In February 2017, 88-year-old master ballet teacher Sheila Rozann became an internet sensation when a short video about her, made by family members, went viral.
There have now been nearly 3 million views of the under-three-minute video that captures Miss Rozann’s raison d’être: teaching ballet. She’s been a teacher for 67 years, and her reason for being has never changed. At almost 90, she says, “For dance, I have energy.”
This became clear to her nephew, Maxwell Ryan, two years ago when he saw his aunt teaching for the first time. “I was totally and utterly surprised by the transformation that happens when she teaches and how powerful it is. This is what we tried to capture on film,” says Ryan.
Rozann’s grandson, photographer Quinn Wharton, shot and edited the video. (Wharton previously danced with San Francisco Ballet and Hubbard Street Dance Chicago.) Ryan ran it on Apartment Therapy’s website, which he founded in 2004 with his brother Oliver, and shared the video with its social network.
Rozann said that once the video got out, it went from Apartment Therapy’s social channels and spread throughout an informal social ballet network, which includes her former students, companies that have hired her students, former students’ friends and parents, and on and on. Many were happy to share a glimpse into the life of a remarkable woman with a keen ability to get the best from her students.
Rozann’s gift was recognized early in her career by George Balanchine. Several of her students from the Rozann-Zimmerman Ballet Center auditioned successfully for New York City Ballet’s production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream at the Greek Theater in L.A. So, Balanchine paid her a visit at her new studio in the San Fernando Valley. That was the beginning of a 40-year-long relationship between her and the School of American Ballet, during which many of her students went to study there. Rozann herself was invited to participate in Balanchine’s Ford Foundation–sponsored teaching seminars at SAB over the course of four to five years.
Some of her students have gone on to professional ballet careers. Of those who’ve retired from performing, some are now teaching and imparting Rozann’s passion for ballet and approaches to the form to their students and a new generation of dancers.
Zippora Karz, former soloist with New York City Ballet, began studying with Rozann at age 7. “In Sheila’s studio I first experienced the transformative power of dance,” says Karz. “She taught us how to train our bodies to become instruments, to allow the music to express through them.”
Since retirement from NYCB, Karz has been a répétiteur for the George Balanchine Trust and also teaches at USC Kaufman School of Dance and Colburn Dance Academy in L.A.
Romy Karz followed in her sister’s footsteps, starting ballet at a young age and ultimately dancing with NYCB. During her years at Rozann’s studio, she recalls that it wasn’t until Level 3 that a student got to study with Miss Rozann and how exciting that was. “She set the standard of excellence in me,” says Karz. “Sheila had the ability to pull this out of us.” Karz is also teaching at Colburn Dance Academy. Both sisters note that students of Rozann who didn’t pursue professional dance careers have achieved excellence in other fields.
Rozann’s students from New Mexico, where she relocated in 1995, continue to develop into outstanding young artists. Two young men admitted to Juilliard’s incoming class of freshmen this year were taught by her at National Dance Institute New Mexico.
Miss Rozann celebrates her 90th birthday this fall. She’ll likely spend it in the studio teaching—doing what she’s always loved and was maybe even born to do.