Elizabeth Parkinson and Scott Wise momentarily consider the most challenging part of leaving behind their Tony and Astaire Award–winning performance careers. Now full-time teachers at their school FineLine Theatre Arts, the married couple look into each other’s eyes and simultaneously reply, “Three-year-olds!”
Wise: “Those three-year-olds don’t care who you think you are.”
Parkinson: “It’s terrifying.”
Wise: “And you know you’re setting a precedent for dance for them . . .”
Parkinson: “For their whole lives!”
Parkinson and Wise rarely work in the same room. Wise teaches acrobatics, musical theater and tap, while Parkinson teaches ballet, modern and jazz. They attribute their school’s growing success to their different training backgrounds and styles. Several of their students have worked professionally in companies like MOMIX and shows like Billy Elliot.
Wise fronting the chorus. Photo by Joan Marcus, courtesy of The Publicity Office.
Given Wise’s natural stage prowess, it’s remarkable that his teaching style is so patient. “Scott,” says Parkinson, “performs with an intensity that borders on frightening. Absolute joy and absolute anger are easy for him to reach.” Born in Pocatello, Idaho, Wise studied, he says, “at every Dolly Dinkle school imaginable. Every one of my teachers taught me something about performance.” But it was his mother who helped him the most. Despite the fact that dance performance was considered unmanly, he says, “She wanted me to have something special to call my own.” In his 20s Wise moved east to study ballet (after excelling in gymnastics), but he never lost his western style.
Remembering his first glimpse of Parkinson in rehearsals, Wise recalls, “She was sitting on the floor putting on her ballet shoes for jazz class,” and “She was wearing an old raggedy knit unitard.” But he saw beyond the clothes. Photo by Joan Marcus, courtesy of The Publicity Office.
Like her husband, Parkinson isn’t one to put on airs. She stunned her fellow Joffrey Ballet dancers when she left her principal position there to perform with smaller companies (Eliot Feld and Donald Byrd) and to work on the opposite side of the tracks—Broadway. She didn’t take a conventional training route either. At age 9, growing up in Tampa, Florida, she tried ballet and didn’t think much of it. She returned to it at 13 years old and never stopped, bucking the perception that if a ballet dancer doesn’t begin training before she reaches puberty, she will never turn pro. “I really see how your experiences shape how you are as a teacher,” says Parkinson, who encourages her students to study acting and to find their passion—whatever it is.
“For us to have a school,” says Parkinson, whose commitment to her students borders on the devout, “we need to really love it.” Wise wholeheartedly agrees: “It’s amazing how close you get to the kids.”