Few events draw as many of the best of the best as the Dance Magazine Awards. Last night, Dance Magazine honored four amazing women: American Ballet Theatre principal Julie Kent, Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater principal Renee Robinson, New York Times dance critic Anna Kisselgoff and the master of all master tap teachers, Dianne Walker. It was truly a star-studded event with dance celebs galore in the audience, including Paloma Herrera, Suki Schorer, Freddie Franklin, Robert Battle, Hope Boykin, Omar Edwards, Deborah Jowitt, Susan Jaffe and many, many more. And while the entire evening left me completely inspired, a few event moments were particularly touching:
1. Julie Kent wore a dazzling short gold dress with cap sleeves—adorably, but elegantly, matching her daughter’s.
2. In her acceptance speech, Kent reflected on a card given to her by Natalia Markarova before Kent’s debut in La Bayadere. Markarova wrote: “Someone once said that beauty can save the world. So you have a great responsibility.” The gorgeous Kent has certainly lived up to that sentiment over the years.
3. Even though Robinson had gone through the Ailey School and was a member of Ailey II, she had to audition TWICE before being accepted into the main company. (Where she has performed for 30 years.) Tell this story to students frustrated with rejection. It’s especially inspiring considering that Judith Jamison (of all people!) referred to Robinson as the “Queen of Alvin Ailey” during her award presentation.
4. Anna Kisselgoff’s astute declaration that she studied dance from ages 8–14, and when she realized that a professional performance career wasn’t in her cards, she continued to dance until she was 17—because she liked it. What a strong case for supporting and loving your recreational dance students!
5. Before Walker’s award presentation, tap stars Derick K. Grant, Michelle Dorrance, Dormeshia Sumbry-Edwards, Andrew Nemr, Jason Samuels Smith,Claudia Rahardjanoto and Kazu Kumagai performed an amazing rendition of one of Ms. Walker’s famous solos, “Emily.” And if it couldn’t get any better than that, SAVION GLOVER joined the group for the Shim Sham to close the evening. It was a stunning representation of Walker’s influence.
What’s so incredible about Dianne Walker is that I’ve yet to speak with a professional tap dancer who hasn’t, in someway, been influenced by her teaching. Whether they’ve studied with her in Boston, in performance on Broadway or at a festival internationally, students flock to her side. And the love onstage for Walker last night was palpable from even the back row of the audience where I sat.
When I was working with Michelle Dorrance for Dance Teacher’s cover andtechnique story earlier this year, I asked her about her mentors and the teachers who inspire her. She offered this statement about Dianne Walker:
I cannot exist without crediting her. I quote her all the time. She is someone who teaches you even when you’re simply watching her perform. She shares such a generous spirit, and she’s so magical.
Dianne is one of the first few people who threw her arms open wide for me. And she does that for any student who really loves it. Starting in 1992 or ’93, I studied with her every summer, including the years when I was at NYU for college. I’d make it a point to be at a festival in order to take a class with her. Even now, if we’re teaching at a festival and our classes overlap, I’ll give my class a water break and run to watch her class. She means so much to me as a teacher. She’s been a friend and a mentor, and spoke to me with respect and made me feel like an adult before I was one. I love the spirit with which she approaches teaching, and I aspire to that.