Dance Teachers Plus
January 1, 2009
Like Clark Kent, Alex Bloomstein leads a double life. Every morning at 7:30, he drives from his home in Great Barrington, Massachusetts, to his law office in Hillsdale, New York, and works until mid-afternoon. Then it’s off to his dance studio in Beacon, NY, about 70 miles south. He walks through the door in his suit and tie and minutes later emerges, Superman-like, outfitted in dance gear and ready to teach class.
It’s all in a day’s work for Bloomstein, who for the past two and a half years has owned, operated and taught at the conservatory-level Ballet Arts Studio, in addition to running a law practice. As any studio owner can attest, running one business is hard enough, never mind two. But Bloomstein isn’t alone in his willingness to do whatever it takes to keep dance in his life—even if that means juggling two careers.
Take Sheila Ward, an exercise physiologist and epidemiologist who holds an associate professorship at Norfolk State University in Virginia. Friday might find her lecturing at a cancer-survivor conference, while the next day she’s busy setting choreography on members of her Philadelphia-based dance company, Eleone Dance Theatre. And Lisa Lockwood, a former American Ballet Theatre and Broadway dancer, manages a large ballet class load at STEPS on Broadway in New York City while running her own garden and floral design firm in the suburbs.
All three acknowledge that maintaining dual careers means endless work, limited downtime and plenty of stress. But they say it’s all worth it to hold on to a passion. “I have a dear friend who said to me, ‘You are so fortunate to have two things you love doing,’” says Ward. “Some people don’t even have one.”
A Blessing in Disguise
Ward holds a BS in physical education with an emphasis in dance, an MEd and PhD in exercise physiology and an MPH (master’s of public health) specializing in epidemiology. One of her areas of expertise is managing chronic diseases such as cancer, diabetes and arthritis through physical activity.
Growing up, Ward studied dance in the Richmond, VA, public school system, and later majored in physical education, the mandated course of study for modern dancers at Indiana University. A class in exercise physiology—the study of what happens to the body during and after exercise—piqued her interest and eventually led to a career teaching that same subject, along with anatomy physiology, at Norfolk. “If I had not followed my passion for dance, I might never have found out about exercise physiology,” she says. “Indiana U had a strong ballet program, but that was not my forte. Studying phys ed was a blessing in disguise.”
But Ward didn’t give up dance entirely. In fact, she danced professionally with Philadelphia Dance Company and Philadanco II before joining Eleone Dance Theatre, which she has co-directed since 1998. Most weekends, she makes a four-hour commute to Philadelphia to work with EDT, a company whose diverse repertory spans contemporary, modern, spiritual, rhythm and blues, African and hip hop. During the summer, she stays in Philly longer to help the company prepare new choreography, including her own, for the coming season. She also writes grants, manages money, books gigs, prepares contracts and handles touring arrangements for the 12 company members and two apprentices.
While she occasionally joins EDT onstage, Ward admits that her days of whipping through multiple numbers are over. Still, she enjoys keeping her strong connection to the artistic world—and sharing her love of dance with others. In addition to her work with the company, Ward has taught hundreds of public school students through residencies in Virginia, Delaware and Pennsylvania.
Ward finds a way to incorporate dance into all her classes, whether or not they take place in a studio. She remembers a conference at which she was talking to cancer survivors about changing their lives by exercising. “Close your eyes,” she told them, “and when you open them, see how you should feel inside.” On a screen, she had projected an image of an Eleone dancer in a gorgeous leap, arms lifted, head high. “This is you, with joy,” Ward told the survivors, “you with the liberation to live your best life starting right now.”
Lisa Lockwood’s garden and floral design firm is called Choreanthus. “It’s a made-up word, sort of like ‘choreography’ and ‘plants,’” she explains. “I feel like I’m choreographing the flowers. It’s really fun.”
With a grandfather who was a farmer and a mother who was a gardener, Lockwood was raised with an appreciation for growing things. Yet she spent her early career not outdoors but onstage, dancing with ABT from 1976 to 1985 and on Broadway in On Your Toes and The Phantom of the Opera. After starting a family, she transitioned to teaching dance—but still the world of nature called to her.
Lockwood apprenticed with a friend to learn floral design technique, and she called upon knowledge passed on by her mother to understand how different types of plants grow and which ones work together. She then opened her own business in the basement of her Nyack, NY home.
Most of her jobs are private gardens, although patients at New York-Presbyterian Hospital enjoy her work through the artificial arrangements she created for a long-term care unit, as do students at a school where she designed an outdoor courtyard with a babbling creek and Japanese elements. She’s even done weddings, but draws the line there. “I have another career going!” she says.
That career is teaching ballet at STEPS on Broadway, where this year she added classes to her course load. Lockwood says the two jobs are “a wonderful complement. The real issues in garden design are lines, texture and color.” In fact, she often designs a garden as if it were a stage setting—two lines of flowers like the corps, principals in the middle and larger plants for a backdrop. But, in art as in dance, she also likes to break the rules sometimes, whether by adding an asymmetrical touch or pushing a homeowner who wants a neat and tidy look to go for something a little wilder. That creative element has replaced what Lockwood missed when she stopped performing. “I loved being in a company and dancing, and I didn’t have the outlet anymore,” she says. “Floral design has fulfilled that part of me.”
She’s considered giving up teaching to concentrate solely on gardens, but feels that would leave a void. “I’m exhausted at the end of the day,” she says, “but it’s a good exhausted.”
Rediscovering a Lost Love
There was a time when Alex Bloomstein’s life revolved around dance. Enticed into class by a girlfriend at age 18, he immediately dropped everything else and started dancing. At the University of Massachusetts Amherst, his major was political science and economics, but his course load was predominantly dance. His post-college life was spent teaching, performing, taking class and working odd jobs as a stage manager or lighting designer to make ends meet.
When his first child was born, though, he realized that those ends weren’t meeting enough. “I looked around and made a stupid decision—I stopped dancing instantly,” he says. “It wasbreaking my heart, but it was the only way. I knew if I kept my hand in it at all, I’d always want to be there.”
After graduating law school and passing the bar, Bloomstein spent three years as a corporate lawyer and 12 years as a trial lawyer, working in family law and criminal defense, with hearings all day every day. Then one day, one of his former dance colleagues, Valerie Feit, called. She owned a dance studio and was looking to pass it on. Bloomstein realized he was not happy and considered the offer.
Though his decision to purchase the studio proved much easier than his decision to leave the dance world all those years ago, it was still a scary leap. But he made it nonetheless, becoming the artistic director of Ballet Arts Studio in addition to being a lawyer. For the past two and a half years he’s been living his double life, logging lots of miles and falling into bed exhausted at the end of each day.
Bloomstein says that handling the studio’s administrative needs is the toughest part. He admits he is ready for another change, but this time he’ll be cutting back on law, not dance. “The studio is my love at this point,” he says. “That’s what I need to focus on.”
Bloomstein’s law background does come in handy: When a costume company tried to extend a delivery deadline, which would have left Ballet Arts Studio without costumes for an upcoming performance, Bloomstein penned a quick response—on law office letterhead. “I was not threatening, but I was able to write a letter that packs more of a punch,” he says.
Ballet Arts Studio got its costumes—on time. DT
Karen White is a freelance journalist and longtime dance instructor in Taunton, MA.