For the 1979/1980 school year I was a guest artist, hired through a Title 1 Grant, to teach Theater Movement and Acting to elementary school kids at P.S. 40, on East 19th Street in Manhattan. It was one of those projects where you go in thinking you are going to do one thing, and the students and situation show you what you’re actually going to teach. It was great!
The kids were willing and energetic, and I learned a lot about adaptive teaching. (All of the grainy black & white pics in this blog are from the 1979-1980, P.S. 40 Yearbook.)
There were other guest artists teaching at the same school, and one of them was the phenomenal ballet dancer, Jacques d'Amboise. He was a principal dancer with the New York City Ballet at the time, and you might remember him from his amazing performance in the movie “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers”. I found out that he was teaching at P.S. 40 in an interesting way. One day, a teacher stuck her head into the auditorium, before my class had arrived, and asked me, “Are you Jacques?” It was a natural mistake. I was wearing dance clothes and I had dark hair and European features.
So, Jacques an I were at P.S. 40 at the same time, doing very similar work. I was using the students’ common experiences in life to make scenes and physical improvisations, and Jacques was creating a dance vocabulary that kids could relate to – jumping, running, rolling – happy expression of youth and vitality through movement.
Jacques had founded the National Dance Institute in 1976, which offered a unique and comprehensive performing arts experience, while fostering curiosity and a sense of achievement. And he has been teaching school children how to dance for the past 40 years. The documentary film about Mr. d'Amboise and the National Dance Institute, “He Makes Me Feel Like Dancin”, won an Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature in 1983 and an Emmy Award in 1984 for Best Children's Programming.
While we were all at P.S. 40, Jacques even had his friend, the incomparable Mikhail Baryshnikov, come and teach a few times, although no one ever stuck their head in and asked me, “Are you Mikhail?”