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Inspiration #06: Interview with Susan Jaffe (karma: 4)
By nycsylphmember has saluted, click to view salute photosPremium member
On Tue Aug 04, 2009 11:39 AM
Edited by webheadmaster (251) on 2009-08-04 18:48:49 Made feature
Edited by nycsylph (206174) on 2009-08-04 19:25:11 edits/spelling corrections
Inspiration #06 The sixth in a series of interviews with professional dancers. Their personal stories will allow you to go behind the curtain and take a fascinating look into the world of professional dance.

Susan Jaffe
For over 20 years, Susan Jaffe was principal dancer for American Ballet Theater. Without a doubt, she was one of the most beautiful ballerinas ever to grace the stage, She was known for her exquisite lines that seemed to go on forever as well as for her versatility in roles. The New York Times dubbed her “America’s Quintessential American Ballerina,” and if you saw her, you knew why. Watching her was like watching a dream come to life. She seemed to embody that ideal of perfection and carry it through each of her performances. Audiences sat in rapt enjoyment, caught up in the rarefied air of this consummate ballerina that exuded a star quality so often lacking these days. To me, she was some anomaly – a throwback to the Golden Age of Hollywood. It was as if Gene Tierney had made her way off the silver screen and onto the stages of American Ballet Theater – while wearing pointe shoes!

When Ms. Jaffe consented to be interviewed, I was so excited to meet and find out more about this dancer that poured her heart out on the stage – and left not only the illusion of a make believe character behind – but pieces of herself for us to treasure. I expected this filmy, ethereal, fairy tale image to carry throughout the whole of my talk with her, but I was so wrong. The glossy, superficial conversation that I had anticipated never took place – Ms. Jaffe’s remarkable candor prevented it from ever happening. From the outset, she spoke frankly and openly, yanking me from my shadowy perceptions about her, her life and experiences. I have no idea why she chose to reveal herself so honestly. It may well be the pattern that she chooses to follow in life. I suspect that this is the case, and that for her, this is the norm. I wasn’t prepared for it, as it’s not often that you ask a question and actually get an answer. The whole notion of honesty prompts me to say that it’s always a supremely personal decision that someone makes when they choose to reveal themselves. I liken it to the dropping a veil that results in putting an aspect of someone’s personal life on very public display. When it occurs, it’s disquieting as it disturbs the smooth, surface of the water. However, it eventually betters us all. It’s the only way we can really learn, bond and explore our own inner demons. It’s an incredible act of courage and I hope that everyone who reads this article will respect the person responsible for this kind of forthrightness. I know that I have the utmost admiration.

As for the interview itself, I made yet another break from tradition and did not have my usual apple chai latte. How long can I last without one? Time will tell, but due to her tight schedule, I instead sat in the front seat of Ms. Jaffe’s car, my tape recorder on the console between us. When I first crawled into the passenger seat, I glimpsed that famous profile so prominently seen in numerous photos. It wasn’t until she cut off her car engine that she turned and faced me head-on. I got the full impact of her hypnotic beauty. She really is impossibly gorgeous – and not just on the outside. Susan Jaffe is the real deal.

Q: I would first like to thank you so much for agreeing to be interviewed for Dance.net. You obviously are one of the most celebrated dancers ever, but I always start at the beginning. Where did you begin your training and was it your idea or someone else’s to have you become a little ballerina?

A: Well, it was definitely my idea. When I was about 7 or 8, my mother asked me if I wanted to take a dance class. I said, yes, and so she sent me to the local YMCA, but to a modern dance class. When I was a child, my aspirations were either to become an actress, a singer or a princess [laughter], so the modern dance class just didn’t quite seem to fit that bill. I went through that year. They had dances about a dog basking in the sun and things like that and I thought, “Well, this just not what a princess does.” At the end of that year, I saw a ballet class at the YMCA and I said, “Oh, I want to do that!” It was so pretty, they had these crisscross ribbons and the hair was up in a bun and I knew I wanted to do that. My mom let me take the class the next year and it was fine. I wasn’t really serious about it, but I liked it well enough. Then, probably about halfway through the year, I had a dream that I was lifted in the air, like a presage and there was a huge spotlight on me. I expect I had a partner. I looked around me and I saw all my classmates running around me in a circle and I thought, “I’m a star!” [laughter]

Q: Oh, my gosh!

A: I woke up the next day and my legs were killing me. It was as if I had danced all night.

Q: Really? Isn’t that something!

A: After that, the bug had bitten me and I was possessed and obsessed and started working really hard.

Q: And this was when?

A: When I was eight. So in the middle of that year, my teacher called my mom and had a meeting with us and said, “Your daughter is too good to be here at the YMCA.” She suggested that she send me to a real ballet school. We did that. We found a ballet school called The Maryland School of Ballet and I was so lucky because that woman, Tensia Fonseca, and also a man named Roy Jean, owned this school and they were fantastic teachers. It was this little school on St. Elmo Drive in Bethesda, Maryland with tiny, tiny rooms and wood floors, but she trained three dancers that went onto principal dancers in the American Ballet Theater: Cheryl Yeager, Julie Kent and me. All three of us were from that same school, and once I got there, I was always there. I was always at the studio. The ballet teacher took me under her wing – she was sort of my second mom. She sent me up to New York every summer to get scholarships. Then by the time I was 16, I joined the second company of ABT so I I lived here in NY.

Q: Now how did that come about?

A: Well, I was on scholarships in the summers, but at the end of that summer, they asked me to stay. .

Q: Okay.

A: It was so funny because I started coming on full scholarships with ABT by the time I was 14. I came back at 14 and 15, and each time I just came back to the audition. I didn’t call anybody, I’d just show up and they’d look at me like, “What are you doing in this room? Why don’t you just call us?” And I’d be, “You mean you’re not supposed to keep re-auditioning every year?” The year after I turned 16, they called me into this room and said they’d like me to join.

Q: Didn’t you also go to the School of Ballet?

A: I did the first year – when I was 13. I liked it well enough, but really wanted to do Swan Lake and Giselle … and dance with Baryshnikov. [laughter]

Q: Yes, I can understand that.

A: I remember when I was 10 years old that I started drinking coffee because I heard it stunted your growth.

Q: Oh, no! [more laughter]

A: I looked at my mom who was 5’8” and then my dad who was 6 feet tall and thought, “Oh, my gosh! I’m going to be tall!” And I had already told myself that I was going to dance with Baryshnikov! [more laughter] I was so sure of myself back then.

Q: That is so funny!

A: So I started drinking coffee with milk.

Q: And it worked!

A: It did because I am 5’4 ½”!

Q: Perfect! [more laughter] And so at 16, you got into the second company. What was that like? Was it a big departure from just taking class?

A: Oh, yes. It was much harder. You were in pointe shoes all day and working all day – learning choreography with a director who was [pauses] … harsh! He wasn’t all warm and fuzzy. He was not real nice all the time. His name was Richard England and his style was a mix of all those old-style people. I think nowadays, people are much nicer to the dancers, but back then it was, “Break them down! Make then submissive so they’ll do absolutely anything we want!” [laughter]

Q: More militaristic.

A: Yes, a little bit like the military. I remember going to him and saying, “You know, how come you don’t give me any parts?” I did Raymonda and a couple of other nice parts, but mostly he was giving a lot of parts to the other girls. He said, “Those girls are short and they’re not going to get into ABT, but I think you are going to get into ABT. I think you’re going dance later, so I’m not worried about you.” Now that didn’t help me much because I wanted to dance right then and I really didn’t think he believed in me.

At the end of those two years, we heard that Baryshnikov was going to takeover the main company – Lucia Chase was stepping down. He came and watched our class and at the end of that class, one of the ballet mistresses came to me and said, “Baryshnikov thinks you’re very talented.” I remember sort of looking behind me to see who she was talking to since I’d been pushed aside for two years. Then I was invited to the big company audition and at the end of audition, this gigantic man who was probably 300 pounds came up to me. His name was Charles France and when he introduced himself, he would say, [starts imitating him - speaks nasally and very affected] “Hi, my name is Charles France, you know, like the country.” [laughter] He was very flamboyant and had big, wild hair and a beard. He sort of looked like Henry VIII. He always had these pearl pins on his lapel – costume jewelry. He was a very eccentric man and had these big, turquoise glasses and would always look over them. So he came up to me and looked over his glasses [starts imitating him again] and said to me, “Baryshnikov thinks you have a very bright future with this company. However, you’re going to have to lose 10 pounds by the end of the summer.”

Q: Oh, my God!

A: I don’t know why I was so confident back then, but I was. So I just looked at him and I laughed and said, “Ha! I’ve been on a diet for four years. How am I going lose ten pounds by the end of the summer?” They sent me to a diet doctor and I had to come in every week and have Charles France look at me – every week to see if I’d lost weight.

Q: What?!

A: Sometimes he and another gentleman, Richard Tanner, who was onboard with Baryshnikov at that time, would take me out to dinner and then watch what I would eat.

Q: Whoa! That’s kind of harsh, isn’t it?

A: Yes, it was harsh. [laughs] It was a different world.

Q: Geez!

[Please note: While Ms. Jaffe was telling this story, I was uttering exclamations of disgust throughout. I heard myself when I was transcribing the tape. I gotta tell you that this whole story upset me on so many levels. Especially when she talked about having dinner with these two gentlemen. Could well imagine them sitting there stuffing their faces while they watched her gnaw on a celery stick – eager to report back to their commander-in-chief. Just my meager, insignificant personal opinion, but there were so many better ways to handle this situation.]

A: And they also said I had to get my name changed. So I went to my father and said, “Dad, they want me change my name to something exotic.” And he said, “No way! If my daughter is going to be famous, she’s going to have my name!”

Q: There you go! Good father!

A: So I went back to Charles France and I told him that my father won’t let me change it. He said, “Well, I guess Jaffe is fine.

Q: It’s a perfect name, anyway. You would change it to something like that.

A: Well, I don’t know.

Q: It is – it’s beautiful.

A: Later that year, I joined the company – in August 1980. It was the same year my mom died. She died on July 16th so she never even knew that I joined the company.

Q: Oh, dear. That’s horrible.

A: Yes, so I started three weeks later and it was wild. The studios down there weren’t quite finished. We were at City Center for a bit of time. I was walking in the hallways and seeing Godunov, Natalia Markarova, Cynthia Gregory, Fernando Bujones and Gelsey Kirkland. It was just wild!

Q: Lots of very strong personalities there, right?

A: Oh, yes, Lucia was a great director – and because she was very strong within herself – and she could hire all these strong people with strong personalities and keep them in check. Keep them all happy and working well – that’s who she was. She was just a great director. We’ve had lots of wonderful direction within the company, but it was just nice to see how Lucia was able to handle the personalities.

Q: Yes, it’s remarkable.

A: So a big, three-month rehearsal period happens, and I was getting some parts and people were whispering, “Who’s the new girl? Who’s the new girl?” Nobody would talk to me.

Q: Oh, no!

A: Yup, I mean [says more emphatically] NOBODY would talk to me.

Q: Do you mean the corps? Or the corps and soloists?

A: I mean nobody, except there was this one girl who came up to me. At the time, people called me Suzy and now people call me by the name Susan because I don’t like Suzy. She came up to me and said, [does another fabulous imitation with a slight Southern inflection] “Suzy, everybody hates you, but I’m not like that. I want to get to know you before I decide whether I like you or hate you so let’s go have dinner. [laughter]

Q: Perfect! [more laughter] Now do you think they hated you because you were so beautiful or because you were getting parts or …

A: Because I was getting parts.

Q: Okay, so they were just completely jealous of that fact.

A: Yeah, well, it was because of Baryshnikov and why is Baryshnikov giving her parts and …

Q: But it’s also because of your talent. I mean, you had the whole package … which is intimidating.

A: I suspect that’s why.

Q: I mean, it’s still not any easier to deal with that kind of behavior, but at least there’s a reason.

A: Yes, and we did go out to dinner and became fast friends.

Q: Good! She crossed that line!

A: Yes, and I thought it was very nice that she broke that line. So a few more months go by and we’re opening at The Kennedy Center. I was actually learning in the back of the same room that Godunov, Tcherkassky, Bissell and Kirkland were. All of us were in this same room. I was learning pas d’Esclave – the pas de deux from The Corsaire[/]. It’s Gulnare’s pas de deux – the second women’s lead. So I had sort of learned it in the back and Kirkland and Bissell were going to do opening night at The Kennedy Center, which is right next to my hometown. Two days before the dress rehearsal, both Kirkland and Bissell didn’t show up to the dress rehearsal … and Misha fired them.

Q: Uh-oh, I seem to recall hearing something about that.

A: After Misha fired them, he came up to me and said, “How would you like to go on in place of Gelsey Kirkland?” and I said, “Thank you for much, but I am not ready. I’m 18 years old … I just joined the company …” I had a hundred excuses and he just patted me on the leg and said, “You’ll be fine.” Then they threw me in the studio with Sasha Godunov and we rehearsed and then they threw me out onstage.

Q: Wow!

A: That was my very first performance with the company. I was supposed to do the Czardes in Raymonda, you know, in the corps, in the back, but instead I was centerstage. Wow!

Q: I take it everything went well and that you got amazing reviews?

A: Well, it was so strange because I really just this girl from Bethesda … that’s how I felt … like I was just Susan Jaffe from Bethesda … and suddenly people were interviewing me and talking about my green eyes and describing me. It was just so strange to be just this kid and overnight have people talking about you and describing you and talking about your talent. To me, it was so surreal. I mean, I loved dancing, but to be told I was so talented was bizarre. It was just a bizarre experience. I was at the head of my school when I grew-up, but then once I’d gotten into the second company I was so pushed aside that to suddenly have these people say these things about me was odd.

Q: I guess this leads me into something I had wanted to ask you. You say you were surprised by this. Does this mean you had no sense of how great you were?

A: Oh, well, God, now I do! Of course, but at that time …

Q: I mean at that time ...

A: No, no sense.

Q: So if you’re in class, you really don’t see that? You really don’t know that you’re better than everybody else?

A: No.

Q: Wow! I wonder why?

A: I mean, I didn’t really look around. You know, I’m very focused within myself

Q: In other words, you didn’t compare yourself to anyone else.

A: Right, I only compared myself to myself.

Q: Then in regard to your expectations about yourself, were you meeting your expectations back then? Or were you being hard on yourself? Or you just didn’t know?

A: I just tried to get better I don’t know ... I just tried my best. I just tried to stay within my work. I don’t know if I thought I was good or bad. I don’t remember.

Q: Okay, so after that Kennedy Center performance, did things change for you? What happened and how did that performance affect you within the company?

A: Well, suddenly people were talking about me and, I was a name. I started getting parts and roles. Misha started giving me more and more things to do. At the end of that first season … no, I think it was one year later, Charles came to me and said, “Well, we have a little present for you. You’re going to be doing [I]Swan Lake
and Giselle.

Q: Oh!

A: Yeah! So, I was just working and working and working. I always felt that I had to sort of catch up to my name. That because I thrown out there before I was ready, that I had to work so hard to not disappoint. I always felt I had to keep working and working and working. It took me about ten years to sort of settle in and say, “Oh, okay, I feel equal to my name.” It took me so long and I had to try so hard to just catch-up.

Q: And it also must be quite difficult when someone like Baryshnikov thinks you’re great. I mean, it must be kind of daunting.

A: Yes.

Q: But you handled it well!

A: [laughter] Well, I’m just this very resilient person – it’s part of who I am … I persevere. I am very focused … very directed. When I want something, I will just work so hard to get it. There are so many talented people out there and you need a will of steel to push back those barriers. I think you also need to have a positive view of that.

Q: Do you see a lot of people who don’t think that way?

A: Now that I’m a teacher and a choreographer I do. I see dancers get in their own way with their own negativity.

Q: What do you do?

A: I have to try to explain to them that yes, be hard on yourself and that it’s okay to get frustrated if you can’t do something, but don’t let it take the joy of doing the work away from you. Stay positive. Otherwise, you can just get stuck all in your own stuff. And that’ll stop you from going further.

Q: And what advice would you give in handling that extra kind of pressure that comes from situations other than dancing? For instance, when you were ostracized, or what happened with you regarding your weight, or even people saying very negative things about you. What is the best way to handle these situations?

A: Well, I mean, you just have to get really philosophical about it. Often times, people can be cruel because they’re feeling insecure. They don’t like themselves and that’s why they’re being cruel to you. That’s one way. I actually talked to one of my students about this. She wrote to me this summer after she went into this summer intensive and said, “Oh, Ms. Jaffe! People are so negative there and the teachers are so cruel. They’re not nice! It’s not like our studio where you all are so nice and work us hard, but are so loving. I’m not used to this and I don’t know what to do. Even the kids are negative. They pick on people. They talk about other people’s bodies.” We don’t have that in our studio – people just don’t do that. I told her, you know what? If someone is speaking negatively about somebody else and they’re telling you things like that, change the subject. If they don’t catch on, they’re not your friend. Move on. I said that if they follow your lead, then you’ll bring them into a more positive space which is good for both of you. Be a leader … not a follower! Be strong enough within yourself to lead, instead of following and becoming negative so that you can fit in. Better to be alone than to be in that kind of a group. So if people are being really negative towards you, stay in your work. Stay within yourself and know that people are doing that not because of you – it has nothing to do with you. It’s all about them. It’s really about who they are and not about who you are so it’s not your problem.

Q: Yes, it’s just hard being exposed to that at a young age. If you’re older and have your sea legs underneath you, it’s easier to handle it. When you’re a teenager and have all those hormones kicking in, it must be hard to be exposed to all that. And I imagine you got it ten times as much because you were so good.

A: Well, people were also very sweet to me.

Q: Oh, I’m sure!

A: What I always say to my students is that if you’re focused on your own work, nothing can hurt you. If you start looking out and seeking approval out there, then that negativity can latch onto you. If you stay positive in your own work, nothing can penetrate that.

Q: That’s true. Also about the work ethic, if you do the work, the dance is yours. In other words, you didn’t get something because of somebody liking you; you’ve done the work and feel secure that you deserve it.

A: Yes.

Q: Now to return to the roles you were getting, were you getting them offered to you because of your personae? I think of you as this very strong dancer obviously – very technically wonderful – but you were so uber feminine to me. You had that quality about you. Were you picked for Swan Lake and Giselle because of that combination?

A: Well, actually those roles require two very different types of dancers. Just because you’re a great Giselle doesn’t mean you’re going to be Swan Lake and vice versa.

Q: Then why were you picked for those roles? What qualities made you right for them?

A: Actually, they wanted to see how I did in Giselle. They knew I was right for Swan Lake. I was majestic and tall and long and had big lyrical movements and all of that. I had very nice lines ...

Q: Very nice! [laughs]

A: Well, I had worked very hard, but I did have nice lines. That role was kind of a no-brainer and my personality worked for that. I liked doing the femme fatale thing. I was really into that and thought it was really a blast. At that age, I thought Odile was a femme fatale – and she is – but when I got older, I had a much deeper vision of all of those characters. A much deeper vision and dimension to those characters. I’m just saying something quick about when I was young, thinking the femme fatale was something I really liked. Giselle was much harder for me. Giselle was sweet, innocent, light and childlike, and I didn’t feel so well inside. I had to sort of grow-up fast. My mother was an alcoholic and I had a very difficult childhood so it was very hard to think of myself as being sweet and innocent and taken care of. In reality, I had to be tough, I had to take care of myself, I had to be strong, I had to be resilient. The whole scenario – of having to find that innocence … whew! I didn’t know where I was going to dig in there for that! Funnily, the older I got, the more I connected to innocence. It’s a different kind of innocence. Of course, when you’re older you see innocence in everything – even in negativity. So she was much harder for me and after I did it, Misha said, “Achhh, you’ll never be a good Giselle!”

Q: Oh, really?

A: Yes, he just hit me on my thigh and said, “But you know, we’ll find me other things.” And there were. I did Don Quixote which was actually very suited to my personality. I loved doing Kitri … loved being very fiery. Loved Sleeping Beauty and loved all those things. You know, romantic ballet was a little bit out of my grasp when I was younger. I felt more and more connected to it as I got older. I never, ever, ever felt that I was a brilliant Giselle. I was a good Giselle, but I loved the story and I loved diving into that character because her journey was to forgive – forgive out of extreme adversity. There was the idea of that sort of universal love, and also how she pulled from the magic of an outside force to help her in saving Albrecht. Whether for her, it was a God force of the force of nature, whatever it was or whatever you choose to call it. I have my own personal view, but there was a bigger force – a universal force – of love really, to get this man through the night – alive. At the end, when she takes his hand and says, “Our love will last forever.” It was such a sacrificial love. She sacrificed so much to finally get to that moment. It was deeply beautiful to me and I loved [I[Giselle[/I] and that’s why I wanted to continue doing it.

[Please note: Ms. Jaffe started to gesture and do the pantomime that is in Giselle when she spoke those final words. I’ve never been in that close of a proximity to a prima ballerina doing this sort of thing and I have to tell you it had quite an affect on me. When she spoke the words and gestured, she went fully into the role of Giselle. She truly had ‘found’ it within herself. That simplicity and beauty of innocence was there beside me. I had an immediate emotional response to what she was doing. There in the front seat of her car, I felt a lump in my throat and tears welling up inside. To me, this is what dance is all about. It’s about an emotional connection with your audience – even when it’s one person sitting next to you in the passenger seat of a car.]

Q: Yes, Giselle is a fabulous story


A: Yes, incredible.

Q: Well, I guess there are reasons classics are classics. There are these universal …

A: … themes. Yes, absolutely. And archetypes.

Q: Right. And it’s funny because the Black Swan’s entire purpose is to destroy someone and it’s the exact opposite as Giselle who actually turns everything around to try and save someone. It’s a nice contrast. Now which, out of all your roles, was your favorite to do?

A: Well, when I was younger it was Swan Lake. Then when I got older, I wanted to branch out and I wanted to do Manon which I loved doing her. She’s a very dark girl. You know, a lot darkness, a lot of ignorance and a lot of innocence. She was a great mixture and I loved working with all those tools. I loved all the movements – the movements were beautiful. It’s a deeply sad story and I loved all that. I loved working that. I loved [I[Lizzie Borden[/I].

Q: Oh, really?

A: Yes, I loved doing her. I thought she was very cathartic for me. We all have dark and light in our own souls and so for me to dive that deep into darkness of a murderess was fantastic. Wow!

Q: Oh, yes!

A: I actually got to the point where as Lizzie, I could completely empathize as to why she killed her parents. I was so inside Lizzie because I worked with a dramaturge, Byam Stevens on all my roles so I could really approach the roles really deeply inside. Understand why the inner workings of why someone would do these things because I could never do something if I didn’t feel it was a truth for me.

Q: Right.

A: So sometimes I would go to him and say, “Well, the choreography is this and I don’t feel that all! It doesn’t work for me and I don’t understand it. I can’t connect to it!” He would help find a new way to make it true for me or to change it a little bit so I could feel it. I could not do a movement that was not true – to me. Someone else could look at my characterization and say, “Why is she doing that for?” But for me, it was deeply true and I had to stay to true to myself in that way.

Q: I think I get what you’re saying. I finally saw the Kirov this year and it hit me that every movement is a language. I never saw it in that way before, but I think maybe that’s what you’re talking about. Or at least that’s how I’m taking what you’re saying. That every movement is almost like a word when you’re stating something …

A: Absolutely.

Q: … and if a word doesn’t belong there … even if it’s a pretty word, it’s like gibberish. It doesn’t belong in that thought. /b]

A: That’s right.

[b]Q: Okay, so that is what you’re saying?


A: Yes, I didn’t like any superfluous movement. I would never change anything. There were people that liked to change steps just to be different, but I never changed a step unless there was a dramaturgical reason to change it. Otherwise, you’re doing that to be frivolous. I didn’t want to do anything “because.”

Q: Exactly.

A: My last favorite role is Tatiana in Eugene Onegin. I loved doing her and I loved that ballet and it’s just heart-wrenchingly beautiful and deep and wonderful. So, yeah, those are my favorite roles.

Q: Well, you were gorgeous in all of them I must say.

A: Well, thank you.

Q: It’s true. And now, you’re on your own. You have your own school. Why are you doing that or why did you do it?

A: Well, when I first left the stage, I didn’t want anything to do with anything. I wanted to leave entirely. I needed to get away. I said there are three things I would never do: “I’d never teach. I’d never choreograph. I’d never come back as the queen.” [laughter]

Q: There you go! You did all three!

A: All three! [more laughter] I started teaching because I couldn’t bear sitting all day. It drove me absolutely nuts – like sitting at desk or looking at an email. I was working with the Chairman of the Board of ABT for five years and the first year it was just that. We’d go to meetings and my hips were hurting me and I thought I couldn’t bear sitting there. I remember that there was one point it hit me. I was sitting at my desk and had this sinking feeling and this thought came to me that said, “You are so selfish. You’ve worked with all the greats. You’ve worked with Kolpakova, Baryshnikov, Markarova, Kylian. You’ve done all the great ballets and you have all this knowledge, and you’re just going to die with it? How does this art form get extended? By teaching it!”

Q: That’s right.

A: Then John Meehan who was the Director of The Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis School said, “Come on, come and teach.” So I started teaching and found out I was pretty good at it. I never thought that I would be. I felt I was self-centered so I wouldn’t enjoy enhancing other people, but, in teaching, I recognized that I had to be self-centered as a dancer because everything had to be about how I could get myself on stage. When I didn’t have that, I realized that I actually loved giving! Of course, I gave to the audiences as a dancer, but I loved giving to other dancers! I had this one moment with this boy in the Jackie O school. He was new and needed a lot of work. He’d sort of slump at the barre and every time I went by him, I’d pick him up. [gestures as if she’s reaching under his arms and pressing him up so his chest and back are lifted in a proper ballet posture] I’d show him how to stand and then I’d go away and I’d come back around the room and he’d be slumped over again so I’d pick him up [makes gesture again] and just encourage him. Then about six months later, he did a tendu, fourth position into a beautiful triple pirouette.

Q: Wow!

A: I remember he stopped when he finished and he just didn’t even know what to do with himself. I burst into tears and I thought that this is the coolest thing to do, you know?

Q: Oh, yes!

A: Just to be able to empower others – young people. See them grow and give them the space to grow and the knowledge to grow and then just watch them go. It was so much fun.

Q: That is so amazing … so nice. I meant to ask you something about company schools and discussions that have come up on Dance.net regarding them. You went to company schools. You were with American Ballet and you did go to School of American Ballet. Now if someone doesn’t get into a company school or doesn’t have access to a company school, what is the realistic chance that they’re going to be picked-up by a company?

A: If you’re good, there’s a chance. Sure.

Q: Then you make yourself known by what? Doing summer intensives? Or auditions?

A: Yes, both. There was a girl I met at Indiana University in college and I went there and she was a Swan Queen in their production. I coached her and a year later, she shows up at ABT. So, yeah, she didn’t go through the school. It doesn’t mean you’re not going to get in. It’s not an inside track. If you’re very good, and you were trained well, and you’re talented and you’re going to get in.

Q: Okay, so they don’t have to worry about that.

A: Sure, if you’re the right shape for what they need. In other words, if they need tall girls or small girls and you’re that, you’ll get in. Of course, right now it’s very hard to get a job just because there are so many dancers and very few spots

Q: There’s another thing I wanted to ask your opinion about. I don’t know if this is just me or what, but you mentioned earlier about all these strong personalities at ABT when you arrived there. I don’t know, but to me it seems as if there just aren’t those strong personalities anymore. It seems much more homogeneous. I mean the dancers are wonderful – I’m not criticizing them at all, but I don’t notice anything like the dancers you mentioned. I don’t see any dancers like Makarova, Gregory, Bujones, Baryshnikov, you .. all these dancers with amazing personalities. Even at New York City Ballet there was Heather Watts, Suzanne Farrell, Merrill Ashley – all these people with this uniqueness. There doesn’t seem to be that anymore. Instead it’s just … nice.

A: I agree.

Q: Oh, you do?

A: Oh, yes.

Q: Well, why do you think that is?

A: I think that there’s a very big emphasis on technique … pirouettes, leg extensions and all of that … and less emphasis on the artistry.

Q: Yes!

A: They don’t nurture them that way anymore. There’s not any time to do that! Nowadays there just seems to be so little time. There are so many ballets that go out and they’re always in a rush. There’s always not enough time. When I was doing the Swan Queen, they spent time with me. They rehearsed me. Every little finger was coached and they talked to me. Charles France used to come up to me and say, [does nasally imitation] “Well, you know, your interpretation of this and that was fine, but you need, you know, just a little more torque … ” [suddenly twists body to side] [laughter] “… you know, that je ne sais quoi. Watch Suzanne Farrell and watch that person …” And now, this just isn’t there anymore. That kind of nurturing and building of a dancer. I don’t know if people just aren’t doing it or if there just isn’t enough time, but the focus is very, very much on technique. High retirés! High extensions! And, “Oh, I’m gonna do a triple pirouette and get the part!” And, in turn, the audience goes along with this as well. If you do a triple pirouette, they scream and make you a star.

Q: You know, just from my own circle of friends it doesn’t seem that way because we’re all saying the same thing. We’re all saying that something is missing – and what I’m missing is the artistry.

A: Well, that’s because you’re a dancer.

[Please note: This point is very debatable. I decided not to argue with her about this although I am decidedly NOT a dancer – by any definition! Especially when sitting next to Susan Jaffe!]

Q: Well, okay, so you think the audience just yells, “Bravo!” if they get the leg up – no matter what or how they get the leg up?”


A: That’s right.

Q: Oh, goodness. I’m at least glad you’re validating what I’m seeing. Are you teaching artistry at your school? Doing that kind of nurturing you were talking about?

A: Oh, sure! Yes, we have performances – The Nutcracker and The Secret Garden – so the kids know how to create roles, they learn how to perform, they learn what it’s like to be on stage – so, yes, absolutely. I talk a lot about presentation and musicality and how you do a movement. How do you be seen in a room. Not just, “I’m doing it all perfectly,” but to live in the movement. Of course, I teach high retires …

Q: Of course, if you can do it, why not have it all? I usually close by asking if you have any funny ballet stories. Were there any amazing mishaps that happened onstage that weren’t funny at the time, but maybe have become so overtime? [/b]

A: [pauses a moment to think] Well, let’s see, at my debut at the Royal Ballet ...

Q: It sounds good already!

A: … I was doing Nikia. I was filling in for one of their ballerinas who was sick. They heard I was in Italy and so they called me. They said, “Oh, our ballerina is sick. Can you rehearse with Irek Mukhamedov and go on in four days?” I said, “Sure.” I remember when I got there and they were teaching me their version and Irek showed up for only one day of rehearsal. This scared the crap out of me because I need more rehearsal. Anyway, I noticed that in their version of the Snake dance, they left out a step. Instead of doing a en dedans turn and then sliding the foot down the leg and going into chaines turns, they did something else and I was thinking, “Now why do a rond versailles?” And I thought, “Never mind what they do, I’ll just do my version.”

When I got to the stage, I didn’t have either a dress rehearsal or a costume rehearsal. All I remember was that the dancers were saying to be careful because there was a ridge, a big crevice at the front of the stage – in the front panel. They told me to just step over it. [laughter] So I’m thinking, “Oh, great! No dress rehearsal! No stage rehearsal! There are pot holes on the stage!” [more laughter] This was the last month before they were going to start renovations at the Royal Opera House. I’m standing there realizing that I’m breathing in the dust of Margot Fonteyn and Rudolf Nureyev and that this won’t be here anymore! I was terrified. I was married at the time and my husband looked at me that morning of the performance and said that I was so white. I had this lump in my throat. I mean, I was terrified! He said, “Look, I’m just going to go away and you just do what you need to do today. So all day I was so nervous and I get there and I’m putting on my make-up and I begin to calm down. I’m thinking that things are going to be okay. I go onto the stage and everything’s going well. I’m still just a little bit nervous, but things are fine and we get to the Snake dance and I do my pirouette and my leg goes down. I remember back to a couple of days ago when I tried the costume on and thought, “Oh, how pretty! They have these big, beautiful ribbons on the harem pants that go down from the knee and attach to the ankle! It’s so different from ours!” So there I am in the performance, and I do this en dedans turn and my foot gets caught in the ribbons. And I thought, “Now I know why they do the different step!” You can’t do the other step with this costume,” but it’s too late! My foot is completely entangled and I land flat on my butt – in the splits – facing the audience! [rounds eyes and takes big intake of breath as if she’s sitting on the stage looking at the audience] [laughter]

Q: Oh, no! [more laughter]

A: I remember sitting there thinking that of all the things that could have gone wrong, it had to be this! [more laughter] And it took me a few seconds to get up. I didn’t just pop right up. I just sort of did this. [mimics sitting dazed staring straight ahead in confusion – arms out limply to side] And I remember after that, I just couldn’t be nervous. I mean, what worse could happen, right?

Q: Exactly!

A: So I was completely relaxed for the second act so the rest performance went well. I also remember the review said something like that they could not believe an American ballerina could be so classical. They didn’t expect me to be that classical. So I felt really good about representing the Americans!

Q: Yeah, for that! And thanks for the story, it’s great! I’d like to also not thank you for this interview! I’m sure the members of Dance.net are just going to love it and you!

A: You’re very welcome.




Here is the link to Ms. Jaffe’s school, Princeton Dance & Theater Studio:

www.princetondance.com

I would definitely urge those in the area to take advantage of her knowledge, skill and approach to ballet. Of course, she does occasionally teach master classes. Please keep your eyes out for those opportunities to learn with one of the best!

35 Replies to Inspiration #06: Interview with Susan Jaffe

re: Inspiration #06: Interview with Susan Jaffe
By kktt34
On Tue Aug 04, 2009 11:58 AM
Wow thanks for the interview Susan Jaffe. You look so pretty, good luck with your studio.
kktt34
re: Inspiration #06: Interview with Susan Jaffe
By nycsylphmember has saluted, click to view salute photosPremium member
On Tue Aug 04, 2009 12:04 PM
kktt34 wrote:

Wow thanks for the interview Susan Jaffe. You look so pretty, good luck with your studio.
kktt34


kktt34 -

Wow! How did you even see this post? It hasn't even been made a feature or prettied by the wonderful webmaster?

Thanks for being first and I'm sure Ms. Jaffe will love your comments and encouragement! She's really a very, very nice person!
re: Inspiration #06: Interview with Susan Jaffe
By BlackTights
On Tue Aug 04, 2009 12:27 PM
This is my favorite interview yet! Wonderful work, nycsylph. Thank you for taking the time to do this for us here at DDN.

I loved the whole thing, but I really appreciated Ms. Jaffe's advice to young dancers regarding how to handle negative talk, and focusing solely on oneself in class-- I believe it is Baryshnikov who has a quote that goes something like "I only try to dance better than myself".

The conversation you two had about artistry vs. technique was also really interesting, and I agree that there does seem to be something that is very special missing in the ballet we mostly see today. I've wondered why that is, what is different today with ballet training or the preparation of a show that overlooks this special quality, so hearing both your thoughts and the thoughts of Ms. Jaffe were great.

She really said a lot of wonderful things, and imparted so much wisdom in this brief interview. The thing about dancers not having to come from the big professional schools was a big one--this is great for young dancers to hear, because not everyone has this sort of training available to them. Likewise, graduating from one of these top professional schools doesn't ever guarantee one a job in professional ballet!

Ms. Jaffe is such a beauty, both inside and out. I wish her the best with her school (have heard great things about it, by the way), and whatever else she's involved with now. Excellent interview, both of you!
re: Inspiration #06: Interview with Susan Jaffe
By nycsylphmember has saluted, click to view salute photosPremium member
On Tue Aug 04, 2009 01:11 PM
BlackTights wrote:

This is my favorite interview yet! Wonderful work, nycsylph. Thank you for taking the time to do this for us here at DDN.

I loved the whole thing, but I really appreciated Ms. Jaffe's advice to young dancers regarding how to handle negative talk, and focusing solely on oneself in class-- I believe it is Baryshnikov who has a quote that goes something like "I only try to dance better than myself".

The conversation you two had about artistry vs. technique was also really interesting, and I agree that there does seem to be something that is very special missing in the ballet we mostly see today. I've wondered why that is, what is different today with ballet training or the preparation of a show that overlooks this special quality, so hearing both your thoughts and the thoughts of Ms. Jaffe were great.

She really said a lot of wonderful things, and imparted so much wisdom in this brief interview. The thing about dancers not having to come from the big professional schools was a big one--this is great for young dancers to hear, because not everyone has this sort of training available to them. Likewise, graduating from one of these top professional schools doesn't ever guarantee one a job in professional ballet!

Ms. Jaffe is such a beauty, both inside and out. I wish her the best with her school (have heard great things about it, by the way), and whatever else she's involved with now. Excellent interview, both of you!


BlackTights -

Thank you so very much for your comments - and especially for including me in making the interview work out so well! Personally, I give the credit to Ms. Jaffe. She really set the pace and tone for what came by being so honest and forthcoming. I wasn't expecting it - and I'm not just saying that! It caught me off-guard.

I totally agree about her advice to young dancers and not comparing yourself to anyone. It really can't be said enough, but somehow when it comes from someone that achieved the pinnacle of success, it has more weight and more importance. People will tend to listen more when they know that it not only sounds good - it works when you put it into practice!

I really love the fact that she opened her own school. To have someone of this caliber teaching and imparting her wisdom - well, it's really a fantastic opportunity for young dancers! Plus the fact, she was a prima ballerina! She knows what sets dancers apart and what nuances are needed to effectively portray and convey emotions and characterizations.

I was very surprised that she not only agreed about ballet missing artistry, but put the onus on putting technique over artistry. Without an emotional connection, you have nothing. That is totally my opinion, but I do hear this sentiment echoed often in different words. For me, without emotion, it's just a pretty picture that has no soul, no life and I leave the theater feeling disappointed. It's not supposed to be that way and I can't say that every performance I see now is like that - but the bulk are.

Thanks for your very astute comments. And compliments are always lovely to hear - especially from someone you respect and whose opinion I very much value.

Take care.
re: Inspiration #06: Interview with Susan Jaffe
By BlackTights
On Tue Aug 04, 2009 01:33 PM
I also liked the fact that this all took place in her car! I think that's interesting--I think it says a lot about her openness and maybe set the stage for the sort of personal interview it was going to become. Also, I totally related to your reaction to her pantomiming there next you in the car. What an amazing and candid moment, and I'm so glad you shared your reaction with us. Sometimes people can be so unexpectedly beautiful, and our hearts are struck in that profound way. It's such a lovely thing. Yes, dance is about that, or should be. I love those moments of connection. Truly magical.
re: Inspiration #06: Interview with Susan Jaffe
By Acrothiel
On Wed Aug 05, 2009 12:01 AM
Now I am sooooooo jeaoulse that you could meet Susan Jaffe. I just love her and so I loved the interview. Thank you very much for all the work you put into it!
re: Inspiration #06: Interview with Susan Jaffe
By nycsylphmember has saluted, click to view salute photosPremium member
On Wed Aug 05, 2009 08:31 AM
Acrothiel wrote:

Now I am sooooooo jeaoulse that you could meet Susan Jaffe. I just love her and so I loved the interview. Thank you very much for all the work you put into it!


Acrothiel -

You are so funny! I hope the interview made you feel you were right there with me - in the front seat of her car!

Yes, she's one of my all-time favorites also. Loved, loved, loved seeing her dance! So much passion! Believe me, it was an honor for me to do this!
re: Inspiration #06: Interview with Susan Jaffe
By PasDeMoi
On Wed Aug 05, 2009 09:58 AM
Thank you so much for doing this interview nycsylph! It was so inspirational to hear about Susan Jaffe's story... It was filled with all the things a dancer hopes to hear - hard work, passion, and talent can get you places. It has definitely inspired me to work harder, and remember why I love to dance. I particularly liked her comments on artistry, which is something I notice disappearing as well. Thanks again to you both.

PasDeMoi
re: Inspiration #06: Interview with Susan Jaffe
By Flashnflakymember has saluted, click to view salute photos
On Wed Aug 05, 2009 12:29 PM
What a wonderful interview! I love her candor, and how she got right into the nitty-gritty of aspects of her life. She is SO inspiring with her passion for dance and her love of the ART, as well as how she is nurturing the current crop of dancers...teaching them to work within themselves and forget all the catty garbage that goes on in the dance world! What a wonderfully refreshing perspective in this world today.

What I wouldn't do to take a class with her! SIGH :D

Good luck, Ms. Jaffe, with all your endeavours! I hope you can come and visit us n the DDN site and get a chance to see all the positive comments here (and how much we love you LOL)
re: Inspiration #06: Interview with Susan Jaffe
By nycsylphmember has saluted, click to view salute photosPremium member
On Wed Aug 05, 2009 01:35 PM
PasDeMoi wrote:

Thank you so much for doing this interview nycsylph! It was so inspirational to hear about Susan Jaffe's story... It was filled with all the things a dancer hopes to hear - hard work, passion, and talent can get you places. It has definitely inspired me to work harder, and remember why I love to dance. I particularly liked her comments on artistry, which is something I notice disappearing as well. Thanks again to you both.

PasDeMoi


PasDeMoi -

I'm so glad you got what I believe is at the heart of what she's saying. Hearing her talk about how her hard work pushed through barriers and made things happen is truly encouraging. It means that it's a very level playing field out there and those who are brave, strong and true to themselves and their commitment have as much of a chance of making their dreams come true as anyone else - provided they do the work!

Thank you for your comments and for your commitment to the art of dancing. It is an art and young dancers like yourself will let it live on and grow!


Flashnflaky wrote:

What a wonderful interview! I love her candor, and how she got right into the nitty-gritty of aspects of her life. She is SO inspiring with her passion for dance and her love of the ART, as well as how she is nurturing the current crop of dancers...teaching them to work within themselves and forget all the catty garbage that goes on in the dance world! What a wonderfully refreshing perspective in this world today.

What I wouldn't do to take a class with her! SIGH :D

Good luck, Ms. Jaffe, with all your endeavours! I hope you can come and visit us n the DDN site and get a chance to see all the positive comments here (and how much we love you LOL)


Flashnflaky -

Well, thank you! It was my pleasure doing this one!

Yes, her comments were right on target - especially about belittling other's efforts. It is so negative and so disheartening to see people caught up in that very destructive behavior. It doesn't make anyone any better or any worse to say horrible things about someone. How about "Less Talk and More Work!" for a motto?

As for her seeing your comments, I did pass along the link to this interview to her today. I don't know if she'll visit and see your comments, but I did attempt to convey to her about how well-thought of and respected she is by DDN members. In spite of this site being a little relaxed and informal, you all know your stuff! You know the real deal and that surely is Susan Jaffe!

So who knows if she'll stop by! You never know!

Thanks so much for your very nice comments and I'm glad you got so much out of this interview!
re: Inspiration #06: Interview with Susan Jaffe
By MJeanette
On Wed Aug 05, 2009 01:55 PM
I really enjoyed reading this interveiw. I think Susan Jaffe just became one of my favorite role models.
re: Inspiration #06: Interview with Susan Jaffe
By nycsylphmember has saluted, click to view salute photosPremium member
On Wed Aug 05, 2009 02:01 PM
Edited by nycsylph (206174) on 2009-08-05 14:02:50 wording
MJeanette wrote:

I really enjoyed reading this interveiw. I think Susan Jaffe just became one of my favorite role models.


MJeanette -

Re: Susan Jaffe becoming one of your favorite role models

Well, it's easy to see why! She's done it all and remained very true to herself. Maybe it's what made her so incredibly unique in her dancing. The audience connected with her because while she was acting out a role, she found that role within herself. That's a slight difference from just playing a part.

While her accomplishments in the world of dance are tremendous, I think maybe her biggest accomplishment has been this staying true to her values and to being a good and decent person.

Thanks so much for your remarks!
re: Inspiration #06: Interview with Susan Jaffe
By Attitude1407
On Wed Aug 05, 2009 06:33 PM
Thank you for doing this wonderful interview! It is definitely the best one yet and I greatly enjoyed reading it. :D My former teacher danced with Susan Jaffe at ABT, and he has always spoken well of her. She's a beautiful lady and a beautiful ballerina!
re: Inspiration #06: Interview with Susan Jaffe
By amarathPremium member
On Wed Aug 05, 2009 08:10 PM
Ah, I've always loved Susan Jaffe. I remember reading her diet story from a book by Allegra Kent, and I always liked how she just seemed so approachable while she's talking about all this horrible stuff about eating an apple or a few grapes in that book. She sounds really interesting!
re: Inspiration #06: Interview with Susan Jaffe
By nycsylphmember has saluted, click to view salute photosPremium member
On Wed Aug 05, 2009 08:39 PM
Attitude1407 wrote:

Thank you for doing this wonderful interview! It is definitely the best one yet and I greatly enjoyed reading it. :D My former teacher danced with Susan Jaffe at ABT, and he has always spoken well of her. She's a beautiful lady and a beautiful ballerina!


Attitude1407 -

You're very welcome!

Your teacher danced with her? Was he at ABT or was she making a guest appearance somewhere?

I'm glad that what he says about her matches what I saw and met that day!

Thanks for your comments, hon!

amarath wrote:

Ah, I've always loved Susan Jaffe. I remember reading her diet story from a book by Allegra Kent, and I always liked how she just seemed so approachable while she's talking about all this horrible stuff about eating an apple or a few grapes in that book. She sounds really interesting!


Amarath -

I just googled Allegra Kent's book and saw what you're referring to. Iced tea? I mean, I love the stuff, but it's nice to have solid food in your stomach!

Yes, she just sort of talks about these things - puts them out there! Like, this is what happened and this is what I did!

Thanks for stopping by and sharing your thoughts!
re: Inspiration #06: Interview with Susan Jaffe
By odile53
On Wed Aug 05, 2009 10:11 PM
Thank you so much for this interview with Miss Jaffe. I find her honesty and self-disclosure a healthy gust of fresh air in an art form which has been plagued by so many people practicing the diametric opposite. And you: If your skills as a dancer approached your skill as an interviewer and writer, you must truly have been a force to be reckoned with on stage!

Your efforts are appreciated. I do hope she will pop in on this board if time permits. And I think I would do anything to be able to take a master class from her!
re: Inspiration #06: Interview with Susan Jaffe
By SoloJazzDancer
On Wed Aug 05, 2009 10:30 PM
I loved this interview! I am not a ballerina, I take Jazz, but I so totally get where she is coming from. I was bullied from Kindergarden until I graduated high school and beyond, all because I was to short, had bucked teeth, braces and was not the right weight. I learned much later that, like she said, they were probably all insecure & having their own problems and they took it out on me. I wish she had been around then to tell me that.

The weight problem? When my sister danced at the school my niece goes to now, she weighed in the double digits. They wanted her to loose weight! She's only 5" tall so she did not have a weight problem. My mom was not happy. She started listening to them for a while but my mom made her stop. She has not passed that trait onto my niece who is also about 5,' 5'1" and very thin. She has a fast metabolism like me and her mom. We both have Thyroid problems and maybe my niece will too.

I went to dance camp this year and at 55, I took my first Ballet class. My teacher wants all of us to take Ballet next year and if there is a money problem, she will work it out. She says Ballet is the antithesis of all dance. Guess what? I will be taking Ballet next year even though money is a problem for me. How exciting is that?

One more thing. I so agree about Ballet being not so artistic anymore. I think they want to see how many turns you can do or how high your leg can go up. Most people don't get the artistic side of dance, Ballet or otherwise. I'm so glad that we as dancers do. If I can even get Ballet at my age and get all the steps and positions, I will be one heck of a happy camper. I don't expect to even ever be as good as Susan Jaffe.

Thanks for that great interview! I loved everything she had to say!
re: Inspiration #06: Interview with Susan Jaffe
By mishamadison2
On Thu Aug 06, 2009 03:16 AM
Wow, she's beautiful! Thanks for this awesome post!
re: Inspiration #06: Interview with Susan Jaffe
By nycsylphmember has saluted, click to view salute photosPremium member
On Thu Aug 06, 2009 09:10 AM
odile53 wrote:

Thank you so much for this interview with Miss Jaffe. I find her honesty and self-disclosure a healthy gust of fresh air in an art form which has been plagued by so many people practicing the diametric opposite. And you: If your skills as a dancer approached your skill as an interviewer and writer, you must truly have been a force to be reckoned with on stage!

Your efforts are appreciated. I do hope she will pop in on this board if time permits. And I think I would do anything to be able to take a master class from her!


Odile53 -

Well said! And whatever mad skills I have or had, none of them included dancing beautifully!!! Very unfortunate - I did try - and still try!

Thank you so much for appreciating the effort I make in getting DDN'ers these interviews. And it would be wonderful if she actually did post a little reply, but I seriously doubt it. It would be nice if she took a little peek to see all your nice comments though!


SoloJazzDancer wrote:

I loved this interview! I am not a ballerina, I take Jazz, but I so totally get where she is coming from. I was bullied from Kindergarden until I graduated high school ... like she said, they were probably all insecure & having their own problems and they took it out on me. I wish she had been around then to tell me that.

The weight problem? When my sister danced at the school my niece goes to now, she weighed in the double digits. They wanted her to loose weight! She's only 5" tall so she did not have a weight problem. ...

I went to dance camp this year and at 55, I took my first Ballet class. ... Guess what? I will be taking Ballet next year even though money is a problem for me. How exciting is that?

One more thing. I so agree about Ballet being not so artistic anymore. I think they want to see how many turns you can do or how high your leg can go up. Most people don't get the artistic side of dance, Ballet or otherwise. I'm so glad that we as dancers do. If I can even get Ballet at my age and get all the steps and positions, I will be one heck of a happy camper. I don't expect to even ever be as good as Susan Jaffe.

Thanks for that great interview! I loved everything she had to say!


SoloJazzDancer -

So many good points! I'm so happy you took so many things away from this interview! I knew she had a lot to say and I was just hoping that people would connect with her and it looks like you all did!

Yes, people have their own insecurities. It's a shame that someone with this philosophical point-of-view is not around when we need them. It's why the children in her school are so lucky to have her. Not only are they learning how to dance, they're learning how to grow-up to be decent, kind individuals! How important is that?!!!

Good for you re: taking ballet!!! Woo-hoo!!! It's never too late and just have fun! We all can't be Susan Jaffe, but that's what makes her accomplishments and excellence all the more impressive! I LOVE people that are artists and that can excel in this way! It inspires me, but again, you're dealing with people's insecurities. Twice in a week, I've run into people that have been hatefully jealous and done extremely hateful things to me. In reading over the interview, it puts things in perspective and I can let go of the resentment I was harboring. If it takes seed in you, it can be very destructive and I'm over it thanks to really taking her words to heart!

This artistic thing ... I know what you mean. Some people will never get it. It's an aesthetic. I keep thinking that it's not developed. I mean, I keep going back to when I was treated to a complimentary tickets to a Nutcracker performance. Last winter, the NYCB put on a performance of it for inner city school children - most of which had never even seen the ballet before! I was thinking, "Yikes! What are these kids going to do? How are they going to react?" Well, they were spellbound! And so very appreciative!!! I couldn't believe how the just took to this art form - like the proverbial ducks to water! Art is for the people! It's for uplifting your spirit and letting you know there's more to life than the materialistic possessions that we acquire. There is a spiritual side to life and ballet is part of this - as are all true art forms.

Thanks so much for your comments!


mishamadison2 wrote:

Wow, she's beautiful! Thanks for this awesome post!


mishamadison2 -

Well, you're so very welcome!

I am truly glad you enjoyed it!

Take care!
re: Inspiration #06: Interview with Susan Jaffe
By odile53
On Thu Aug 06, 2009 09:22 AM
Although she is still glamorous, what impresses me most is the beauty of her soul. This sort of thing cannot be taught in a class, it can only be modeled. I hope and pray that her students will learn from her example, refrain from the cattiness that plagues ballet schools, and succeed anyways. Climbing on the backs of others is no way to reach the top.

We all can't be Susan Jaffe, but that's what makes her accomplishments and excellence all the more impressive! I LOVE people that are artists and that can excel in this way! It inspires me, but again, you're dealing with people's insecurities. Twice in a week, I've run into people that have been hatefully jealous and done extremely hateful things to me. In reading over the interview, it puts things in perspective and I can let go of the resentment I was harboring. If it takes seed in you, it can be very destructive and I'm over it thanks to really taking her words to heart!

What luck to have heard those words, and what an example you had! You're right, resentment is a corrosive influence, detracts us from what we are supposed to be doing, and does nothing except sap the life and energy out of us. As my grandmother used to say, "A bitter and resentful old woman is one of the crowning works of the Devil!"

Thanks once again for sharing this with us!
re: Inspiration #06: Interview with Susan Jaffe
By Zulme
On Thu Aug 06, 2009 09:16 PM
Great interview! I actually remember Susan from when she was in ABT2. I danced with Louisville Ballet and ABT2 was doing a piece that we did. I was fortunate enough to be asked to help set the ballet on the company and Susan did my part! I remember thinking at that time that she was exquisite. I knew she'd be a big start someday. The ballet was called Three Pieces in the Shape of a Pair!
I remember Richard England too, he was an ogre. I am glad she was able to rise above any criticism and prevail. Many dancers are not able to do that and end up with very low self esteem. It's sad because they are all beautiful no matter what!
re: Inspiration #06: Interview with Susan Jaffe
By nycsylphmember has saluted, click to view salute photosPremium member
On Thu Aug 06, 2009 10:07 PM
As my grandmother used to say, "A bitter and resentful old woman is one of the crowning works of the Devil!"


Powerful words! The imagery painted by those words will deter me from trying to prevent that from ever happening!


Zulme wrote:

Great interview! I actually remember Susan from when she was in ABT2. I danced with Louisville Ballet and ABT2 was doing a piece that we did. I was fortunate enough to be asked to help set the ballet on the company and Susan did my part! I remember thinking at that time that she was exquisite. I knew she'd be a big start someday. The ballet was called Three Pieces in the Shape of a Pair!
I remember Richard England too, he was an ogre. I am glad she was able to rise above any criticism and prevail. Many dancers are not able to do that and end up with very low self esteem. It's sad because they are all beautiful no matter what!


Zulme -

Thank you so much! I'm glad you enjoyed it!

Your story is wonderful. How neat to be able to interacted with her before she became a prima ballerina. It's always so nice to spot someone before they make it big.

As for ogres, there seem to be many in the world of dance! I suppose everyone handles them differently, but having that "will of steel" helps! It's funny how everyone refers to dancers being insecure, but no one ever mentions these incredibly difficult characters as possibilities of why they're so insecure! All I know is that if you let them get to you, they can quickly erode every shred of self-confidence you think you have! Obviously, she did prevail and yeah for the her!

Thanks again for your comments. I see you just joined the forum and I'd like to say how glad I am you're here. A dancer with your background will be able to dispense a lot of wisdom ... and stories!
re: Inspiration #06: Interview with Susan Jaffe
By Attitude1407
On Fri Aug 07, 2009 03:20 PM
Nycsylph, yes, my teacher was a dancer at ABT for several years and he knew Susan well.

This article was very timely for me with Susan's excellent advice about dealing with negative people. Recently, I've been subjected to a very negative teacher and very catty new classmate at SI, and between the two of them, I've nearly been brought to tears twice in the past few days. I've come to realize, though, that their behavior isn't directed solely at me -- they act the same way towards almost everyone, unless it's someone they're flirting with -- and it's really just a reflection of who they are... As Susan said, it's their problem, not mine!
re: Inspiration #06: Interview with Susan Jaffe
By nycsylphmember has saluted, click to view salute photosPremium member
On Fri Aug 07, 2009 07:07 PM
Attitude1407 wrote:

Nycsylph, yes, my teacher was a dancer at ABT for several years and he knew Susan well.

This article was very timely for me with Susan's excellent advice about dealing with negative people. Recently, I've been subjected to a very negative teacher and very catty new classmate at SI, and between the two of them, I've nearly been brought to tears twice in the past few days. I've come to realize, though, that their behavior isn't directed solely at me -- they act the same way towards almost everyone, unless it's someone they're flirting with -- and it's really just a reflection of who they are... As Susan said, it's their problem, not mine!


Attitude1407 -

He was? Well, aren't you lucky to have studied under someone of that caliber?

And as for the timeliness of what she had to say, it's amazing how that happens! When I did the interview with Helen Pickett something she said coincided with something I was going through and helped so much! (Really loved her!) And now Susan Jaffe says something that helps me ... and you! And possibly others? 'xpect so! I think if we just wake up in the morning, during some part of the day we'll run into ... yes, someone negative!

All I can say is that if you really get this, you'll have a head start on most people as you'll know what to do for the rest of your life! And I'm sorry you had to deal with it at all, but it sounds like you are very, very talented, and that's what's going to happen to you. Of course, you're also going to run into many more positive people who encourage you and appreciate the gifts you offer!
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