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Larry Long at Ruth Page Foundation School of Dance.

For professionals and performing dancers passing through Chicago, as well as for local ballet, modem dance, and jazz professionals, Larry Long's daily open ballet class is Mecca. A stable part of the class, which usually numbers twenty to thirty dancers, is comprised of advanced students preparing for careers by taking several classes a day.

The Ruth Page Foundation School of Dance, established by dancer-choreographer Page, and where Long has been director since its founding in 1971, is housed in a four-story, reconstructed Moose lodge on Chicago's near North Side. It contains a 235-seat theater, a library, offices, dressing and storage rooms, a party room, and Long's spacious office suite. Adjoining the building is the school's own parking lot.

Long began his dance training in California with Alexandra Baldina (formerly with Diaghilev's Ballets Russes and wife of Theodore Kosloff) and with Nana Gollner and Paul Petroff (stars of Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo and early Ballet Theatre). Long's first engagement was Larry Long, with an Alicia Alonso project in California; following that, he was a member of Page's Chicago Ballet, where he became a soloist. He also choreographed for Chicago Lyric Opera and later directed that company's rehearsals. After the demise of the Page company in 1971, Long continued activities with performing groups. In 1969 he took a leave of absence from the school and directed an international company that toured South Africa; then he went to the National Ballet of Washington where he became ballet master.

Long recalls the many guest artists who taught during the Page company years: "Henning Kronstam, who toured with the Page company many seasons, gave a taste of Danish ballet style when he gave class. Then there were eclectic Russian styles from the guest artists such as Sonia Arova, Mia Slavenska, George Skibine, and others." Long's teaching style is an amalgam of these experiences.

One might even discern a "Chicago School" in his faculty--Patricia Klekovic studied with legendary Chicagoan Edna McRae; Dolores Lipinski was trained by Bentley Stone and Walter Camryn. The Chicago School could be described as dance based upon strong, meticulous, classical ballet technique, coupled with ease in full movements and dramatic characterizations inherited from years of exposure to Ruth Page's choreography.

Long's teaching is logical, exact, thorough, and inventive. His classes make students feel that they are dancing, not only learning technique. His attitude is professional in presenting material and in making astute corrections.

When handling large classes of teenagers, however, as he does for the Chicago National Association of Dancing Masters' ballet forum, Long has a delightfully different approach. He is dynamic and voluble, and not without humor. At the association's 1994 forum, he charmed the attendees to the point where they would have jumped into the lake had he asked it! Proof of the effectiveness of this teaching style was in his creation of a large-scale, colorful character dance for a mixed group of thirty young people in just two sessions.

In addition to former principal dancers of the Page company and faculty members Klekovic and Lipinski, there are Rodney Irwin, who is particularly successful with young adults--amateurs and dilettantes who simply enjoy taking classes; Julie Burman, a founding member of Hubbard Street Dance Chicago, who teaches jazz; Laura Retzlaff who teaches predance; Katerina Levental, once a student at the Vaganova Ballet Academy in Russia, who teaches character dance. Birute Barodicaite, formerly a Page company member, teaches intermediate ballet; Juanita Lopez gives Pilates-based exercise classes; and, until his recent move to North Carolina School of the Arts, Warren Conover (American Ballet Theatre soloist and ballet master of Hubbard Street Dance Chicago) was a frequent alternate teacher for Long's daily ballet class.

The school has six hundred students ranging from preschoolers to young adults. The largest number are the nine-to-sixteen-year-olds who are serious ballet students and who attend biweekly or daily classes.

Ballet is taught on six levels, with placements decided the first week of each term. Long teaches the advanced levels; several teachers handle the intermediates; and Klekovic is particularly successful with beginners. Four pianists are on the staff.

The dress code for girls requires pink tights, leotard and shoes on the first four levels; light blue for the second; cobalt blue leotards for the third; and burgundy for the fourth levels. Boys wear the customary black tights, white shirts, white socks, and black shoes. On the fifth and sixth levels, boys may wear black or gray tights with a leotard or T-shirt and belt; women wear solid-colored leotards, tights and elastic belts. Warm-up items are shed at the start of class. Transient professionals are not required to meet the dress code, but plastic pants and "rags" are discouraged.

Tuition is scaled from $10 per class, with a ten-class card for professionals at $70. Tuition for full-time students varies according to the number of ninety-minute classes taken per week. Full and partial scholarships are granted, and the Ruth Page Foundation provides opportunities for inner-city students through outreach programs in conjunction with Urban Gateways and the Better Boys Foundation. The school is tax-exempt; the foundation adminsters financial matters in the running of the school with Shirley Burr as the full-time, in-house adminstrator. An organization of parents arranges social and special projects and operates a concession in the lounge with profits going to school projects.

The home theater houses the school's annual concert of four or five performances with alumni returning as guest performers. Faculty members choreograph the dances, and Long stages a one-act ballet, such as Graduation Ball or Page's Carmina Burana. Costumes come from the foundation's collection, and rehearsals are separate from classes.

Efforts to encourage choreographers have been successful: Rich Lyle, now of Ballet Oklahoma, has choreographed several pieces, as has Girard Charles, now in Les Grands Ballets Canadiens. As a student, Gordon Peirce Schmidt, now resident choreographer for Ballet Chicago, created a jazzy work, By Django, for the school; it is now in the repertoire of Ballet Chicago.

Each year Long stages Ruth Page's The Nutcracker, choreographed in 1962, which is presented by the Chicago Tribune in the 4,500-seat Arie Crown Theater. Guest artists from major companies dance the principal roles. They have included Henning Kronstam, Kirsten Simone, Patricia McBride, Peter Martins, Violette Verdy, Helgi Tomasson, Katherine Healy, and Yoko Ichino. More than one hundred children, selected by open auditions, perform.

Solely authorized to stage Page ballets, Long has flown to Puerto Rico, Tulsa, Cincinnati, and numerous other places to stage Page's The Merry Widow, Fledermaus, Carmen, and Carmina Burana. For the school's twenty-fifth anniversary in 1996, Long plans to stage Page's Carmen for the school.

Over the years the school has produced forty professional dancers for twenty-five ballet companies, more than a dozen for musicals on Broadway, and many more for local productions. Among them are Tom Gold (New York City Ballet), Amy Rose (formerly with American Ballet Theatre and currently with Pacific Northwest Ballet), Karyn Connell (Cincinnati Ballet), Ron De Jesus and Christine Carrillo (Hubbard Street Dance Chicago), Jeff Herbig (Les Grands Ballets Canadiens) and Alexis Sanchez (Broadway's Carousel), Kip Sturm (Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre), Donald Williams and Endalyn Taylor (Dance Theatre of Harlem), and Catherine Yoshimura and Girard Charles (Les Grands Ballets Canadiens).

Long's numerous awards, including Chicago's Dance Coalition award for Lifetime Services, attest to his and the school's commitment to producing professional dancers.
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Copyright 1994, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

Article Details
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Title Annotation:Great Starts: American Teacher Series, part 3
Author:Barzel, Ann
Publication:Dance Magazine
Article Type:Biography
Date:Dec 1, 1994
Words:1220
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