Corey Bliss, Harkness Dance Center student
As I made my final entrance onto the stage of Kaufmann Concert Hall as a student at 92nd Street Y's Dance Center, a myriad of emotions coursed through my body. The setting was so intimate that my movements seemed to extend beyond my body, their essence making palpable connections with every member of the audience; I was elated that a dancer and audience could intertwine so effortlessly. The setting was so historic that my movements seemed to be imbued with and propelled by the passion of those groundbreaking artists who had danced there before me; I was engulfed in reverent awe. The setting was so apropos that my movements were endowed with deeper artistic meaning; I was empowered by the in-depth knowledge of dance the audience possessed, courtesy of 92Y's efforts. As I danced, I was swept away in the complete reciprocation of the moment: the performer brought to the audience, and the audience brought to the performer.
Catey Ott, 9/11 at 92Y
Bright and early on the morning of September 11, 2001, I headed to yoga class as a preparation for my rehearsal with choreographer Heidi Latsky later that day at 92Y Harkness Dance Center. Heidi had a space grant there and our show at Danspace Project at St. Mark's Church was only one month away. As rehearsal director, I needed to walk into the space with body and mind ready, so yoga was my energetic warm-up. While I was balancing in tree pose, the manager of the yoga center entered the studio to announce that two planes crashed into the World Trade Center. While in a collective state of great shock and horror, we mindfully left class and went about our way trying to reach loved ones and to find a place to watch the news. Needless to say, the rehearsal at 92Y was canceled for that day since the subways had been shut down. However, there was no way for Heidi to officially call it off, because the cell phone system was down. One dancer in the company actually walked from Union Square on 14th street to 92nd Street Y that afternoon, hoping to connect with fellow dancers and to be with people she cared about. She was the only one to arrive that day, however. The rest of the company did not make it there to commiserate and heal with her until two days later.
On September 13th, our next scheduled rehearsal, the subways were again running, so rehearsal was on. Heidi wanted to keep on working despite the tragedy. We all did our best to make enough peace to arrive at rehearsal on time, and worked hard to ignore fears of riding a subway that the news pundits warned could be the next target in a terrorist plot. I rode the R train from Brooklyn to the Upper East Side, so I had to travel under the ruins of the attack as tears flooded my eyes. Eventually I made it there and I ran to the Lower Dance Studio at 92Y to see my fellow dancers and friends and to share and hear stories about our individual experiences. We were honestly still stunned and also filled with fear that another attack might occur at any moment. During this profound sense of appreciating our lives and "being in" the moment, we embraced each other as we tried to stretch for rehearsal.
Though some believed that returning to work too early was a mistake, Heidi Latsky insisted that we resume rehearsals, while providing us with some healing time together in the studios of 92Y. She relished in the fact that we were sharing in this historic time together, and also used our emotional reactions to charge up the intensity for her project. She knew that movement aided the healing process and that channeling emotions clearly and directly would not only help each of us, but also help heal our audience that would be there watching our show in less than a month. I personally found that dancing was a saving grace, for I could now express my energy in a new way within the extremely precise movement and partnering sections of the pieces Latsky had created. Her work is very emotionally charged, poignant and direct, and I could honestly channel my energy through her task- and phrase-oriented movement to ease my inner pain, as did the other dancers. Each encounter took on a whole new meaning and richness developed out of the memories of moving in this particular way since so much was going on inside and outside of us. We fell into the present moment, found the space within the music to express our personal silence and song and cherished each touch of our fellow dancers while breathing with integrity for the work and for our precious lives.
As the days passed, the rehearsals in Buttenwieser Hall increased in productivity and lessoned in feelings of devastation. However, the healing and the consciousness that was found in those first rehearsals back after 9/11 followed us through until the performances at Danspace Project on October 10-13, 2001, where we shared our experiences with appreciative audiences. With heart and soul, I thank Harkness Dance Center for housing this transformative rehearsal experience.
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Jerome Robbins, Agnes de Mille and Walter Terry
A Gala Evening of Dance: In Celebration of the 100th Anniversary of the 92nd Street YM-YWHA, took place on April 21, 1974 in Kaufmann Concert Hall. The Gala, a tribute to William Kolodney, featured choreography by Jerome Robbins, Alvin Ailey, Robert Joffrey and Agnes de Mille, among others. Here are some quotes from Jerome Robbins, Agnes de Mille and the host for the evening, Walter Terry.
"Coming back to 92Y is like coming home in many ways. ... I was shocked by the smallness of [the venue]; but it is only a dimension because the events and contributions by the dancers and people participating were enormous and so influential that the dimensions of the stage are something to be forgotten."
"I personally thank 92Y for what it gave me."
"Welcome to a very special Gala at a very special place. ... This stage has seen a great many marvelous artists in formal and informal ways—it is where the Robert Joffrey Ballet came before it became part of the New York City Center and where Alvin Ailey made his East Coast debut."
"This was truly the dance center of New York, for all dance forms."
Agnes de Mille:
"If it hadn't been for this stage and William Kolodney ... we wouldn't have had a place to go. ... It is the veritable cradle of the modern dance movement. It cannot be praised too highly for the enormous sponsoring work it provided."
I began rehearsing at the 92nd Street Y Dance Center almost immediately upon leaving Murray Louis's company in late 1984 when Annabelle Gamson formed her amazing company of female solo artists to impart the Duncan and Wigman legacy. Sharon Luckman was the director. Our first public performance was in Buttenwieser Hall. We continued to rehearse there for several years. I then also began rehearsing my own newly formed company when Jane Kosminsky and, later, Ilona Copen were directors, and under the Space Grant program choreographed many works between 1989-2004—15 years!—under Cathryn Williams and then Joan Finkelstein's directorships. During that time, the company was invited to present three full Sundays at three performances (1992, '93, '96), teach master classes, set Suspicions on the Young Masters Repertory Ensemble in Kaufman Hall (199-something?), perform on "Dances of the Spirit," staging my my duet Shehkinah/Voices with John-Mario Sevilla (1997) and be presented by the 92nd Street Y Harkness Dance Project at 91st Street Playhouse in 2000 while also hosting our benefit and silent auction at 92Y. I believe the last rehearsals we had there were in preparation for our first tour to Russia in Spring of 2004—20 years after first working there! In addition to this, I took an important memoir writing course at 92Y with the writer Hettie Jones, which led to having my first two memoir articles published in DanceView magazine in 1998. The generosity of all these great, enthusiastic women, along with the Harkness Foundation and 92nd Street Y itself, has been a gift beyond words to not only my company and work, but obviously to the greater dance community as a whole. Thank you all for the support and nourishment. Congratulations on 75 years.
Professor Rena Gluck, Tel Aviv, Israel
My love for dance, ignited by my first dance teacher, Blanch Evan, and then by the extraordinary teachers of the New Dance Group, enabled me to become an audition winner of 92nd Street Y at the age of 15. My professional debut was at 92Y in 1948 and I continued appearing there almost yearly within the framework of Stage For Dancers and the Israeli Dance Concert series, directed by Fred Berk, until, following my graduation from the Juilliard School, I immigrated to Israel in 1954.
In Israel, after creating and directing my own company and school for almost 10 years, I became a founding member of the Batsehva Dance Company, first as dancer, then choreographer, teacher and director. After leaving Batsheva in 1981, I was appointed chairwoman of the Dance Department of the Jerusalem Academy of Music and Dance, and, in 1991, I was chosen to be the first dean of the Faculty of Dance. My book, Batsheva Dance Company 1964-1980, My Story, was recently published in Hebrew and at present I am working on the English edition. My continuing career in dance started at 92Y and I still have a vivid memory of William Kolodney presenting me with my first check of $35 for the cost of the costume for Johnny Has Gone For a Soldier. At the time, this sum was a small fortune.
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Nancy Allison, Artistic Director, Jean Erdman Dance
My first experience at 92Y was in the late 1970s as a dancer in the premiere of And David Wept, an opera by Ezra Laderman about King David's passionate love affair with Bathsheba, the wife of one of his most loyal and brilliant generals. Rehearsals were in Buttenwieser Hall during the sweltering heat of a New York August. Since I am small and enjoyed acrobatic partnering work, I was often selected by choreographer Jean Erdman to be "roughed up," as she called it, during the battle scenes. As a young dancer, I didn't know much about the role that 92Y had played in American dance history. My memories are of sliding on sweaty bodies and flying through the air from one to the other on the Kaufmann Concert Hall stage, which was filled with scenery and singers.
In 1987, when I was producing the video series "Dance & Myth: The World of Jean Erdman," I found myself frequently at 92nd Street Y. As a leading dancer of the post-pioneering generation of American modern dance, Erdman had performed in Kaufmann Hall many times in the 1940s and 50s. Over the six years that we worked to create the three-part archive, the various directors of the Harkness Dance Center all offered generous support of our efforts. I remember particularly auditioning dancers to recreate Solstice, a 30-minute dance for six women and two men, (originally Merce Cunningham and Donald McKayle) to a beautiful commissioned score by Lou Harrison. It seemed like there were hundreds of dancers vying for the opportunity to experience this piece of dance history. I'm sure we had a limited amount of time, as Buttenwieser Hall was always scheduled within an inch of its life, but it seemed to me that the audition went on for hours and hours. I know I taught the audition phrases at least a hundred times!
The directors of the Dance Center were equally generous and important in the development of my own choreography and teaching. Joan Finkelstein, who had been a student of Erdman's at NYU School of the Arts, invited me to teach my first workshop in Jean Erdman Technique and Repertory as part of the Professional Dancer Workshop Series, something I continue to do at universities throughout the country. Ilona Copen invited me to present full concerts on both the Fridays at Noon and Sundays at Three concert series. It was with one of these programs that I traveled to Moscow in 1993, during that vibrant era of cultural exchange between the U.S. and the not yet "former" Soviet Union, to perform a solo concert at the House of Composers in Moscow.
At the end of the concert, there was a Q&A just like at 92Y. Composers, dancers and choreographers in Moscow were hungry to know about American dance, past and present. Some were not familiar with modern dance at all. Standing on stage in my blue jeans, black sweater and bare feet, I was dumbstruck when an older woman asked with obvious concern, "Don't you have any shoes?" I stood speechlessly as waves of emotion and history washed over me. The formidable men and women, who created American modern dance and tirelessly toured it throughout the world, had been ambassadors of our shared humanity. Now in my own time I was participating in that experience. How very proud and honored I was to be part of that great lineage of artists and how very grateful I am to 92nd Street Y for nurturing this art form for 75 Years!
Heather Lee, Movement/Drama Teacher, Washington Market School
I will always remember my first modern dance class with Susan Schickele. We wore teal blue leotards with cap sleeves and bare legs. I was probably 6 or 7, so it must have been in 1966 or so. On the first day she showed the positions, first and second, seated and standing. I was thrilled to have an entry into the world of the language of dance. I loved the geometry of the positions, similar but different depending on the position of the body in space.
I am still taking modern dance at 92Y with the masterful and highly intelligent Jessica Nicoll. Often in the summer, young women that she taught as girls show up to dance on their breaks from college.
As a modern dance student of Mary-Jean Cowell, then on the faculty at Vassar (she later went on to Hawaii to direct the East-West Center there), I belonged to a small college performing group that danced on the second-floor stage at 92Y one weekend afternoon in 1968 or 1969 as part of an anthology program of some kind. I think I was in a dance that included a recitation by an actor of an excerpt from The Four Quartets of T.S. Eliot, though I don't remember exactly what I did. I do vividly recall my terror at performing; I was a classroom dancer, always. And I seem to recollect Mary-Jean and a ballet teacher named Tom Adair (I hope it was Tom) performing a duet called Junction, which featured some big forward jumping and a score marked by railroad chimes. Did Mary-Jean choreograph this? In the event, all of us in the group were well aware of the prestigious history of the venue, and it was a very special experience.
The 92Y dance program has held deep significance for me since the 1950s. I sat on the Buttenwieser floor with Lucille Nathanson and members of her class on the creative teaching of dance to children, as the idea for a teacher's "guild" began to take shape. It was not called the American Dance Guild then, but you know all that. At 92Y, I have taken countless classes, taught countless classes, been to countless performances, attended conferences, presented demonstrations, led workshops, presented student creations and performed as a dancer/choreographer and as director of teen groups. Throughout the years, the 92Y experience has been a big part of my dance life and I am grateful.
Thoughts on 92nd Street Y that all the dancers called 92Y ... As my teacher Jeff would say, it was a schlep up to 92Y, but once you were there, it was a haven. Jeff had worked at 92Y as Doris Humphrey's assistant in 1953. I was teaching and rehearsing at 92Y through the generosity of Space Grants in the early '90s. So we both schlepped uptown on the same subways many decades apart, usually hauling tape players and rehearsal needs. Entering the front door was always a relief. Children running by in a flurry of dance class garb, heading past the guard that offered safety and always a greeting, and then arriving in the Hall. I always felt I had arrived in a temple of some sort. Always would giggle at the thought of the history. I remember lying on the floor and following the beautiful ceiling beams, tracing their designs in my head. It was archetypes and it was a greatness. At times it was too grand for little me. In 1998, I reconstructed two dances of Jeff Duncan and they were performed in a tribute to Jeff in the Hall. I performed La Mesa Del Brujo, which was taught to me prior to his death in 1989, and his Diminishing Landscape, a quartet that is a modern expressionist-post modern classic. This performance was so important ... as part of the circle. And now here we go with this exciting event to continue what 92Y has truly provided the dance community, New York and dance history itself.
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Fresh out of college, I came to NYC and frequented the dance classes at 92Y in Buttenwieser Hall. Waiting for Pearl Lang or some other luminary to finish rehearsing, I'd stretch out in the hallway, surrounded by photos of Doris and Charles, Martha, José, etc. It was a wonderful feeling to be encompassed in a place that had fostered so much creativity in others, and would eventually in me as well. While learning Anna Sokolow's Rooms in a workshop, I threw my head back and reached my arms up, up, up in a Sokolowian gesture. The ornately painted ceiling suddenly overwhelmed me; such beauty made it hard to concentrate on the stark choreography. Later on, as a member of NYBDC, I was again under that beautiful dome of Buttenwieser Hall, which inspired us during countless rehearsals for numerous opera-ballets. As a dancer and teacher of dance history, I know that 92nd Street Y is not only an archival treasure which has generously supported the dance community for so many decades, but is a nostalgic place for me. And I will always love that ceiling.
One of my fondest memories of 92Y is when my company was performing a work that was about loss and AIDS. It was a very intense drama, and I spoke about it at length before we showed it. We did the dance and then took questions and comments. One lady raised her hand and said, "I didn't see anything about AIDS or loss. I thought it was birds." Everyone sees dance differently.
Martha Eddy, CMA, RSMT, Ed.D., Director of Center for Kinesthetic Education/Moving On Center, NYC
My first class at 92nd Street Y was in 1965 with Laura. I didn't know her last name. I was eight years old and completely focused on dancing. After that, I had a short stint studying with beloved Bonnie Bird. I then began to work with Florence Peters. Flo was my hero. With her, we learned to care for our bodies and souls, creating dances to the beautiful and quintessentially sensitive piano accompaniment of Edith Valentine. Dancing to live music, creating art and being healthy and active was the heart of my experience at 92nd Street Y. Little did I know that many other seeds were being planted unconsciously. The dance notation manuals strewn about the dressing room, the elegant presence of Lucille Nathanson and the effervescence of performance nights in Kaufmann Concert Hall all live deep within me. Those seeds eventually blossomed into my work as a Laban Movement analyst, arts administrator and a chronic purveyor of improvisational and choreographed dance when induced by my dancer colleagues.
Dancing on weekday afternoons was not the limit of my life on the second floor. By 1968, I was encouraged to join the Performing Workshop. Here, eager youth worked under the tutelage of Rod Rodgers, Andora Hodgkins, Delilah Zuck, and Doris Rudko in performing their works and in making our own. But that was not enough. We—Holly Cavrell, Andrea, Gina, Marcia Wolf and others—also danced with and for Fred Burke. At times, we folk danced exclusively—in nursing homes, libraries and other neighborhood institutions. I loved the Yemenite dances Fred taught us! At a founders meeting of my non-profit arts organization Moving On Center (School of Participatory Arts and Somatic Research), we discovered that each of us had begun our dancing lives with folk dancing. This year, with a vertical erect stamp and quick direct jump still in my blood, it was delightful to learn of Anna Sokolow's excursions to Yemen, and of its influences on her choreography, from a student of mine at Barnard. Thank you for instilling a joy of circle dances and of community building though dance, Fred!
How else was 92Y formative? Well, remember my first teacher Laura? Some years later, we met again at the New School for Social Research where she, Laura Foreman, was the director and I was taking her composition class. Ever since my 92Y days, I yearned to create dances, not just take classes at the Graham School, or at the Clark Center. It was our 92Y connection that led her to invite me to become her dance demonstrator, warm-up leader and second company member—at the tender age of 15. I was also able to parlay these classes into my physical education credits while I studied at Stuyvesant High School. 92Y connections advanced my growth. How fantastic to have the opportunity to perform in venues like the Museum of Modern Art and Cooper Hewitt gardens.
And the Laban link? Well, a friend of mine at Connecticut College (Sara Eisenmen Levine) tipped me off that I would really like this stuff (I hadn't made the connection to all those manuals in the dressing room yet), so I registered for a course in Laban Movement Analysis in my first year at Hampshire College. Studying with Diana Levy and Tara Stepenberg set me on a path of lifetime learning (and teaching on the faculty of the Laban/Bartenieff Institute of Movement Studies) that then brought me right back to 92nd Street Y—teaching with the Dance Education Laboratory. DEL director Jody Gottfried Arnhold hired me to shape a course using my doctoral dissertation research. The course, Conflict Resolution Through Movement and Dance, teaches diverse dance strategies, all adaptable by teachers, to prevent violence, reduce stress and foster multicultural appreciation. 92Y hovers in other parts of my body-mind—in my choreographic roots.
I grew up in East Harlem. In 1990, I created a 50-minute solo performance called BorderStories: Crossing 96th Street, based on my childhood negotiating uptown and downtown, the contrasts of culture and the need for a chameleon-like character to negotiate the changes from El Barrio to Yorkville, Germantown and the Upper East Side. Long before I would commute 'way downtown' to go to school, I was walking downtown a few blocks from my home on East 100th Street or from P.S. 198 to the glorious halls of 92Y. Buttenwieser was a sharp contrast to the dimly lit hallways and roach-infested apartments of my life in Spanish Harlem. BorderStories told the story of the influences of both 92Y and my home neighborhood. Each endowed me with a value of community, of people and their creativity and the need for social justice and how to act on it. The privilege of dancing in a high-ceilinged room with excellent mentors launched my passion for dancing. The values within these walls taught me to care about humanity and to express what is most important through dance. There were other dances—with a light post meant to simulate 92nd Street, with Israeli steps, with Labanotation and with the freedom of improvisational openness. My first solo with 92Y's Performing Workshop was to the Lord's Prayer, sung by a dear family friend from East Harlem. My prayer now for dance at 92Y is that it continues to flourish, along with all who pass through its glorious walls, attracting wonderfully flexible bodies and minds, and fostering endless creativity. It must! More than ever, we need you. Heartfelt thanks to each of you that birthed and tenderly care for 92nd Street Y's dancing spirit. With 40-plus years of a happy relationship with 92Y, I wish you successes well into the future!
My memories of 92Y include Dr. Kolodney. I just loved Dr. Kolodney. He was the kindest, most wonderful and fatherly person. A truly exceptional man. And he did so much for dance, modern dance in particular. When Dr. Kolodney retired, I was one of the artists picked to perform at his farewell event. I have such fond memories of those years at 92Y.
Nejla Yatkin, Choreographer/Dancer, NY2Dance
The first time I entered 92Y was in 2000. I was meeting Eleo Pomare to rehearse his Hopper solo. I had read about 92Y in history books when I was a student in Germany, but I never could have imagined how it would feel entering it for the first time. I immediately had a sense of history and a connection to history. Seeing all these pictures of great modern dance artists hanging on the walls gave me a sense of connection. It made me feel like I was continuing the works that artists like Graham, Sokolow, Hawkins, Ailey and Pomare had started. Even breathing the air in 92Y felt heavy with sweat and work, with people who came before. I felt like I was in dance heaven.
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When I moved to NYC from Iowa in 1959, I lived at 92nd Street Y.
As a resident, I was allowed to watch rehearsals in the theater (or maybe I would just sneak in). Anyway, I remember seeing Geoffrey Holder rehearsing in a yellow suit. I had never seen such a long, tall body.
He was so thin and beautiful in that yellow suit!
Nancy Wanich Romita
92nd Street Y was my artistic home from 1977 through 1984 under the direction of Susan Schickele and then Sharon Luckman. I taught modern dance classes and dance exercise for adults and comp and modern for young people. 92Y supported me in my beginning efforts as a fledgling choreographer. In addition, 92Y provided me with the opportunity to start group classes in the Alexander Technique. I cannot thank 92Y enough for supporting my artistic journey that buoyed me towards a lifetime of exploration into artistic expression.
It was a supportive place to teach, rehearse, choreograph and present my work ... to create. I remember a wonderful sense of community as well. We could visit each other's rehearsals or talk through ideas on art or teaching. My colleagues included Art Bridgman and Myrna Packer, Nancy Bielski, Alice Teirstein and many others.
My father also taught physical training and sports at 92nd Street Y during the late 1940s, so I was the second generation of my family to experience 92Y.
I was just thinking fondly of 92Y this morning, not knowing this was a significant anniversary year. I just Googled the Harkness Dance Center. What a gift to see that I have an opportunity to send you my thoughts. I have been in Baltimore, dancing and choreographing, for the last 25 years.
Choreographer, Dance Imprints
The 92nd Street Y Harkness Dance Center was a home for me as a dance teacher and choreographer from 1999 through 2008. It is still a home for me in many ways, even though I live in Prague now. It is the place that nurtured so many of my works and helped me to develop my skills as a dance teacher.
I will always love Buttenwieser Hall, its grandeur and history engraved in its beautiful ceiling, at which I looked in so many dance rehearsals.
Thank you, 92nd Street Y and Harkness Dance Center, for allowing me to grow as an artist, for giving me a creative anchor in the otherwise crazy business of New York. I feel eternally indebted to this place.
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