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Mme. Hermine

Interview with Larry Long about the Ruth Page School

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As part of the archives at the Chicago Film Archives, this segment of a number of short interviews with Larry Long, done in 1985, has some interesting information on the school's early 1970s cultural initiatives for disadvantaged children in Chicago.

http://www.chicagofilmarchives.org/collections/index.php/Detail/Object/Show/object_id/8923

Transcript of the relevant segment, found at 6:50 -

Q: Describe, if you will, the growth pattern in the history of the school.

A: Well, we started the school literally with nothing. We had a studio, we had banes and minors, and very few students. No children whatsoever. It finally got so bad that I talked to Miss Page, and with her agreement, I went to a group called Urban Gateways in Chicago, headed by a lady named Gertrude Guthman, a wonderful lady. And we made an anangement where I would go to various schools and audition children in the Chicago public school system, and select suitable children who showed an interest and some aptitude with no training whatsoever to come to the school, to the Loop, and study dance. They got two lessons a week: one modem class, one ballet class. We paid for all of their shoes and leotards and tights. We made sure that they had something for after the class -- a carton of milk and cookies or a graham cracker or something. And we also paid for an escort to bring them down.

Now this was . . . I adored this program. To me this was, I think, one of the most stupendous things the school has ever done, because so many of these children had never -- none of them -- had ever seen a ballet before; that was taken for granted. But you'd be surprised at the number of them who'd never been downtown in the Loop before. Who'd never been on the subway before. Now, these are urban children, who spent their lives in the second largest city in the United States, I guess, and they've never been on the subway, they've never been on a bus, they've never been downtown in the Loop. So they were getting a wide range of cultural experiences -- not only to dance, but cultural, in the real sense of cultural, a real cultural experience in coming downtown and seeing what this place was all about.

And they were the most wonderful children, the most incredible children I've ever seen in my life. So avid. For four years we picked, I think, we would pick about forty children. Naturally there'd be some attrition before the first class, but we usually ended up with about 25-26 children at the beginning of each season. The most fantastic children, the most open children, the most enthusiastic children. And strangely enough, from the very first group that we got, there were three wonderful children. Exceptionally talented children. One little girl, Annette Jackson was her name, stayed with us for about ten years, until she finally decided not to dance and go to college. But she turned out to be a lovely, lovely dancer. Then we had two wonderful young men, Donald Williams was one, and, for the life of me, I can't think of the other young man's name right now.

One of those first years of Chicago Ballet we did a program in conjunction with the Dance Theatre of Harlem in a program called "Dances of Love and Death." The Harlem Ballet did Ruth's Carmen, which was a version especially made for their company, and we did Carmina Burana, and then we did a pas de deux of Ben Stevenson called Three Preludes. And while he [Arthur Mitchell] was here with his company doing that program, he came to watch the children's class and picked those three young people to go on a summer scholarship to his school in New York, which he just then started. Now one of those boys, the only one who's still dancing . . . but still one of those boys is the leading dancer, the leading male dancer with Dance Theatre of Harlem, Arthur Mitchell's Dance Theatre of Harlem -- Williams, Donald Williams. And he's coming back to Chicago this Christmas to dance the lead in the McCormick Place Nutcracker this year. Now that's . . . when you think, all right, that's a group of twenty-six, and out of that twenty-six, three had real promise, did something, and one made it, kind of. Sounds that the odds -- one out of twenty-five . . . not so hot. But for dancers, you can't imagine what a tremendous . . . .

Q: Yeah, it's a big deal.

A: It's a big deal. And he did it. And to kind of come full circle that way. That's the kind of joy, that's the kind of thing that has made this school, I hope, a special place and will continue to make the school a special place.

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Wonderful! I like it. :) Thank you for the link.

-d-

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This is one of those things where we need a "like" button! I wonder what the cost was. I wish there were programs like this all over the world.

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There is another program like this: Chicago Multicultural Dance Center. It is run by Homer Hans Bryant. Provides amazing training and ballet discipline for girls and boys in Chicago. Check it out and support!

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There are a number of programs like this now everywhere. But I was struck by the idea that few would have realized that this existed some 45 years ago.

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