Harlem’s National Dance Institute Dances With Legend Jacques d’Amboise

March 10, 2014

national-dance-instituteEducators have convened in Harlem this month to learn dance techniques from Jacques d’Amboise.

For those who don’t know the self-proclaimed New Yorker “with a fancy French last name,” that is like brushing up on one’s painting skills with Picasso, or cramming for composition with Chopin.

The purpose here is to help teachers help underprivileged youngsters.

Jacques d’Ambroise, the former principal dancer for the New York City ballet, shows teachers how to move and shake in Teacher Artist Training.

“You learn by doing,” said d’Amboise, the former principal dancer from the New York City Ballet and founder of the National Dance Institute. “(Dancing) is a doorway to the arts.”

The legendary dancer who spent years at the New York City Ballet, is sharing the lessons he has perfected over decades of experience with educators, offering his training techniques so that the teachers can reach out to struggling students.

The training is a 10-day intensive teaching program designed to teach professional dancers how to work with and train underprivileged kids throughout the city and the country.


“It’s important that children have the arts,” d’Amboise said Thursday as he prepared to open an intensive workshop at the 12,000-square-foot-space on W. 147th St.

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The Institute came to Harlem three years ago, when it opened its state-of-the-art studio with help from George Soros and Goldman Sachs.

An hour later, d’Amboise, who is pushing 80, was bobbing and bending on the dance floor, showing his charges how to express themselves through body movement.

D’Ambroise’s technique is to encourage children without scolding, and allowing youngsters to master steps before moving on.

Midway through the two-hour class — part of a 10-day intensive training — many participants were feeling the pain.

“It’s exhausting, but Jacques is inspirational,” said Naisha Morris, a 37-year-old educator from Oklahoma City, Oklah. “I’m excited to take what I’ve learned back home.”

Jacques d’Ambroise working with Brooklyn teacher David Chung.

The class began with d’Amboise showing the teachers how to move fluidly by bending the knees. Then, he asked them to imagine they were standing inside a circle so they were aware of their space. Before long, he had them masterfully executing intricately choreographed sequences.

D’Amboise praised his pupils when they got something right and encouraged — without chastising — when they botched a move or missed a beat.

“(His technique) allows students to use their imagination,” said Ellen Weinstein, the nonprofit’s artistic director. “It’s powerful, and it translates to kids learning that hard work and repetition are keys to success.”

Dance instructors from across the country jumped for joy at the chance to work with d’Amboise.

The instructor’s passion for teaching was palpable, and so was his stamina.

“This is very different from my classes,” said David Chung, a 37-year-old physical education teacher from Prospect-Lefferts Gardens resident said. “It’s like learning a new language.”

‘That was terrific — now do it again!’ D’Amboise told the class.

The Institute teaches d’Amboise’s method to its own team of instructors, who conduct workshops in New York City schools and work with more than 6,000 students per week.

The method is special, d’Amboise explained, because every rehearsal takes place with an accompanist. “We supply the sounds and the atmosphere,” he said.

The Natoinal Dance Institute is located in Harlem on W. 147th St. and spans half a city block.

What d’Amboise’s methodology boils down to, he said, is as simple as a pas de chat .

“It’s common sense,” he added. “But it’s not common practice.”


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