983.

Comments