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David Howard Tribute Celebrates the Life of the Great Master Ballet Teacher

On the evening of Sunday, October 13th, an invitation-only crowd filed into Studio II at Steps on Broadway in NYC to share fond memories of David Howard, the beloved ballet teacher who once said that he arrived in New York “as a upstart and became part of the American Dream.”


David’s death at the age of 76 on August 11th left his followers stunned and saddened. They welcomed the opportunity to gather in his honor and listen to reflections on his life and work by a stellar role call of those who were privileged to learn from him, work with him, and enjoy his friendship.


The first person at the podium was Carol Paumgarten, the Founder and Artistic Directors of Steps. Like many of the speakers who followed, Carol mentioned David’s dry British wit and his unique habit of clapping the rhythm of the music as his students danced. She also elicited a collective murmur of agreement when she mentioned her sorrow at no longer seeing “Uncle David” on “his bench” in the hallway, waiting to teach and greeting everyone with that inimitable smile. The audience applauded and laughed when Carol said that a plaque would commemorate the bench with the words “In a higher place.” Anyone who had ever taken David’s class had heard him say that and the phrase now takes on a poignant new meaning.


Nancy Bielski, herself a sought-after master teacher, said she first met David at the Harkness House for Ballet Arts when she was teenager. She went on to teach at the David Howard Dance Center. After it closed, she followed David in 2000 to Steps where some of the greatest dancers in the world began flocking to their morning classes day after day. Nancy regaled the gathering with some of David’s choice quips such as the revelation that when he said “Good” after his students finished a combination, he actually meant “Good, it’s over.”


Among the others who offered recollections and appreciation were David’s long-time colleague, Peter Schabel; San Francisco Ballet Director Helgi Tomasson; former ballerina Alexandra Ansanelli, who couldn’t help but cry; and Alexander Tressor, who credits David with giving him a chance to learn to dance and later to teach.   Two members of the David Howard Celebration Committee, Rika Burnham and Buck Collins, read letters from ballet greats Cynthia Harvey and Natalia Makarova.  


Highlights of the event included a musical interlude by Steven Mitchell, one of David’s favorite accompanists, and a film produced by Fabrice Herrault with clips of David’s early years of teaching as well as an interview during which David displayed that legendary sense humor and happily listed the luminaries who often took his classes. 


Clinton Luckett, Ballet Master at the American Ballet Theater, gave the closing remarks and then the group adjourned to Studio III for a reception complete with food, drink, and the chance to exchange reminiscences of the gifted and generous teacher who became a legend in his own time. He will be sorely missed by one and all.

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