Former ballerina Risa Gary Kaplowitz had to make a clean break from the love of her life before she was able to find her way back.
A graduate of Maryland Youth Ballet in Bethesda, Maryland, Kaplowitz’s performing career was with Dayton Ballet, under former Princeton Ballet artistic director Dermot Burke, and with Manhattan Ballet. Now she and Susan Jaffe, former principal dancer with American Ballet Theater, are launching the Princeton Dance and Theater Studio in Forrestal Village. The duo will unveil their plans at a benefit dinner at Tre Piani Restaurant on Friday, August 22. The gala features flamenco dance entertainment and guest appearance by Paloma Herrera, principal ballerina with ABT. Classes begin on Monday, September 8.
Kaplowitz was hard at work last week readying studios for the new school. Temporary housing will be at 116 Rockingham Way in Forrestal Village; the school’s permanent facility is planned for 106 Rockingham Way.
Kaplowitz says she left her ballet career the first time to find more challenges for her mind. She left the stage, entered the world of business, married, and started a family. She came to Princeton 10 years when she married Princetonian Alan Kaplowitz, a financial analyst with Morgan Stanley in New York and veteran commuter. The couple are parents of a son and a daughter, ages 8 and 2.
"I was in New York, dancing with Manhattan ballet, and touring all over the world," says Kaplowitz. "It was a wonderful experience but I felt I had nothing to come home to." She entered the world of business for eight years, severing her ties to ballet.
"There had always been a yearning to do more with my head," says Kaplowitz who had taken college courses but never had the opportunity to try life as a full-time student. "I attended a Careers for Women seminar about getting into sales. That seminar put me onto the road."
Kaplowitz easily landed her first sales job. "I sold postage equipment to all the big businesses in Manhattan. It was such an event for the sales room guys to have a woman come by that I quickly became the sales rep of the year. It wasn’t my dream job. But I learned that I was perceived as an intelligent, confident person outside the studio."
Next a temporary job at Mikasa, the crystal and china company, evolved into another success story. She became showroom manager and was then recruited to care of the Mikasa line at the major department stores in the Northeast.
"Making horrible cold calls is no fun no matter how often you do it. But all the discipline of ballet and all my performing experience has helped me in my entire life," she says with humor.
The new studio is modeled on the experience Susan Jaffe and she had at Maryland Youth Ballet as students of Tensia Fonseca.
"It all came together when Susan and I met up at our teacher’s 80th birthday celebration," says Kaplowitz. "Seeing all these students of all ages come together to honor this woman who had given us so much with her vision — it started to solidify my purpose."
Learning that Jaffe, too, would be retiring, the pair decided to establish their dream school in Princeton.
"I saw what Maryland did for all of us. It’s a rare thing to have what we had. We’re still like a family," she says.
The new school’s 10-member staff is comprised of professional ballet and modern dancers, Broadway dancers, and actors. In addition to comprehensive dance and theater training, the school will offer fitness classes such as yoga, stretch, and Pilates. Jaffe will continue working as assistant to American Ballet Theater’s chairman of the board, Lou Renieri, and travel to teach here twice a week.
More than 70 classes are planned in a variety of disciplines. One of the school’s special features is the pairing of young children’s classes with parents’ classes. "Being a mom myself, I used to get sick and tired of sitting around waiting for kids," says Kaplowitz.
Can the Princeton area support another big school of dance, we ask. "I never thought of it as one way or the other," she says. "This is something that is such a passion that nothing was going to stop me — not my husband and not my voice of reason.
"It’s not so much about whether the community could support it. This is a large, growing, educated community," she continues. "We’re offering a musical theater division that no one else has offered. The bottom line is that we’re not aiming to become Princeton Ballet, nor do we want to be so large that our personal stamp won’t be there any more."
Joy of Dance , Princeton Dance and Theater Studio, Tre Piani, Forrestal Village, 609-514-1600. Benefit evening for the Princeton Dance and Theater Studio and Princeton Dance Theater. Gala features flamenco dance entertainment and guest appearance by Paloma Herrera, principal ballerina with ABT. By reservation, $50. Friday, August 22, 7 p.m.