A description of the teachers that affected me the most, the real teachers in my life….


Danelle Helander- Boulder, 1980 The most dynamic and engaging teacher that I had the privilege to study with. I use the word privilege to show respect. I bonded with Danelle. It grew out of showing up for class and participating and giving it my all. I was a good student and teachers appreciate good students. It is not that I was all that talented, I would humbly say I was moderately talented but what I lacked in ability I made up for it in devotion.

Hughthir White and Suzana
Hughthir White and Suzana

Danelle was in a whole other league. She turned down an opportunity to join The Twyla Tharp Dance Company. Her offer to join Twyla’s Company, at that time, it being 1981, was huge. The equivalent in the sports world of signing with the Yankees… who turns down such opportunities? Danelle did cause she did not want to put up with the demands of a prima-donna choreographer. She had already spent years doing that with Nan Solbrig of the Chicago Moving Company. Danelle wanted to do her own work.. She truly wanted to make it big with her own name. Danelle had just formed her first company. She invited me to dance in it. I truly did not belong, I tried real hard and I gave it my all. I loved taking Danelle’s technique class… I LOVED it. She taught what was Cunningham Technique but with her own twists. Danelle had a huge sense of rhythm and she sang as she danced and she sang for us as she gave us class. She had so much heart and soul all wrapped up in her teaching and her dancing. She gave so much in that setting and she could never match that level of giving outside of the dance studio. I mean she just raised up several notches when she started teaching, that was where she excelled. She did a great modern barre and good floor technique. She always prepared a good combination across the floor. I studied with her long enough to get all her technique combinations down and that is when it really becomes a joy. When you don’t have to think about the routine, you can think about the quality of the movement and go at it with a certain abandon. When you take technique class four or five times a week you really start to make progress and it just builds. From Danelle I learned to really ‘eat up’ the movement and to ‘move out’. Danelle would come up beside me in class to go across the floor doing her combination and I would do my damndest to keep up with her and in the process I learned to move big… to go down into the floor to get up out of the floor. Danelle taught us: “You learn the technique so you can throw it away” There was never a higher point in my dance years than going across the floor, alongside Danelle.

Barbara Dilley with Merce Cunningham - Photo from nybooks.com
Barbara Dilley with Merce Cunningham – from nybooks.com
From brightestyoungthings.com
Alan Ginsberg with Barbara Dilley – Photo from brightestyoungthings.com

Barbara Dilley- Boulder 1980 I studied with Barbara at the same time I studied with Danelle. Two extremely different styles, yet I connected with them both. From Barbara I studied both technique and Improvisation, and it was Improvisation where she was at her best. Her technique class was all over the place and she was challenged putting music to her movement. She seemed to enjoy doing technique and yet she had a hard time getting you to enjoy it with her. That was not the case when she taught Improv. Here she commanded a lot of respect both from her vast experience being part of The Grand Union and the Judson Church group in NYC, right at a crucial time in dance history. She was in the forefront of the post-modern movement and she had a wonderfully relaxed and gentle approach to Improv. She was highly accessible, she had those burning dark eyes that would hold your attention like magnets. Some of her students could go way out on an edge, yet Barbara never seemed the least bit razzled. It was like she had seen it all before and nothing could shock her. She was grounded and ‘held the space’, to put it in the Buddhist terms she spoke in. She taught presence and detail and patience. She taught being true to your instincts and that all movement had value. She was not a prima-donna or all that attached to a “pretty style” of dance, hers was more about heart and soul and communication. She was a good talker, a good listener.

Barbara Dilley - Naropa Institute

I feel Barbara instilled in me a confidence to just enter the space without a clue as to what was going to happen and trust that whatever happened would be OK. There were some very creative and daring students that worked with Barbara and Barbara had the ability to let them go way out but she could always bring them back. I loved to watch her get up and move, which she did a good deal. Her movement had depth and grace, it was light and it had weight. She could hold your attention by just standing in the space, she had such presence. She was non-judgmental, she was generous. She helped instill these qualities in her students.

Jane Franklin
Jane Franklin

Jane Franklin- 1983 Boulder. I started dancing with Jane after I stopped dancing with Danelle. Jane was more quirky and easy. Her movement was less dynamic. Jane did not demand as much from her dancers. It was way more relaxed and in a way more loving. Jane was open to Improvising and she could let herself go in this way. Danelle could not. Jane invited me to choreograph as well, and I set a piece on her. We also collaborated on a trio with yet another choreographer, Janet Lott. I felt like I could explore more my own direction and still be in Jane’s company. I was not pushed in the technique department like I was with Danelle, but I was ready to let that go. I would never go far in the technical world of dance. Jane appreciated me for my improvisation skills and my focus. She was fun to Improvise with, very inventive. Dancing with Jane was a lot less of a challenge for me in one way and yet she challenged me by saying, “OK, do a piece.. You choreograph.” My big moment that it all sort of came together for me was at the Colorado Dance Festival in 1983… I was in three pieces in one nights show. A piece that Jane had auditioned and got in…. a piece that I choreographed and got in…. and a piece that I collaborated with Steven Harvey and it got in as well. It was my Big Night.

Jane and Hughthir
Jane and Hughthir

Ruth Zaropa - "Action Theater: The Improvisation of Presence"
Ruth Zaropa – “Action Theater: The Improvisation of Presence”

Ruth Zaporah- Berkeley 1985- 1993 A great teacher. She had her own special niche, ‘Action Theater’ she called it. Her technique was all about form and content and learning to separate the two and how to put them back together. She was so good at what she did, and she was a passionate teacher. I learned a good deal from Ruth. I loved her classes almost with the same intensity that I love Dannele’s technique classes. They could be so focused and you had to work hard to keep up in her class. Ruth appreciated my dance background… many of her students had no dance background whatsoever. So I always did well in the movement based improvs. I was less good with the vocal work. Ruth really helped me but I never got that good at the talking stuff. Ruth did ask me to join her ‘work group’ her hand picked students that worked with her free of charge. It was her ‘study’ group. For a year or two she even had us performing which didn’t actually work out so well. As good as Ruth was at doing her performance work ‘solo’s.. It was hard for her to see her work performed by an ensemble. We sort of let her down, was the feeling. As much as her work was about being true to the moment and open to whatever unfolded on stage… she expected her performers to be sticking to the form, to the basic principles of her work that allowed you to stay in the present moment and make the improvs interesting and make them develop. Sometimes it worked to great effect and other times it would just fall flat. It was hard on us performers to feel Ruth’s uncomfortableness about seeing us fail.. So to speak.

Ruth Zaporah Group -- St. Mark's Church, NYC, circa 1993
Ruth Zaporah Group — St. Mark’s Church, NYC, circa 1993

Ruth didn’t have Barbara’s non-judgementalness… she was more ‘dynamic’ of a performer and this is what she wanted to see from her students. She also had a way of gathering a certain ‘click’ around her. She had her favorites. And her favorites could get full of themselves and that is what eventually turned me away from enjoying working with Ruth. I sort of had a falling out with a few of her ‘favorites’, they just were not folks I wanted to be around. Ruth as well seemed attached to having a certain ‘diva’ status. Her work remained great, as did her teaching.. I was just ready to move on. I learned a lot from Ruth about form and content, and the first two years that I spent in the Bay Area of California, studying with her, were perhaps two of my best years. I worked with Ruth on and off for nearly eight years. We traveled to NYC together and performed at St. Marks Church as part of an Improvisation Festival. That was our “Big” moment. That was in 1993.

James Tyler
James Tyler

James Tyler- I first met Jim at a workshop he taught in Ann Arbor in perhaps 1979. I had just gotten back into dance, I was taking technique classes in Detroit at the Detroit Music School and had recently been introduced to Contact Improvisation. Jim had been a principle dancer in the Eric Hawkins Company and had spent much time in NYC. I’m not sure when it was that he got exposed to Contact Improv and when he had left the Hawkins Company but he was teaching a workshop called… “Free Flow Technique” This was Jim’s personally evolved version of Hawkins Technique. Jim was tall and long limbed and had a let the movement flow attitude that was matched with a loose and free spirited personality. I connected with Jim right off… I loved that he had a strong technique as well was all about Improvising and doing Contact Improv. He was a wonderful performer.. He had great stage presence. He could move slow and do real subtle things, he could move big and fast. He brought a certain classiness and sophistication to any class he taught or group he participated in. At the same time he had so little to none of the Ego thing. He had none of the all to familiar prima donna status stuff that many dancers of his rank did have. Jim was Gay or Bi-Sexual. I know he had a daughter that was growing up in Amsterdam with her Mom, Pauline De Groot. a dancer as well. Jim once shared with me an experience of going to bed with a particular woman dancer who just happened to be a teacher of mine at the time… Jim confessed that it was a big mistake, he had been drunk and you know.. That sort of regret. Clearly Jim liked to drink and was at different times in his life quite promiscuous. He had a lot of energy. From 1979 when I first meet Jim till he died, in 1989, I stayed in touch with Jim and we performed together on a few occasions. We once performed at the Naropa Institute and my father told stories that Jim and I and Steve Harvey danced to. It was a wonderful time, I loved my father participating and I believe Jim enjoyed it as well. When I moved to the Bay Area in 1985 I got in contact with Jim right away and participated in some classes of his and as well got involved with his long time Mangrove side kick, John Lefan.

Steven Harvey, Hughthir White and James Tyler - Naropa Institute, 1983
Steven Harvey, Hughthir White and James Tyler – Naropa Institute, 1983

I performed in one of John Lefan’s productions, Freddi Long danced with us as well. John was a trip, he had real edgy energy, took up a lot of space… was a rather interesting dancer who just threw himself into things with great abandon. He was good with words and verbal work. John was a rough and tough version of Jim… who was much more refined yet equally courageous. I appreciated Johns discipline and commitment… which he admired in me as well and is why he asked me to dance with him. He cared not for dancers that didn’t show up to rehearsal. He trusted me and I did enjoy working with him on that one production. He pushed me hard as well, that was part of his directing style, to be right in your face and hard, but he had a real sweet and loving side, for sure. His Company name at the time was The Third Moon Ballet.

I remember when Jim went into the Hospital real sick and was diagnosed with AIDS. It came as no great surprise, of course, considering his life style and the fact he had been living in SF since the mid seventies. I remember having dinner with him at his favorite jaunt near the Castro, The Mediterenie, and him telling me that he was going back to upstate New York to visit his Mom. He was going essentially to say goodbye to her. She was elderly at the time and still living in the house that Jim grew up in. We talked some about his illness, he was thin and looked drawn. It was hard to see him like this. I felt special to still matter enough to him that he would come out and have dinner with me. I was always touched with his friendship. I was straight and he knew that. Jim never came on to me, as other older gay men have over the years. We had this dance thing that was common and we had good talks. Jim was the kind of person that made you feel bigger just being in his company. He had an elegance and style that was natural and not put on.

He made that trip to see his mother and never left her house. He fell ill while visiting her and she ended up nursing him for close to a year I believe. I think he truly wanted to get back to SF and yet was never well enough to make the trip back. A few close SF friends did visit him at his Mom’s before he died. Right after his death, he died on February 10th, 1989 at the age of 49, we had a memorial service for him at the dance studio on Alabama St. There were perhaps 100 of us crammed into the small studio and stories were shared and a lot of people were just all broken up including me. Jim touched a lot of people deeply, this is what fine teachers do. They open parts of you up and get in their deep. John LeFan and Freedi Long were all broken up as well. I remember big hugs all around, real community. Jim was a very fine teacher.

Photo from HourDetroit.com
Harriet Berg – Photo from HourDetroit.com

Harriet Berg- Wow, the one and only and forever still going, Harriet. Big influence early on. She is so devoted to working with children. It is such an important time to reach young people and give them exposure to the Arts. Her teaching had a life long effect on me. I continued with Dance and still teach today. Harriet was so all encompassing. You learned more than dance from Harriet. You learned History and culture and philosophy and politics. Harriet was whole in the sense she valued the whole person. She was not just interested in teaching kids to dance, but teaching kids to value dancing for how it contributes to the larger culture and community. She was keen on Dance History, and shared it with her students. She taught you about the person behind the technique. If you learned some Cunningham technique from Harriet you also learned something about Merce. If you learned a dance of the Duncan tradition you learned all about Isadora. Harriet had boundless energy and still does at 85 plus years. Harriet loved to give you responsibilities, she is a task master supreme. She was always putting on a show, preparing for yet another performance and constantly making all the necessary arraignments. If you where close to Harriet, with in hands reach, you were grabbed and given a task.

Harriet Berg with Hughthir White/RC22 - Willis Gallery, Detroit, 1985
Harriet Berg with Hughthir White/RC22 – Willis Gallery, Detroit, 1985

Harriet will always be huge in my connection with the dance world. She is a giant. One of those chosen one’s, and she has been on a crusade to integrate the Arts and Dance into the lives of Detroiters. If you got close to Harriet you got close to her life partner Irving. Her Husband of the last thousand years, Irving is a force to be reckoned with in his own right. Irving is a 2nd world war Vet and an Artist and Educator. I could go on and on about Irving as well but what I want to say is as a young kid the experience of being invited to Harriet and Irving house and being exposed to their art filled sanctuary was always a wonder. The great framed photographs, the original art, the way their furniture was arranged. Irving sculptures here and there, I had the feeling that I was with real artists, you know, they lived and breathed Art.

Harriet has many protegees out in the world who have had careers in Dance and are teaching dance today. My sister Beth is certainly on of them. Beth has a good bit of Harriet in her, that is obvious. I have a little as well. My teaching children’s dance classes for the past six years has been one of the best things I’ve done . And why me teaching children’s dance classes? One word, Harriet.

Photo from interfaithministersnewengland.com
Photo from interfaithministersnewengland.com

Susan Schell- I met Susan at the same time I met Jim Tyler. The first contact class I took was taught by Sue. She had a real gentle approach. I took to contact right off. The rolling over bodies, learning to lift and be lifted, counter balance work. It was playful and a bit riske in certain areas. It brought up a lot of touch issues for people that might not be that comfortable with their bodies. Boundary issues.

Sue Schell with Mirage - Ann Arbor MI, circa 1979
Sue Schell with Mirage – Ann Arbor MI, circa 1979

It was certainly not for everyone, and yet there was a nice group in Ann Arbor that was rather devoted to doing it. I began going to a weekly contact Jam that went on in Ann Arbor and soon became a regular. Out of the group of men attending these contact jams grew a performance group called Men Working. None of these guys had any modern dance training. Some has studied martial arts, they were all in good shape and they truly had a nice feel for contact. It was a good time learning contact and hanging out with these Ann Arbor dancers. Sue Schell was the more evolved in the form than others and her background in dance helped her in certain ways. That is not to say that a dance background was a certain advantage, for some it might not be the case. Susan moved to North Hampton and I moved to Colorado to do the Naropa Dance Program. We would run into one another over the years. I believe she is still involved in Contact and I know she got real involved in Authentic Movement. I also took my first Authentic Movement class from Susan.

Screen capture of Christopher Flynn from "Madonna dancing Ballet 1977" YouTube clip: https://youtu.be/l0X7-AgYXmQ
Screen capture of Christopher Flynn from “Madonna dancing Ballet 1977” YouTube clip: https://youtu.be/l0X7-AgYXmQ

Christopher Flynn- I studied Ballet for a couple of years, beginning at the age of twelve. This would have been 1968…. Christopher at that time had a studio on Schaffer and Nine mile Road, in Oak Park. I often got myself to class on the bus. I was his only male student, at that time. I had never seen a man dressed in clothes that fit so tightly. He was most often dressed in black… and always had on well worn leather ballet shoes. He must have been in his early fifties… perhaps his late forties…. he was not particularly tall or long limbed….. he was compact. He was always smoking… he taught class with a cigarette dangling from his lips…. I doubt that anyone could do a double pirouette, with cigarette delicately yet firmly perched… with as much grace and gusto…. as Christopher could. Just to watch this man perform in this manner was well worth the bus ride. I didn’t really understand what being “gay” was… at this age, but I knew whatever it was, Christopher was that!

Ballet class had an elegance that was other worldly. The live piano accompaniment. The exacting routines done over and over in a very precise order. It was so musical and mathematical and required great concentration and focus. My focus pulled me in many directions. One, I was the only boy in a class with 25 pink clad ballerinas…. their young shapes pulled so tight against them. They all seemed a bit too squeezed. Two, I could never stop myself from staring at the ash miraculously dangling at the end of Christopher’s cigarette. Three, I was also distracted by my own wrappings…. which included a dance belt underneath my tights. This device certainly stopped any blood from flowing to my groin, and pressed my penis so tightly that by the end of class it had turned in on itself, seriously uncomfortable, and in desperate need of oxygen.

Christopher did on occasion give me some special attention. He carried a stick with a pointed rubber tip at its end. He would jab me in the ribs, at least once a class “pull those in!”…… I also was the ‘lifter’…. I have the privilege of grabbing hold of each ballerina and lifting her towards the clouds… I liked this role, I felt useful!

Christopher gained fame, after his death in 1990, from AIDS… because his most famous student, Madonna, gives him credit for seeing her talent, and telling her to go to New York! He also is given credit for exposing her to gay subculture. He clearly made a big impression on her… she first studied with him at age 16, in 1974. He was a powerful man, and he had style! And tight fitting jeans!