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329 West 18th Street Suite #610
Chicago, Illinois 60616
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Larry Long No. 05 [October 24, 1985]

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Video Identifier: V.2011-05-0531
Run Time
0h 18m 38s
Date Produced
October 24 1985
Q: I have been told you really don't get very many very small children at the school, except the ones that live right in downtown Chicago. The children come to you when they're older. I have been told that this school is the place to come in Chicago, and you are the person to teach dancers. I mean, the New York Times says it, so it must be true. Right?
A: Well, of course. I mean isn't it in the New York Times that says "All the news that's fit to print," or something like that? I don't know how fit that is to print. I don't know whether this is the place. I like to think this is the place. Certainly one of the places. Yes, the children's division of the school is about 125, 150, right now. That's a small proportion of the total enrollment of the school. Another, rather large proportion of the enrollment of the school is adult classes. People who dance for an avocation rather than a vocation, for a hobby, for physical fitness. Although they come for physical fitness, and they end up taking, you know, taking eighteen classes a week. Or as many as they can take. And it becomes, you know, it's no longer for fitness, it's because they've been bitten by the bug.
     Then there's the middle ground which is probably the larger portion of the school. And that's generally people that come to us from other schools, sometimes from other towns, and they hear about the school. So, when they come to Chicago, they come here. Or from other schools, suburban schools, neighborhood schools, people who . . . I [like] to think that a lot of them are sent by their teachers who feel that they show a special aptitude. So they warrant the extra effort that it takes to get them downtown. We're in a special, we're in kind of a wonderful place, the school, I think. Because we're supported by the Foundation, we're able to keep the tuition very, very nominal and that helps an awful lot of people when they have a very talented child.
     You know dancing is not an inexpensive process at all. If you're on scholarship, it's not inexpensive at all. The more advanced you become, the more expensive it becomes. Especially for ladies' shoes, tights, leotards, parking down in the city -- that costs a great deal of money --  gas, traveling here. So, finally, the students who come here are students who are more committed and, I hope, more talented so that their families and their parents feel that it's worth the extra effort, it's worth the extra expense to bring them down. We like to have them, once they do come and reach a certain level of the school, study daily. That's a big commitment on the part of the child and the family. So for that reason, we're in an enviable place.
     We have had some success. I've had some success. And word of that gets around. And so people think, perhaps, this is one of the places to come. I like to think that, yes. I was very flattered with the reference in the New York Times from Mr. Baryshnikov about the school and my teaching in Chicago. Yes, I'm pleased with the way the school is going, and I'm pleased to see our place is becoming very solid and respected. It's very, very important to me, almost the most important thing to me, and I think it's quite important to Ruth. I remember when we first discussed starting this school she said, "You know I'd like very much for you to direct the school." She said, "As in everything else, I don't want just a school, I want the school. I want it to be the place. I want it to be the very best school we can make it, and I'm willing to do and support you in any way possible to make our school the best place it's possible for someone to come to dance." And that's important to me, not only that the school is good now, but it's also very important to me and to Ruth that the school continues to get better and continues to hold a very unique place in dance -- not only in Chicago. At least, we're both ambitious enough to want more than simply the best school in Chicago. We're hoping some day that it will be the best school -- period.
Q: Well, that's quite something. Why do you think she picked you to run it, Larry?
A: It's . . . that's difficult to say, too. I think, quite frankly, I think because I was ballet master of her company and, as part of that responsibility, I taught the company. And because I started to teach the company, I became very interested in teaching. It's one of the reasons I kind of retired a bit from dancing, eased myself out of dancing. It was no great loss to dancing when I stopped dancing, but it was very, very important to me -- teaching was very important to me, and I think that Ruth realized that right away. I think she realized all the time, although she was very, very good to me as a dancer, that my interest . . . perhaps, I was one of the few people in the company at that time who really she could see the nucleus of a pedagogue or a teacher. And from the time I did start teaching the company, teaching was very important. Much more important to me that I give a good class for the other dancers in the company than I give a good performance on my own behalf. That's what you need as a teacher. You need someone who's more willing to give than to take. And I think, I hope, Miss Page recognized that quality in me. Teaching has become the single most important thing in my life, right now.
Q: Did you think it would be?
A: Actually, no, not in the beginning. I don't think any dancer ever does. I thought I was going to do my fair share of princes and all that. But I was disabused of that quite, quite early on. I had neither the stature nor the looks of the Prince, except maybe one before he was kissed by the Princess. You can take that out if you want. But I understood right way that I was a demi-caractère dancer not a Prince, and while I had a certain facility -- I like to think that I tried very hard as a dancer -- but I was never going to achieve the kind of career as a dancer that I had envisioned for myself. So it took me about twenty to thirty minutes when I realized that I had to do something else and I should really do something else that I liked. Once I made the decision and started really trying other things, I found that I'd very much liked being a ballet master. It was very rewarding to me. And as I said, a large part of that job was teaching. I became more and more interested in teaching.
Q: What, what do you think it is about you that makes you such a good teacher?
A: I don't know what would make me a good teacher. I think a teacher is born. I don't think you learn to be a teacher. I think a teacher is like a choreographer. One can learn to put steps together, and one can learn to put a class together that's sensible and good, but a real teacher, like a real choreographer, is something that happens, and I hope it's happened to me. I don't know. I don't know what it is that makes a teacher. I think there's so many things that make a teacher, and there's all the things that I can say that make a teacher you can know and still not be a teacher, you know? You can know all the things that go into making a good dancer, and you can have all the things that make a good dancer, but if you're not a good dancer, having all those things doesn't matter. The same is true with teaching.
Q: Are you tough, especially?
A: I think I 'm kind of like the steel fist in a kid glove, or something like that. I'm tough, but I hope I 'm not off-putting. I'm demanding, but I try to be demanding in such a way that I teach the people not to do things because I'm demanding of them, but to rather demand more of themselves, you know. I think a teacher is, a teacher's like a guide, you know. A teacher can't teach you how to do, can only guide you along the way. I think a teacher should be inspiring. I think a teacher should be, of course, understanding, and yet not so understanding that they kind of understand you right out of business. I think you have to be understanding, but yet not so understanding that you go, "Oh, you poor thing, I understand perfectly, don't try at all," you know. You've got to say, "Yes, of course, I understand you, but get it done."
     You have to want to teach. You have to be very interested in what you get. I think being a teacher is a lot like being a psychologist, because you have to approach different people different ways. Some you can really slap around, and they just thrive on it. You know, the harder you beat them, metaphorically, the better they do, and, of course, if you just kind of blink an eye in too strong a fashion, some people, they just disappear into the back wall. So you have to treat people completely differently. You have to know those that you can [correct] personally; those that you can treat quite generally. You become really an observer of people.
     I often said, you know, there are dancers that are extroverted dancers and introverted dancers, as far as personality. You can tell what a personality is, what a person's personality is, by the way they dance. Dancers reveal themselves, people reveal themselves, when they move. And it gives you so many clues. It's the most fascinating profession, it really is.
Q: Did you ever see Ruth dance?
A: Yes, I did see Miss Page dance. My first year in the company. We were doing a ballet called Susanna and the Barber. It was a wonderful, wonderful ballet. Now that's a ballet I think that should be revived, but that has to be revived in a little tiny beautiful little theater.
     There's speaking in the ballet. It's a ballet based on the Barber of Seville. And Miss Page was doing Susanna, the maid. Bentley Stone was doing the Barber. And the other characters were, of course, Rosina, the typical Rossini heroine, and Count Almaviva, and Don Bartolo and Don Basilio, the father of Rosina, and his friend. It was the most delightful ballet. I remember the first words of that ballet. The Barber came wheeling a barber's stall on wheels out on stage and he went, "Figaro this, Figaro that, where is my cane, where is my hat? Faster, faster, a mustard plaster." And Ruth does a little pas de chat on the stage and says, "And he's a fool that we call 'Master'. Fool dottering, his little bones need soldering."
     It was . . . she was absolutely the most beguiling thing in the world, you know. Just absolutely . . . she was like champagne. She was absolutely like champagne. Beautiful feet, very vain of her feet. She used to do wonderful things. They had wonderful Clavé costumes, and she would pose, do these wonderful little poses, and then she'd reach over and pull her skirt up a little bit, and her foot in a black pointe shoe would be all pushed over, arch bulging out. She was, she was absolutely just adorable, just absolutely adorable. All the way through the performance. It's the only time I ever saw her dance.
     I did see her one other time. We did a galafante, it was called . . . at the Lyric Opera. And she danced with Walter Camryn, an old duet that they used to do many years ago, called Valse Cecil . . . which is another comedy number, kind of a period waltz, 1830s, or 1890s, 1905, something like that. She was adorable. But the ballet, when she did Susanna and the Barber, she was just absolutely beguiling, just beguiling.
Q: And what did it, what did Ruth's dancing tell you about Ruth as a person?
A: Oh, her dancing reflects her completely. Absolutely completely. Now I didn't see her do any of the dramatic roles, because she did Azucena in Revenge, for example. But what I saw her do -- Susanna -- it so perfectly reflects Ruth. It was optimistic. It was cheerful. It was witty and amusing and everything Ruth is. There was great charm, and there was also great intelligence there. As there kind of is in the character of Rosina [Susanna], you know. It was a perfect reflection: taste, chic, depth, it was all there. Her dancing absolutely reflected Ruth.
Q: In the years that you've known Ruth and there have been a lot of them, how has your image of Ruth changed? And how has Ruth changed?
A: In the years that I've known Ruth, my perception of Ruth has probably changed a great deal. Simply by virtue of knowing Ruth longer. She's not an easy lady to know at all. She's tremendously polite. She's tremendously cultured. So she would never dream of kind of showing you her dark side, which, of course, everybody, everybody has. She would never show that to you. In the years that I have known her, I have had occasion to see her more kind of introspective side. She's easily put off, I think, by . . . she . . . (I started that wrong.) She doesn't like to display her emotions. And yet, I have seen her in very, very, very trying circumstances, enough to know that she has very, very, very deep felt emotions. And that she's very easily hurt. And that would be the last thing she would want anybody to know about her.
Related Place
Chicago (production location of)