Dancers Over 40 ARTS Legacy
What inspired you to be a dancer?
As improbable as it sounds, I think I was born with the desire to dance. As a young child I'd dance around the house on my toes, which led my mother to take me to ballet class at the age of eight. My mother loved ballet - we have a photo of her in point shoes, though she was never allowed to take lessons. How she got the point shoes I don't know!Of course the movie musicals made a big impression. I loved them, and came home after seeing one with Vera Ellen, and anxiously tried to tie a scarf around my hair as she had. Well, the “Red Shoes” is still my favorite movie. And the visits to City Center to see the New York City Ballet were very special times. I'll never forget seeing Maria Tallchief and Andre Eglevsky.
Who was the most influential person in your career?
I can't say that one person was most influential. After many years of poor training, I was fortunate to have the experience of classes with Lillian Moore at the HS of Performing Arts. She was very helpful and caring. To study during the summer, she introduced me to Iva Kitchell, the famous dance satirist, who taught on Long Island, where I spent the summer. Iva was spectacular. The one teacher who enabled me to do things I'd never been able to do before was Richard Thomas - a specially fabulous teacher.
What was the most memorable moment in your career?
Again, there wasn't only one. I had just turned eighteen, and gotten my first job in summer stock at the Cape Cod Melody Tent in Hyannis, MA. I had previously only thought of being a ballet dancer, but that summer completely changed my mind - I loved doing musicals.Doing the Bell Telephone Hour with Ray Bolger - the first show I had seen was "Where's Charley?", so it was very exciting to be working with him.Thrilling firsts -- My first Broadway show -- I sat on the subway staring at the contract all the way home to the last stop in the Bronx. The Ed Sullivan Show with Jimmy Durante - another subway episode, silently singing to myself, "Me on the Ed Sullivan Show!" like "Bye Bye Birdie!" (That's Leni in a Chevrolet industrial, below right)
What was the most frightening moment you experienced?
In that first summer of stock we did "Redhead," which has a big Essie's Vision Ballet. I had a very difficult partner, and being so young I was desperate to do everything right. We played several characters defined by a scarf or a belt, etc. At one point we had to circle the stage one and a half times, and run up the aisle to transfer the scarf to our partner. Well one night, somehow I circled only once and ran up the aisle. Of course my partner was at the top of a different aisle. I was panicked and so frightened of what he would do that I couldn't hold back tears. I had to go back on stage for the rest of the number, and the moisture caused one eyelash to come off - what a mess! As it turned out, I think because he saw how upset I was, he was quite nice about it.
Tell me your experience with the next generation of dancers, and what your legacy to them will be.
I danced professionally for only six years, and somehow did things in twos - two summers of stock, two Broadway shows, two industrials, two television shows, except for a brief stint in the Radio City Music Hall Corps de Ballet. I then undertook a long career as Director of Training/Retail Marketing in the cosmetics and jewelry industries; and subsequently in nonprofit development. Therefore, I've had little if any interaction with young dancers until my involvement with Dancers Over 40. The activities and programs of DO40 are sublime ways for the next generation to experience the dancers, choreographers and shows that came before them, in the Golden Years of the Broadway Musical. The panel discussions are especially meaningful. It's terrific that clips are on YouTube to be seen by everyone.