The 2023 Dance Teacher Awards will take place on Thursday, August 10 at the Sheen Center for Thought & Culture in New York City, and you’re invited! Click here to buy tickets.
When she was young, Hilary Cartwright never envisioned becoming an educator. “I was one of the most impatient dancers,” she recalls. “I always wanted things to be happening now. I thought I’d make a useless teacher!” But after an injury cut short her performing career, Cartwright was asked to step into a teaching position—and found a new passion and purpose. “My first students were actors and dancers, and some had never taken a ballet class,” she says. “They’d ask, ‘What’s that step for?’ and I had to think, What is it for? Is it worth doing? This formed my philosophy of how I teach. It’s always a conversation. Don’t just accept what I say. If you’re not sure, ask me why.”
As a child in England, Cartwright trained in ballet, modern dance, music, and acting before being accepted into The Royal Ballet School on scholarship at 17. She joined The Royal Ballet two years later and rose through the ranks to soloist. Unfortunately, a few years into her tenure, she took a bad fall onstage, and an undiagnosed slipped disc led to her retirement. At first, Cartwright stayed connected to the dance world through writing. She published a series of articles in The Dancing Times, followed by a book for an educational publisher. Those works earned her an invitation to teach for the English National Opera, which led to teaching freelance classes, which resulted in her return to The Royal Ballet as a company teacher and répétiteur.
She taught at The Royal Ballet for around seven years before requesting a leave of absence: “I was in a vacuum,” she says. “I needed to see how other companies worked.” Her travels in the U.S., Canada, and Europe broadened her awareness as a teacher, setting her up for future leadership roles, including associate artistic director at Royal Winnipeg Ballet, director of Nederlands Dans Theater II (known then as De Springplank), and ballet mistress at the Joffrey Ballet.
But the fallout from her injury still plagued her. “I was always very physical in my teaching,” she says. “My enthusiasm would have me demonstrating what I wanted.” As she approached 40, she began to look for new ways to care for her body. Enter New York City–based yoga teacher and former ballet dancer Juliu Horvath. In the 1980s, Cartwright worked closely with Horvath, helping create the methodology that would become central to Horvath’s Gyrotonic Method and co-founding White Cloud Studio, where it was developed. Cartwright also began to evolve her own system of yoga, which she took with her when she and Horvath went their separate ways.
Yoga Narada (formerly “Hilary Cartwright’s Yoga for Dancers”) is all about alignment, awareness, and breath. It’s gentle and mindful, warming up each part of the body before progressing to bigger, fuller movements; there’s no jumping straight into sun salutations in Cartwright’s class. “We start slowly, bringing the nervous system to life,” she says. “The breathwork becomes our rhythm. The energy comes from the center of the body—that’s where your powerhouse is, deep inside you. We build that energy up, and then, at the end of class, bring it back down, so it’s there for you the next time you need it.”
Yoga Narada principles now manifest in Cartwright’s ballet classes, as well. “Right from the beginning of barre, I talk about breath,” she says. “Many dancers find breathing incredibly difficult! I want them to find the rhythm of the breath—the accents—to use it.” She also teaches structured stretching exercises, going over what each stretch is intended to do in the context of ballet movements. Whether she’s working with young teens or professional dancers, she asks students to be receptive and to ask questions. “I give them the keys,” she says. “They open the door.”
“The first word that comes to mind when I think of Hilary is ‘generosity,’ ” says Cartwright’s longtime friend Magali Messac, a former principal at American Ballet Theatre and Pacific Northwest Ballet who went on to found Gyrotonic Seattle in 1987. “Hilary thrives on helping people. She’s a fabulous coach, able to bring dancers to the Royal Ballet style while keeping their own personality. She teaches an excellent ballet class. And her yoga class, with its movement, breath, artistry—there’s nothing like it. It feels like dancing.”
Before the pandemic, Cartwright was busy teaching Yoga Narada and Gyrotonic in New York City; leading yoga retreats and teacher trainings; and guest-teaching and staging Frederick Ashton’s ballets at top-tier companies around the world. In 2022, she relocated to Spain; most of her class offerings are now virtual, although she leads in-person workshops in Bern, Switzerland. “Having just turned 80, I’ll probably teach till I drop—but in moderation,” she says. “I want to work with anyone who feels they can gain something from what I have to offer. That makes me happy.”
Profiles on the other four award winners are available here.