When Martine van Hamel burst onto the New York dance scene in the 1970s as a ballerina with American Ballet Theatre, she was a bit of an anomaly. At 5′ 7″, she was taller than most ballerinas at the time, but what really made her shine—in a company already filled with stars like Gelsey Kirkland and Natalia Makarova—was her immaculate technique, poignant interpretations of dramatic roles and extreme stylistic range.
Now 71, she still has the impeccable posture, grace and magnetic presence of a prima ballerina. We were honored to feature her on the cover of our March issue. Check out five of our favorite outtakes from our cover shoot below!
Today, van Hamel translates the unique combination of intuition, musicality and crystalline form that made her a star to the young pre-professional dancers at ABT’s Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis School and with the ABT Studio Company, where she is on faculty.
Unlike many retiring dancers, who go straight into teaching, van Hamel eased her way into it. “It was a transition that was really tough,” she says. “It scared me at the time. I knew I would find it hard as a novice teacher, even though of course I knew a lot about dance and had my points of view.”
“You have to let me see what the music is,” she will tell her JKO students, a large group of teens from around the world. “If the music went away, I should still know what song the accompanist is playing.”
Van Hamel isn’t a fan of perfectly flat turnout. “I don’t think everyone is gifted with 180-degree turnout,” she says. “Forcing that hurts the knees and ankles, and a lot of unnecessary physical problems happen that way.”
She emphasizes to her students that they move in one piece. “When you travel through space,” she says, “it’s important to realize that the whole body goes through space—not just your legs.”