I met my most formative dance teacher, Lenora Nemetz, at Pittsburgh Musical Theater when I was 10 years old. From that day forward, she has played an outsized role in not just my education but every facet of my life. She is my teacher and my friend.
Lenora’s legacy is iconic. As a dancer, she has worked with everyone from Liza Minnelli to Chita Rivera to Bob Fosse, and as an educator and mentor she’s shared pieces of these experiences with me. It’s such a gift to hear stories from the creation process of projects like Chicago and Sweet Charity and use them as inspiration in my own career.
Lenora and I have really connected over our similar career experiences. For example, she was a Kit Kat girl in Cabaret when she was just a teenager, and I landed my first professional job, La Cage aux Folles, when I was a junior in high school. As new experiences come into my life, I tell her about them, and, in turn, she shares her own. In that exchange, I’ve learned invaluable career lessons. It’s a real gift to have her.
Lenora’s classes have always been a warm and inviting place. With her, dancers can laugh and experience freedom of movement while also homing in on an intense devotion to detail. While working with Bob Fosse, Lenora learned both clarity of movement and the reason behind each step. She teaches us that no step is a waste. For example, why are we doing a triple pirouette at this moment of the piece? What does that say? What are we conveying? In many ways her teaching style is less about technique and more about acting. That lesson has carried over into my own choreography. With the new off-Broadway musical I’m choreographing, Between the Lines, I ask myself why we are dancing, and how I can use the choreography to drive the characters forward. For example, part of the story takes place in a high school. How and why do high school kids dance these days? Through shareable social dancing on TikTok. How can I incorporate that?
Whenever I tell Lenora that I’ve been offered a job, or met someone I’m interested in working with, she will ask me: “Is this something that will light you up and bring you joy? We aren’t in this business to get rich. We are in this business to connect, to share and to reflect. So will it fulfill you?” I’ve heard her say those words for so many years now that my own inner voice has started to sound a lot like Lenora’s voice. Now, if I’m ever on the fence about a project, I will ask myself if it is the right investment to bring me joy.
I’m entirely grateful for Lenora’s generosity. For her willingness to share her experience with me. I don’t know who I would be without her both inside and outside of the rehearsal room. Thank you, Lenora!
Paul McGill is currently choreographing the new off-Broadway musical, Between the Lines.