Jacques d’Amboise: Come Dance with Me
BY LISA STAHL
Hang around great minds. You can make friends with people from thousands of years ago,” says Jacques d’Amboise. Jacques also counts among his inspirations a 14th century Persian poem “about a God who knows only four words. Not the word no, not the word don’t, not the words that cause disruption, disorder, unhappiness… The God who knows only four words knows these: Come dance with me….
The ballet star and choreographer doesn’t know “no.” He dropped out of school at 15 to join the New York City ballet and begin an award-winning 35-year-career. His immigrant parents struggled to put food on the table but, even as a child, Jacques was a force. “I got everything all the time. I never paid for dancing or acting lessons. I got scholarships.”
In 1976, Jacques retired from NYC Ballet and founded National Dance Institute. He gives students similar advantages. “No one at NDI pays for anything. Over two million children have been through our program.”
Some don’t speak English: “Even if I can’t speak to them, I can get up and start moving. “ He teaches them to impose a style on basic movements or copy body movements from paintings on the walls of Egyptian temples. His “free style” choreography incorporates elements of African dance, jazz, hip hop, Irish jigs.
Going to China after meeting Shirley Young in 1985 changed lives and inspired a documentary. “It was amazing! 50 children from different school districts dancing with ancient instruments, strings and plucking things on a Shanghai city block painted by 150 children.”
Jacques brought the children back to NDI. “In 2004, Shirley came back into my life… ‘China is ready to invite you back.’”
Here again this summer, tiny dancers from Shanghai in traditional robes and scarves performed in harmony with NY’s students at NDI, ending their performance with a tribute to Jacques whose dance rhythms inspire all.
NATIONAL DANCE INSTITUTE
“Surround children with the highest quality dance program…that’s our philosophy,” says Ellen Weinstein, Artistic Director of NDI since 1995. A student of Jacques D’Amboise, ballerina, and choreographer, Ellen’s life is devoted to dance. “We work in partnership with the public schools. It’s an enlightened principle. The goal: to empower children through the arts. “
NDI services 4,000 students. “Our programs for emotionally disturbed children often have the most dramatic success. It’s the most extraordinary community of children. Every size, every shape. They leave their differences at the door. The dance studio is a level playing field,” one that also includes the hearing-impaired and wheelchair-bound. “We challenge children beyond what they ever dreamed possible.”
Lessons typically start in 4th or 5th grade; students learn free style dance, accompanied by professional musicians, as well as discipline, focus, working together. The Chinese exchange has enhanced the program: “The students take dance classes at the Children’s Palace in Shanghai; it’s very high quality.”
While Shanghai’s tiny dancers have returned to China, NDI’s performances continue this fall at Symphony Space and Rockefeller Center.