YNWa-Blog #11

Do the Harlem Shake… (New York, part 4)

There is a lot of movement at the National Dance Institute in Harlem. Here, Joachim Król meets Jacques d’Amboise, one of the greatest ballet stars of his time, who appeared in the film version of “Carousel.”

From the hotel we head north up Henry Hudson Parkway through the entire Riverside Park to Harlem. Located nearly 40 blocks north of Central Park is the building that houses the National Dance Institute (NDI), which alone takes up almost half the block. Its founder, Jacques d’Amboise, is now 82, but still energetically and enthusiastically narrates stories from his 33 years as a professional dancer.

He and Joachim Król look at a scene from the film adaptation of the musical “Carousel”: Billy Bigelow, the American Liliom, returns to Earth 16 years after his suicide and watches his daughter Louise dance carefree with a fairground boy who resembles the carousel barker Billy Bigelow. This scene is danced in an inimitable style by Jacques d’Amboise, who still remembers the shooting as if it were yesterday, even though more than 60 years have passed since then. Król and d’Amboise talk about books, poems, and songs and even sing “You’ll never walk alone” together. “That was quite a remarkable visit full of anecdotes and stories,” Król concluded.

D’Amboise discovered dancing after once being forced by his mother to accompany his sister to a dance class, where he joined in—the start of an unparalleled career. The U.S. ballet dancer became a member of the New York City Ballet at the tender age of 15 and a solo dancer two years later. To give children from all social strata an understanding of dancing, in 1976 he founded the NDI, which offers free dance lessons at state schools, many of which are in low-income problem areas. D’Amboise believes that dancing is the most accessible form of art, because all that is needed is the human body, which one moves in time to the music.

In the large ballroom in the basement of the building, we are given the opportunity to watch some of his protégés doing freestyle jazz. While the main focus of the classes is on enjoying dance, many students put a lot of work in and want to make progress. Most of all, the feeling that dancing creates in the body increases children’ self-confidence and gives them an understanding of the principles of creativity and performance, d’Amboise says: “They learn that they can achieve something and believe in themselves.”