Who: Mary Pat Robertson, director of Princeton Ballet School and faculty member for 35 years.
Dance Background: Mary Pat Robertson began dancing in her early childhood in Tulsa, Oklahoma. During high school she was a member of Tulsa Civic Ballet, now known as Tulsa Ballet Theater. After high school Robertson went to college, since her parents were not supportive of dance as a career goal.
She began at Wellesley College in Massachusetts and simultaneously studied at Boston Ballet. She transferred to Stanford University and studied at Peninsula Ballet Theater in San Mateo, California. After graduating with a B.A. and distinction in French literature, she lived in Berkeley for two years, working as a professional freelance dancer in and around San Francisco.
In 1975 Robertson made a big move across the country to New York City, where she continued to find freelance performance opportunities while simultaneously studying with a variety of masters in the field. She studied ballet with David Howard, Finis Jhung, and Douglas Wassell and studied modern dance with Merce Cunningham, at the Martha Graham School, at the 92nd Street Y with the Limon Company, and with such luminaries as Twyla Tharp, Lar Lubovitch, and Lucinda Childs.
In 1980 Robertson moved to Princeton and began teaching at Princeton Ballet School. She performed with the company extensively throughout New Jersey for the next decade with Teamwork Dance, a modern dance company which she founded in 1981. In 1986, she became the director of Princeton Ballet School.
“During the early years, I taught many, many classes here,” Robertson recounts, “including lots of open enrollment classes. I had a schedule of 24 classes a week at one point! For the past 20 years or so, I have concentrated on the middle school years, which I believe are extremely important from the point of view of building a dancer’s brain and body. (Notice how I said brain first!)”
Mary Pat Robertson’s Classes: “Being the director has been extremely important to my development as a teacher. I can appreciate (and learn from) the lively, imaginative work done by my colleagues with the younger dancers in their early elementary school years. Seeing their work helps me remember to keep my classes lively and fun.
“And then, on the other end, I can be amazed by the development of the advanced dancer which my colleagues such as Mary Barton, Douglas Martin, Kathleen Moore, and Maria Youskevitch, do so well. So in my middle school classes I can lay the groundwork that they will need to do the advanced work they do in creating a professional dancer.
“I also love teaching young dancers this age (9-12) because they are so eager to learn, so ready to jump in. The study of ballet requires a love of structure and discipline. This appreciation is not inherent in young children, but can be cultivated with the right approach. The better listener a dancer is, the more focused they learn to be, the more fun they can have with the group as everyone can learn more and progress faster. I love starting the year with my fourth graders and watching them gradually ‘get’ how much fun it is to focus and work hard.”
Gratifying Moments in teaching: “I have so many gratifying moments—they range from watching my former student Unity Phelan dance her first solo role in a Balanchine ballet with New York City Ballet, to having one of my fifth graders recently be able to identify a piece of classical music that the accompanist was playing for our adagio. I am happy to be able to pass along this heritage of love for a rigorous, structured art form to young dancers from all corners of the world who come together in central New Jersey.”
Outside the Studio: “Outside the studio I love to do many things, including going to New York City to see dance and theater. (My recent favorites include ‘An American in Paris’ and Elevator Repair Service’s production of Faulkner’s ‘The Sound and the Fury’). But mainly I love puttering in my garden. I live in Princeton, and have flower and vegetable gardens, white picket fence and all. So I’ve been busy moving perennials around, and growing tomatoes. I also love to walk in the New Jersey meadows, and will be walking in the Alps in central Switzerland this August with my husband, Michael, a professor of American literature at The College of New Jersey, and my daughter, Miranda, an event planner who works globally and lives in the East Village.”
American Repertory Ballet. 732-249-1254. www.arballet.org.