Peridance Teacher Peter Schabel Remembers Mary Tyler Moore
January 26, 2017

Actress Mary Tyler Moore passed away yesterday in Greenwich, Connecticut, at age 80. Known for her starring roles on “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” in the ’70s and “The Dick Van Dyke Show” in the ’60s, Moore helped create a positive image of the 20th-century career woman.

But did you know that she was a dancer, too?

Last night, DT assistant editor Helen Rolfe spoke with Peridance faculty member Peter Schabel about his experience having Moore in his ballet class at the David Howard Dance Center in New York City in the 1980s. Here’s what he had to say:

“It was 1985. I was starting a new intermediate ballet class at 3 in the afternoon. At about 10 minutes to 3, no one had shown up. All of a sudden, Mary Tyler Moore comes in to take the class. At that point, she was about 50 and was only taking barre, but she came quite often—wonderful lady. But that day she stayed for the whole class, which was unlike her. I was ready to stop at any time, but she took the whole class because she didn’t want me to feel bad about not having any other students there.

“The next day she called in and said, ‘I was going to come take class again, but I’m paralyzed.’ She had done all the jumps and all the turns, but she hadn’t been doing that for years. It was just another indication of how lovely she was.

“About five or six years later, I remember she had come to take David Howard’s class the day before, and in front of her had been Sylvie Guillem. Mary came the next day to take my class, and in my class that day were Darci Kistler and Gelsey Kirkland. So Mary came to me at the end of class and said, ‘You know I like to be the best. And somehow I’ve just realized these last few days that I can’t be the best. I think maybe it’s time for me to stop.’

“She didn’t really come again to take class until about 10 years later. There was a Dick Van Dyke reunion TV movie. In the film she played the owner of a ballet studio. She wanted to do this dance sequence, but she was having trouble with balance because of her diabetes, since it had affected her eyesight. So she worked with David Howard, and I came in a few times to warm her up and help her with the dance routines she did in the movie.

“She was a lovely lovely lady—such a nice presence to have in the room.”

Check out Moore’s dance in “The Dick Van Dyke Show Revisited” (2004), which Howard and Schabel helped train her for. It starts at 3:30.

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