What My Teacher Taught Me: Donna McKechnie on Pamela Dunworth and Rose Marie Floyd
February 2, 2022

Every success I’ve had in my dance life can be traced back to two teachers: Pamela Dunworth and Rose Marie Floyd. Though many have influenced my training and professional life, those two set my foundation.

I started dancing with Pamela when I was 8 years old in Dearborn, Michigan. It was my first introduction to dancing in a studio with a barre. She was English and quite disciplined—a real taskmaster. Pamela brought structure into my world of chaos and was the first person to really make me feel safe. I was in her great hands as she guided me into this whole other world. She was contained yet expressive. She wasn’t soft-spoken, yet she wasn’t harsh, either. Pamela taught me basic technique (stretching my tendus, lifting more, stretching longer, finding placement). She would tell me that I would always have to keep working, because it would never be perfect. Still, she wanted me to reach for excellence through repetition. She would demonstrate the movement correctly, then have us do it over and over again until it was right. It was not precious—it was work. Still, there was a wonderful sense of freedom in that for me. I wanted to be good, and although she wasn’t warm and cuddly, I loved her because I knew she was going to help me get there.

Courtesy McKechnie

Pamela’s school was a long and dangerous bus ride from my home, so I eventually moved to Rose Marie Floyd Studio of Dance, where I met Rose Marie. She pushed me a step farther than I had ever been. She would travel to New York City to learn the original choreography to ballets like Les Sylphides and bring it back to set on us. We would learn the entire ballet and perform with the South Oakland Symphony in the costumes our mothers made for us. It was an incredible opportunity to take the work I had learned in the classroom and put it onto the stage. It connected me to New York, which would eventually lead to my transition into musical theater. Rose Marie was strong-willed and tough. You had to do things her way. She had a sense of ownership of her world within the studio. What Rose Marie gave me was a sense of freedom to go into my imagination and create onstage. She encouraged me to tap into myself, to express myself, and to not dance like anyone else. That was her contribution—teaching me how to tell a story.

Pamela and Rose Marie are the most influential people in my life who inspired me to come to New York when I was 15 years old with enough confidence to get a job. My first Broadway show was How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, where Gwen Verdon was our dance captain, and I was spending time in rooms with Bob Fosse and Frank Loesser. Despite the headiness of the opportunity, my training helped me feel completely ready. I felt comfortable performing, as well as with the collaborative experience of putting a show together.

Courtesy McKechnie

Throughout my career, I have returned again and again to the lessons Pamela and Rose Marie taught me. Now, I have the opportunity to pass those same lessons on to others. I work with American Dance Machine for the 21st Century [a nonprofit organization that seeks to ensure that significant musical theater choreography, and the techniques that propel them, are preserved, studied and shared in the 21st century], teaching choreography from Company, Promises, Promises, and A Chorus Line to various talented New York City dancers. It is thrilling to give them the missing ingredients to their work—just as my teachers did for me.

I have so much gratitude for both Pamela and Rose Marie, for giving me that sense of discipline and safety, and for allowing me freedom and creativity. They are in their 90s and still very much a part of my life. I love them both.

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