Please Wait a Moment

Dance Educator In Memoriam 2022-2023

NDEO honors members of the dance community who are no longer with us. Read below to learn more about their contributions to the field of dance and dance education.

This is not a comprehensive list, if you would like someone to be included here please email for more information. All photos and biographies are courtesy of family, friends, and colleagues of the deceased who submitted this information to NDEO through an open call.

Memoriams appear in the order that they were received.

Helene Scheff | 1939-2023

Helene Scheff was a vibrant creative thinker and problem solver who devoted her life to dance and her family. A founding member of NDEO, she served as conference planner from 2005-2015, mentoring many of us as dancers, educators, writers, and administrators. Born in Brooklyn, NY, Helene taught dance in the private and public sectors for over 60 years. She co-authored five books (with NDEO Executive Director Susan McGreevy-Nichols and Marty Sprague), including Experiencing Dance: From Student to Dance Artist, a widely-adopted high school textbook that helps educators incorporate dance into their classes. In 1986 she began Chance to Dance, an in-school dance program in Rhode Island for children in grades 3 - 6, founded on her belief that every child should have a chance to dance. Helene received the NDEO Outstanding Dance Educator award in 2008 and the NDEO President’s Award in 2016 as well as several Rhode Island awards. She was a founding member, the heartbeat and former president of NDEO state affiliate, Dance Alliance of RI. Helene kept dancing throughout her life. Most recently, she taught a chair dance class to fellow residents at the assisted living facility where her husband Ed still resides. At the time of her passing, Helene was working on a guest post for NDEO’s Behind the Curtain blog that outlined her teaching methods for these classes and the impact they had on the community. Ed is also part of the NDEO story, as he edited and produced our conference books for so many years. Helene had a delightful story for every occasion. She may be best understood through this excerpted quote from her granddaughter, Miriam, who is now an educator in RI: “Her legacy as a dancer, choreographer, educator, administrator and fierce advocate for the arts will be honored and cherished. Finding sneakers for students at school who had none, stepping in as “mom” for those that needed an extra hug, advocating for those who could not advocate for themselves. She taught us the importance of creativity, always working on a project and always, always dancing."

H.T. Chen | 1947-2022

Born in Shanghai, China and raised in Taiwan ,Hsueh-Tung (H.T.) Chen trained in traditional dance and Chinese Opera Movement at the University of Chinese Culture in Taiwan (BFA). In1972, H.T. came to New York to study modern dance; studying at the Graham School, the Ailey School, the Juilliard School (Diploma, ‘76), and received his master’s in Dance Education (’78) from NYU. H.T. Chen was distinguished for having created a body of work addressing Chinese-American history through oral histories and site visits to Chinese enclaves nationwide. He believed that “good art has social value”. H.T. and his wife, Dian Dong (Juilliard BFA ’75), founded Chen Dance Center in the heart of Chinatown, NY comprised of resident company H.T. Chen & Dancers, The School and Theater which served both the local families as well as the dance community through performances, artist residencies and classes. The company toured throughout the US, as well as Asia and Europe. H.T. served on panels for NYSCA, NYC DCLA, NEA, Mid-Atlantic Arts Foundation. He also served on the boards of: Dance USA, Dance Theater Workshop, Pan Asian Repertory Theatre. H.T. Chen was recipient of the NYS Governor’sArts Award, the NYC Mayor’s Award, honored by the Organization of Chinese Americans, the Chinatown Planning Council and the CUNY Chinese Alumni Association. His company was supported by the Ford Foundation, the Doris Duke Foundation, Wallace Foundation, and other supporters. H.T. was deeply influenced by the work at LaMaMa Experimental Theater where he was a performer and choreographer, by Anna Sokolow whom he and Dian both worked for, and by the stories of the Chinese diaspora. His signature works on Chinese American labor and immigration included the building of theTranscontinental Railroad, Angel Island Immigration Station, the 1870 shoe factory strike in Western Massachusetts, Chinatown sewing factories, and Chinese who settled in the southern states. H.T. Chen is survived by his wife Dian Dong, and dancing daughters Yeeli and Evelyn Chen. An avid gardener, his two pine trees at Confucius Park spurred the planting of 120 cherry blossom trees and flowering plants in Chinatown, NY.

Stuart Hodes | 1924-2023

Stuart Hodes Gescheidt served as an aviator flying B-17’s with the Army Air Corps in World War II. After his discharge, he began taking classes at the Martha Graham Dance Studio with no real thought to becoming a dancer. But, after participating in a company tour in 1946, he committed to dance. With the Graham Company ,he danced major roles in such works as "Night Journey" and "Appalachian Spring." Stuart wrote numerous articles, and his autobiographical "On Stage with Martha Graham," is a tremendously engaging story of his life. Hodes worked extensively as a teacher and arts administrator,including positions at NYC’s High School of Performing Arts, the New School, the Borough of Manhattan Community College, and New York University- Tisch (where he served as Head of Dance from 1972-1982).

Nada Diachenko | 1946-2023

Nada began her studies at age 7 and started her professional career at 16 with the Baltimore Civic Opera Ballet. After college graduation, she and several friends went to Cold War-era West Berlin, Germany and formed the Berlin Dance Ensemble, teaching and performing throughout West Berlin and West Germany. Upon returning to the United States, she moved to New York City, where she continued her dance studies with some of the iconic figures of modern dance, including Martha Graham, Merce Cunningham and Erick Hawkins. She was a soloist with the Erick Hawkins Dance Company for eight years in the 1970s as well as being a founding member of the Greenhouse Dance Ensemble, one of the first collaborative dance companies in the nation. She was also the principal of Nada Diachenkoand Dancers and Nada Diachenko Solo Dance.She was Director of the Dance Program in the Department of Theatre and Dance in Boulder, Co. for 12 years. During her time as Director, she greatly expanded the program's offerings. She established the longest-running outreach program at the University, created the somatic and aerial tracks and the dance wellness program within the department, among many other innovations. She chaired the Roser Visiting Artist Endowment committee for 20 years. In 1999 Nada completed a three-year program and became a certified teacher of the Alexander Technique. In addition to running her own private practice, she created courses in the technique as part of the dance program. Her fusion of dance and Alexander Technique has led to workshop presentations at several national and international Alexander Technique conferences, residencies around the United States and foreign countries such as Costa Rica, the Czech Republic, Denmark, and Brazil. Nada's creative work spans decades, from the early 1970s through 2019. Herchoreography included ensemble and solo work, covering themes as varied as humor, the celebration of the natural world, deeply personal journeys, and purely abstract movement. In 2018 Nada was honored as a Legend of Dance by The Dance Archive. She retired from the Dance Program in 2020 but carried on her Alexander Technique practice until her death.

Yuriko Amemiya Kikuchi | 1920-2022

Yuriko, a choreographer, teacher, and dancer,was associated with the Martha Graham DanceCompany for over 50 years. She performed many leading roles with the company, staged and reconstructed many important works, and was the founding director of the Martha GrahamEnsemble. She was also a much noted teacher of the Graham technique. Alice Halpernrecalled.“She squeezed the essence of the dance out of them. She made it clear it’s not about the steps.” In addition, she starred as"Eliza" in the original Broadway Production of "The King and I" after which she restaged Jerome Robbins choreography for "The Small House of Uncle Thomas" for over 20 years.

Leda Meredith | 1962-2023

Leda Meredith’s dance career spans classical ballet, modern dance, and theater. She was a principal dancer with American Ballet Theatre II, Edward Villella, Manhattan Ballet, Ohio Ballet, Ballet du Nord, and others. She toured as Louise in San Francisco Opera Ballet’s Carousel, and appeared as Columbine for the Walter Verdehr Trio’s PBS presentation of Pierrot. Leda was the Rehearsal Director of Dances Patrelle and originated numerous roles for that company, including her critically acclaimed Lady Macbethin Francis Patrelle’s Macbeth. She was a company member of Jennifer Muller/The Works for over eight years and returned as Artistic Associate Director for The Works’ 25th anniversary season. Leda was an Adjunct Professor at Adelphi University, teaching ballet, modern dance, choreography, and writing for dance. She was the recipient of Adelphi’s 2007-2008 Teaching Excellence Award. A published author on many subjects, her writing has appeared in Pointe Magazine, European Dance News, The Herb Companion, the Brooklyn Botanic Garden’s All-Region Guides,and The-Vu, among others. Leda received an honorary doctorate in fine arts for writing from La Universidad Leonardo da Vinci in El Salvador. Leda was also a professional gardener and botanist and taught for the New York Botanical Garden and the Brooklyn Botanic Garden. Many of her books focused on her passion for ethnobotany. She led foraging tours and held food preservation workshops all over the world. Owing to her influence, thousands of people now consciously choose to protect the environment by buying and preserving locally sourced foods for growing them. Leda fought colonic cancer for a year. She died in San Juanillo, Costa Rica, where she and her husband, Richard Orbach, built a house. She is survived by Richard and her mother. Many mourn her loss as a teacher and friend. We forever remember Leda and her radiance,beauty, strength, talent, and inspiration she gave so many of us. May her spirit dance, travel, and forage in joy.

Gus Solomons Jr. | 1940-2023

Dancer and choreographer Gus Solomons jr was born on August 27, 1938 in Cambridge, Massachusetts to Olivia Stead Solomons and Gustave Solomons, Sr. He attended Cambridge High and Latin School before enrolling at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1956, where he studied architecture. During this time, he began studying dance as a student of Jan Veen and Robert C. Gilman at the Boston Conservatory of Music. Upon graduation, Solomons moved to New York City to dance in Oscar Brown, Jr.’s musical Kicks and Company, with choreographer Donald McKayle. Solomons joined McKayle’s company shortly after, and began taking classes at the Martha Graham School. Solomons’ interest in postmodernism developed further at Studio 9, where he shared space with other modern dance colleagues and worked with avant-garde experimentalists, some of whom went on to form the Judson Dance Theater collective. While at Studio 9, Solomons caught the attention of Martha Graham’s student Pearl Lang, who cast him in Shira in 1962. In 1965, postmodern choreographer Merce Cunningham asked Solomons to join his company. There, Solomons created roles in How to Pass Kick Fall and Run, RainForest, Place, Walkaround Time, and partnered with Sandra Neels in Scramble. In 1968, Solomons left Cunningham’s company after sustaining a back injury. He then collaborated with writer Mary Feldhaus-Weber and composer John Morris on a dual-screen video-dance piece entitled CITY/MOTION/SPACE/GAME at WGBH-TV in Boston, produced by Rick Hauser. Solomons went on to found his own company, The Solomons Company/Dance, creating over 165 original pieces. He became known for his analytical approach and incorporation of architectural concepts as well as his exploration of interactive video, sound, and movement, as depicted in the piece CON/Text. In 1980, Solomons began writing dance reviews, which were published in The Village Voice, Attitude, and The Chronicle of Higher Education. In 1996, he founded PARADIGM with Carmen de Lavallade and Dudley Williams. Solomons also worked as an arts professor at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts until 2013. In 2004, Solomons was named the American Dance Festival’s Balasaraswati/Joy Ann Dewey Beinecke Endowed Chair for Distinguished Teaching. He received the first annual Robert A. Muh Award from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and served as a Phi Beta Kappa Scholar in 2006. Biography courtesty of ‘The History Makers’.

Héctor Zaraspe | 1930 - 2023

The international dance community's beloved Maestro, Héctor Zaraspe, passed on February 13, 2023. Maestro Zarape was born in Aguilares ,Argentina on June 8, 1930. As a charismatic,talented young boy from a modest family, Héctoreagerly participated in dance, music, and theater opportunities in his small town until he reached out to Eva Perón, who offered him a fellowship at the Teatro Colón's school of dance in BuenosAires. After completing his ballet studies and absorbing the Vaganova Method, Héctor Zaraspe moved to Spain, where he started his legacy in ballet teaching at Estudios Amor deDios in the mid-50s. Maestro's sound pedagogy and artistic sensitivity became known, and he was invited to join leading professional Spanish Dance companies as a ballet master. Soon after, Maestro Zaraspe became the private coach for the world's renowned ballet and Spanish dance stars: Rudolf Nureyev, Margot Fonteyn, Antonio,and Mariemma. In the late 60s, Maestro moved to New York City, where he became a master teacher at the Joffrey Ballet and taught and choreographed for ballet's leading companies such as the MET, the Grands Ballets Canadiens,and the Het National Ballet. In the 70s, Maestro joined the Juilliard School as faculty, where a choreographic prize carries his name. In 1992, Maestro Zaraspe choreographed the Broadway Production of Tango Pasión, which continues in performance. During the 2020 pandemic,outstanding artists such as Julio Bocca and Denisse Jackson (ABT and Joffrey ballet stars,respectively) and former Ballet Nacional de España's director, José Antonio, joined virtually in congratulating their beloved Maestro on his 90th Birthday and thanking him for his transformative warm-hearted pedagogy. In 2022, Gabriela Estrada filmed Maestro Héctor Zaraspe's life testimony and castanet playing performance of Asturias to facilitate his participation at Antonio's Centennial Conference in Seville, Spain, where he received a standing ovation from generations of artists who had been graced by his inspiring and generous dedication to dance art and pedagogy.

Jennifer Muller | 1944-2023

Jennifer Muller, an influence in the dance world for over 45 years, was known for her visionary approach and innovations in dance/theater ,multi-discipline productions incorporating the spoken word, live and commissioned music, artist-inspired decor, and unusual production elements. As Artistic Director of The Works, she founded the company in 1974. Over the last 45 years, her vision has led the company to become renowned for its dynamic dance/theater productions, distinctive movement style, and technical virtuosity. She has toured 39 countries on four continents with the company, performed in 30 states, and self-produced 26 seasons in New York City. Muller has created over 125 pieces, including seven full evening productions. A playwright and choreographer, Muller is recognized as a “seminal influence on dance/theater.” Known for her history of notable collaborations, Muller has worked with artists like Keith Haring, Keith Jarrett, Tom Slaughter, Yoko Ono, and Burt Alcantara. Invited to create and re-stage pieces for 26 international repertory companies in 9 countries, her commissions include Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, Ohio Ballet (USA); Tanz-Forum(Germany), Ballet du Nord and Lyon Opera Ballet (France), Aterballetto (Italy), Bat Dor (Israel); Ballet Jazz de Montreal (Canada), Ballet Contemporaneo (Argentina) and Nederlands Dans Theater, NDT3 and, most recently, Introdans (Nederlands). Crossing the boundary into theater and opera, Muller choreographed theater productions for The Public Theater, 2nd Stage Theater, NY Stage & Film, Juilliard Opera Center, and the New York City Opera, working with directors like Des McAnuff, Ken Elliot, Mark Linn-Baker, and Christopher Mataliano. As one of the only choreographers of her generation, she developed a personalized technique, Muller Polarity Technique, informed by principles drawn from Eastern philosophy. Additionally, she headlined creativity, collaboration, and choreography workshops in France, England, Switzerland, The Netherlands, Italy, Spain, Argentina, and the US. An Internationally-renowned teacher, Muller has developed a personalized technique and innovative programs in creative thinking.Tanz Plan Berlin chose Muller Polarity Technique as one of 7 unique contemporary dance techniques for its publication/DVD Tanztechnik 2010.We mourn the loss of this dance icon. Dancers,choreographers, and educators across the globe will continue her legacy, vision, and passion for dance.

Alice Teirstein | 1929-2022

Alice was a choreographer and performer, most recently dancing with a group called Dancers Over 40. Her duet with Stuart Hodes called "I Thought You Were Dead," about two aging lovers, was truly hilarious.But, her largest mark on the dance field was as a dance educator. She taught dance for many, many years at the Fieldston School in New York City. She also rana free summer training and performance program for NYC public high school students called Young Dancemakers Company which continues to thrive. Her student Jessica Gaynor recalled, “One of Alice’s greatest gifts as an educator was the value she placed on individuality Through improvisational exercises, Alice encouraged her students to tell their own story and respond in the moment. ‘You are an original’ was a phrase heard often.

Ruth Solomon | 1935-2023

As a performer Ruth Solomon appeared on and off Broadway, on television, and in concerts throughout the United States, Canada, and Japan. She was for many years a permanent member and solo dancer with the Jean Erdman Dance Theater. Ms. Solomon created more than sixty works in her unique version of the modern dance idiom. From 1967 to 1970 she was assistant director of the dance program at New York University Tisch School of the Arts. She then directed the dance program that she established in Theater Arts at the University of California, Santa Cruz, until her retirement in 1995. Her highly successful teaching technique has been documented in an hour-long video, Anatomyas a Master Image in Training Dancers. After appearing as an invited speaker at the Olympic Scientific Congress in Seoul, South Korea (1988), she subsequently taught in Hong Kong,Taiwan, China, and Japan (1990-2002). She was also a guest teacher on numerous college and university campuses in this country. Other aspects of Ms. Solomon's multi-faceted career are represented by her publications. Her articles on dance performance, administration,and pedagogy appeared in Dance Magazine,Dance Teacher Now, Kinesiology and Medicine for Dance, and various other periodicals. Her research in dance medicine produced publications in such medical journals as The Physician and Sports Medicine and The Journal of Bone and Joint Surgery. Her most extensive books are Prevention of Injuries in the Young Dancer, Soviet-American Dance Medicine, The New Faces of Dance Scholarship, and East Meets West in Dance: Voices in the Cross-Cultural Dialogue. The Ninth Edition of her Dance Medicine; Science Bibliography, covering the literature in the field for the last 60 years, became available in January, 2023. She was the National Dance Association's “Scholar of the Year'' for 1992, “Dance Professional of the Year”(1998), and “Heritage Honoree” (2003). In 2010 she was named Honorary Fellow of the Division of Sports Medicine, Children’s Hospital Boston, Harvard Medical Center. In 2017 she was elected as a Fellow of the International Association for Dance Medicine; Science,and given “A Lifetime Achievement Award.”

Jessica Sinclair | Unknown - 2023

Jessica Sinclair passed away on May 5, 2023. Ms. Sinclair directed the Dance Department at the Cranbrook Schools in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, from 1961-2002.Jessica's approach to teaching and creating movement grew her dance classes from humble roots into a sophisticated program. Sinclair was the first teacher at Kingswood to open her classes to boys in the early 1960s. Students at all levels, from beginners to trained dancers, transformed into high-level performers and were featured in shows across campus, the Detroit Area, and around the World.Spanning several years, Jessica took her dancers on tours to Portugal, Venezuela, the U.S.S.R, Georgia, Austria, Germany, Belgium, Finland, France, and Canada. After performing at the Tbilisi Choreographic Institute, the government-run ballet school invited Jessica to teach a modern dance workshop. Within the year, she returned for three months to introduce ballet students to modern dance. Jessica's creativity operated on many levels in a restless pursuit of familiarity with the offbeat and the manifestations of cultural change. She had a gift for collaboration and developed relationships with faculty and students at the Cranbrook Academy of Art. In 1980 the annual Strickland Dance Award was developed and funded by David Strickland C '73. The competition allowed student creativity to focus on choreography and performance. These collaborative works were included in the annual An Evening of Dance performances. Audience accolades regularly held a theme about the essence of the choreography and the dancers' abilities, often compared to those of a professional dance company. The number of performances increased as the word spread to different venues, celebrations,and special events in and around the Cranbrook Community and Detroit area. Students report that Jessica had a mystery about her, something reserved that intrigued and moved them, inviting their interest, yet she kept this mystery for them and from them. Jessica insisted that the dancers seek interior authenticity and express this during performances. Jessica's body of work and playful approach to teaching leaves an everlasting mark on her students. For years to come, Jessica's innate talents and joy of movement will enliven the arts at Cranbrook Schools.

Myron Howard Nadel | 1940-2023

Myron Howard Nadel received a BS from theJuilliard School and an MA from Columbia Teachers College. Professor Nadel co-authored three versions of "The Dance Experience," which won the Critics Choice Award for best academic title and "Looking at Contemporary Dance: A Guide for the Internet Age." His articles have appeared in Dance Magazine, Dance Teacher Magazine, Australian Dance Magazine, the Encyclopedia of Human Sexuality, and the Contemporary Education Journal. Nadel’s major teachers were José Limón, Antony Tudor, Louis Horst, Dr. Lulu Sweigard and Martha Hill. Choreographic works appeared with the Milwaukee and Maryland Ballets, CBS Repertory Workshop, The Dance Company of Sydney and other companies in Australia and Norway, and he performed professionally as a dancer and actor since his youth. He was the founding Chair of the Dance Department at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, the first resident choreographer of the Milwaukee Ballet Company, Coordinator for Music Theatre at Carnegie Mellon University, Chair of Performing Arts at Buffalo State College and Associate Deanof Liberal Arts at UTEP and Head of Dance.

Janet Adler | 1941-2023

Janet Adler, founder of the Discipline of Authentic Movement, is a board-certified dance therapist who was introduced to movement as a manifestation of the unconscious by Marian Chace, to authentic movement becoming conscious by Mary Whitehouse, and to somatic epistemology by John Weir. She has explored authentic movement in the presence of a witness since 1969. As guest teacher and senior faculty since 1970, Janet has offered lectures, seminars, and retreats concerning the development of the Discipline of Authentic Movement in private and public institutions, retreat centers, universities, and clinics in North America and Europe. Her teaching practice in Northampton, Massachusetts (1971-1987) included her work as founder and director of the Mary Starks Whitehouse Institute, the first school devoted to the study and practice of Authentic Movement. She also taught authentic movement to dancers and choreographers in the Dance Gallery Performing Arts Company. Janet’s teaching practice in Northern California (1986-2006) welcomed individuals and groups into the practice of the Discipline of Authentic Movement. Her work then focused on the relationship between the discipline and the distinct realms of mystical text, mystical dance, kundalini, the process of initiation, Jewish Mysticism, Zen, and the practice of psychotherapy. Beginning in 2006, she received international teachers for advanced study and practice of the discipline into her kiva studio on Galiano Island, BC, Canada. In 2013 she founded Circles of Four, a post-graduate program guiding people who wish to teach the discipline. In 2019 she returned to Northampton to be honored for 50 years of devoted work within the field of Somatics. Janet is the author of Intimacy in Emptiness (2022), Offering from the Conscious Body: The Discipline of Authentic Movement (2002), and Arching Backward: The Mystical Initiation of a Contemporary Woman (1995). Her essays and interviews are published in Authentic Movement: Essays by Mary Starks Whitehouse, Janet Adler, and Joan Chodorow: Volume One (1999) and Authentic Movement: Moving the Body, Moving the Self, Being Moved: A Collection of Essays: Volume Two (2007), both edited by Patrizia Pallaro.) Her lifetime of contribution has deeply impacted dancers from many traditions around the world, and her archives will be housed and made available at the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts.

Photo Credit: Jens Wazel

Marilyn Wood | 1931-2023

Marilyn Wood (1931-2023) made her home in LaCrosse, WI where she was a dance educator for over 50 years. Marilyn was passionate about dance and dance education. This passion was inspired by her mother, a polio survivor, who helped foster her love of movement and dance. In founding Marilyn School of Dance in 1951,Marilyn stated her guiding principles focused on education: “Not for Glory or Fame, but an Education in Dance Arts, that is Our Aim.” Her tuition policy was to accept all students regardless of ability to pay. This, along with her expertise as a teacher and dancer, led to a career that was recognized in the community with numerous awards, including “Marilyn Wood Day” by the City of La Crosse, “Wall of Fame” b yLa Crosse Community Theatre, “Outstanding Woman in the Arts” by YWCA, and many more. Thousands of students were nurtured by Marilyn over the decades and her work extended far beyond her studio. She brought dance to school districts, nursing homes, community theaters, festivals, historical societies, and more. Through her visionary leadership professional dancers were brought to the community for the first time, allowing students to experience exceptional master classes and to perform with a live symphony orchestra. Marilyn’s zest for sharing dance took her around the world. She taught dance to survivors of childhood polio in India and danced in remote areas of the world where dance was their only common language. Life lessons were incorporated into all of Marilyn's curriculums and students continue to use her signature performance instruction in their daily lives. She taught that whatever happens - your headpiece flies off during a turn, the music stops unexpectedly, you forget a combination... or if offstage life gives you lemons in any of a million ways - Marilyn's firm encouragement reminds us to "Smile and keep on dancing!"

Colleen Balsamo | 1939-2023

Colleen Balsamo was the owner of La Crosse Dance Centre in La Crosse, Wisconsin, from1983-2015. Colleen, along with her husband,Tony, made it possible for thousands of people to enjoy the art of dance over the years. La Crosse Dance Centre continues to operate today, and is embarking on its 40th anniversary season.Colleen brought many talented dance educators to La Crosse to work with the students at LDC and create work for the community to enjoy. In 1990, she received a grant to start La Crosse's first annual "Nutcracker Ballet" with then Artistic Director Kathy Gorman, a tradition that continues to be a staple of La Crosse's holiday season. Colleen always said, "Everyone who wants to dance will be able to dance, no matter what. "The Balsamo's never allowed financial obstacles to stand in the way of someone's desire to dance, and provided scholarships whenever necessary. Colleen taught the students of LDC to believe in themselves, and to love themselves fiercely. She provided support and guidance that went far beyond the dance studio. And she always encouraged students to share their gifts to help others. Because of Colleen, students continue to find a safe space to explore their creativity and find their movement voice.

Briana Samano | 2004-2022

Briana Samano was a graduate from the Dance Department at Curie Metropolitan High School. During her short life she choreographed quincenaneras and taught children creative movement at various dance studios around the Chicago area. She was loved by all of her students and everyone who knew her. She inspired all.


Betty Toman | 1926 - 2023

Betty Toman, 97, passed away October 12, in retirement after a distinguished 40- year career as dance educator in the physical education department of Iowa State University, Ames. Miss Toman was a graduate of Margaret H’Doubler’s pioneering modern dance program at the University of Wisconsin. Starting in 1948 Betty built a program of study that provided a dance emphasis within ISU’s physical education major and a dance minor available to all students. Her academic appointments culminated with her being named Distinguished Professor of Education Emerita. She was recognized with the University’s Outstanding Teacher Award and the dance studios were named in her honor. Professor Toman served the National Dance Association (NDA) as president in 1980. Other service included leadership roles for the Iowa, Central District, and American Alliances of Health, Physical Education, Recreation, and Dance (AAHPERD). She was the founder of the Iowa Dance Council. With her students and accompanist/collaborator Evelyn Jensen, Toman created the ISU Dance Company on Tour presenting dance lecture-demonstrations across the Midwest for more than 20 years. Professor Toman often referenced dance as “physical education’s art form.” Her writing on this theme became part of a textbook and an anthology. It led to her being one of nine Americans invited to participate in Denmark’s International Humanistic Physical Education Exchange Program. She was a guest teacher in Iceland, Mexico, Brazil, and throughout the U.S. The Toman papers are housed in Special Collections at the ISU Library. Although she received the highest recognitions for her exceptional teaching and leadership, Betty Toman’s special genius was teaching beginning modern dance classes. She loved the young men and women from across campus and shared with them--as she did with students of any age or movement experience—her exuberance and unmatched joy in dance. Photo Credit: Vernon Windsor

Charlene Adele Curtiss | 1951 - 2023

Char's radiant smile could light up a room. Her laugh was infectious. She was instantly loved and admired by all who met her. She was born in Richland, WA to Derry and Hope Curtiss. A spirited youth, Char took full advantage of the Tri-Cities' open space of the time, moving at high speed through the countryside, having every kind of adventure available to a child of that era and locale. Char was a bright student and a gifted athlete, finishing third her junior year of high school on the uneven parallel bars in the statewide gymnastics competition. The summer after her junior year, Char suffered a spinal cord injury that changed her life. After four months in the hospital, she walked out the door with the aid of crutches and leg braces to graduate on time with her senior class. While in college, Char became enthralled with wheelchair sports. She purchased several wheelchairs considered "lightweight" for that time, and off she went. She competed in track, marathons, basketball, tennis, skiing and swimming. She medaled in multiple sports at the Paralympic Games in Rome, setting records that stood for years. Following those adventures, she got a law degree from Gonzaga University and became a public defender in King County, Washington. In the late 1980's, she retired from legal practice to begin a career in wheelchair dance. Char began her dance explorations at a time when interest in the emerging art form was exploding in places that included Berkeley, Chicago, NY, Atlanta, Albuquerque and London. Combining her own, authentic wheelchair movement skills, which Char dubbed "front-end chair control", with the emerging techniques of contact improvisation, Char and her partner Joanne Petroff in their company, LightMotion Dance, pioneered a unique dance vocabulary that had a significant and lasting impact on the field. Char and Jo lectured, gave workshops, and performed at venues throughout the United States, and four countries internationally. Their work and Char's life story were covered by every major media outlet in Seattle, and by PBS. During this period, Char also taught wheelchair skills to newly disabled patients on the rehab floor of University of Washington Medical center, passing along her unique movement skills, and serving as mentor and role model at a time when there were few of those to be had. All told, Char was an indomitable and unforgettable life force, changing the perceptions of thousands, and the lives of dozens of disabled people, providing them hope and inspiration when it was needed most. An interview with Char about her work appears in Breadth of Bodies: Discussing Disability in Dance by Emmaly Wiederholt and Silva Laukkanen.


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