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Dancers Over 40 ARTS Legacy

DO40 - Arts Legacy - Teak Lewis


What inspired you to become a dancer?

When I was six years old, my two older sisters were already taking dance classes and I would dance around the house in their old toe-shoes. My mother decided she should also send me to dance class. My father, who was an artist and did layout work for a woman who ran the dance congress. She advised my father to have us study in New York. So, a year later, we moved to New York from New Jersey to further our careers.

For myself, at age twelve I had a scholarship from Anthony Tudor at the Metropolitan Ballet and acting scholarship from Maria Piscator at the Dramatic Workshop. All three of us started getting work at very early ages. My first professional job at twelve, I was a dancer on the T.V. show “StarTime” with Connie Francis and Leslie Uggams and at fourteen, I replaced one of the Ballet Russe dancers in the Broadway show On Your Toes choreographed by Ballanchine.

Who was the most influential in your career?

It was about this same time that I saw my first ballet, Ballet Theatres (Giselle) with the ballerina Alicia Alonzo. I immediately knew that I too wanted to become a ballerina, but I kept getting into Broadway shows, so I didn’t get into a ballet company (Eliot Feld’s American Ballet Company), until later in my career.

What teacher had the most influence on your career?

I had many great teachers, but the two that influenced me the most in ballet was Vincenzo Celli, for his wonderful teaching of the Cechetti method, which gave you strength and control without forcing the body. Also, Vladimir Dokoudovsky for his wonderful, beautiful combinations, that were filled with passion and style. They both encouraged me to further my career.

What was the most memorable experience you can remember?

Being in the original Jerome Robbins, West Side Story, I learned so much about dance just watching the way Jerry moved. He was a genius in the way he used movement and dance to tell so many different stories and in so many different styles. He inspired me not only to be a dancer, but also an artist.

Do you have a most frightening or funny dance experience?

When I was in WSS, I had two funny experiences. First in the dance hall, my costume split open, so I was still dancing, trying to hold my dress together and In the ballet, I almost missed my cue, but I made it just in time but without my shoes, so I had to dance barefoot.

What experience or legacy would you like to pass on to the next generation?

I can’t emphasize enough to my students that you should follow your dream; stay healthy; stay in shape; work hard; keep taking class and there is always something new to learn. Pay absolute attention to your choreographers and directors, because there always is a replacement standing in the wings. It’s not just getting your first job, it’s getting your next job for maybe the same choreographer or director or for someone new.


What inspired you to become a dancer?

There was always music in our house.  My Dad, his brothers and cousins formed a band during the Big Band Era of the 1930s and 1940s, and Mother was the vocalist.  I was always dancing in front of the television to whatever musical entertainment was playing and trying my best to imitate the performers.  Mom bought me (and my brother Bobby) tap dancing classes from a door to door salesman for my 6th birthday.  After only one class, the salesman disappeared with our money.  It turns out the teacher was also scammed, took pity on us and continued to teach us tap once a week in her basement, which was probably on concrete, and that's why I have calves of steel.  Eventually Bobby and I went to the Jay Dash Tap Studio in downtown Philadelphia (our home town).  We learned quite a few routines and began to do PAL and USO shows.  Then we auditioned for a weekly live TV show called "The Children's Hour" and won their New Faces contest.  That meant we became regulars and had to come up with a new dance routine every Sunday.  My younger sister JoAnn eventually joined us on the show, and we became know as "The Dancing Marianos."

Who was the most influential in your career?

The director of "The Children's Hour" was Merrill Brockway, and he suggested to my parents that we should learn other forms of dance.  He recommended a well-known teacher in the Philly area named Peter Conlow.  Pete taught us jazz and ballet and choreographed our weekly routines for the show.  We moved to New York City after being cast in the original production of The Music Man. Merrill also created for myself and Dean Stolber our own weekly live television series called "Expression."  When Merrill moved to NYC, he introduced me to my first acting teacher, Allan Miller, and my first voice teacher Tommy LoBianco.  That changed my life because it enhanced my possibility of getting principal roles.

What teacher had the most influence on your career? 

In the non-dance department, I would have to say Allan Miller.  In terms of dance, I started going to classes at ABT as a teenager and studied with the very stern but amazing Russian teacher Madame Perryaslovic.  Bobby and I would also take classes between matinee and evening performances with Luigi and Richard Thomas while we were in The Music Man and Bye Bye Birdie.  But some of the best training I received was as a founding member of Lee Theodore's American Dance Machine because I learned so many different styles of dance from the great choreographers of the day.

What was your most memorable dance experience?

Our dance routines for "The Children's Hour" were done to records, so when Bobby and I auditioned for The Music Man, we brought our record player and records.  In those days auditions were held in theatres, and they only had DC current and our record player worked on AC current.  So Bobby and I had to sing the songs as we danced.  I guess they must have thought that was pretty cute.  Then on our first day of rehearsal with the dance ensemble, Onna White and Tommy Panko introduced us to all the adult dancers and said please entertain us with your audition routine.  We got great laughter and applause, and I suppose it endeared us to all the adult dancers.  It was the beginning of a beautiful relationship.

Do you have a most frightening or funny dance experience you can remember?

Two experiences come to mind.  While doing I Had a Ball at the Martin Beck Theatre (now the Hirschfeld), on my way to the stage in the middle of Act I, I caught my heel and fell down a flight of stairs.  They took me to the hospital and after X'rays decided to keep me overnight.  At around 11:30, Buddy Hackett, the star of the show, showed up at my bedside and boy was I treated well after that.  The other experience was with American Dance Machine.  In the middle of "Rich Kids Rag" (Don Johanson and I were the lead dancers), my little white skirt fell off and remained on the stage during the rest of the number until the choreography took me right past it on the last 16 counts.  I got the skirt back on just in time for the button of the number.  Got an ovation!  Ah, the thrill of live theatre.

What experience or legacy would you like to pass on to the next generation? 

If you have a dream and a passion, follow it.  Don't let anyone ever tell you you're too short or too tall or too nice or too bland to follow your dream.  Prove them wrong!  Think big, dream bigger!  Go for it.  But do the work and be ready when opportunity knocks.  Follow the passion in your heart.

Background Photo DO40 Cares 2012, By Jeff Eason, Wilsonmodels, Inc