The Daily Tar Heel

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Monday February 6th

Q&A with National Dance Institute founder Jacques d'Amboise

Jacques d’Amboise was a principal dancer for the New York City Ballet by the age of 17. While dancing with the company, he founded the National Dance Institute in 1976 to help engage children in the arts and teach the importance of the arts in education.

Staff writer Ally Levine spoke with d'Ambiose about the importance of teaching arts and about his visit to North Carolina this week and his visit to Northside Elementary Thursday, where he will be visiting North Carolina Arts in Action, a local affiliate of the National Dance Institute.  

Daily Tar Heel: Tell me about your background as an artist.

Jacques d'Ambiose: I started dancing at seven at a little local ballet school in Washington Heights, New York City, and was performing by eight years of age and joined New York City Ballet in 1949. I had just turned 15 years of age, and I was a principal dancer within two years. I did my first movie before I was 18. It was called “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers.” It was quite an amazing movie and a big success. Then I followed that several years later with another movie, “Carousel.”  I’ve also written a couple of books. And I wrote an autobiography called, “I Was a Dancer” which was published by Knoph. And then, I did several movies. I produce and direct and choreograph programs in the arts — big programs. The largest cast I ever had was 2,000 (people) at Madison Square Garden. I started this program, National Dance Institute. There are 11 affiliates that I know of in the U.S. There is a big one in Shanghai. 

DTH: What is the goal of the National Dance Institute?

JD: The National Dance Institute stems from a belief that the arts are important in the learning of every person. And by the arts I mean literature, poetry, dance, theater and drama. If you could consider yourself learned, you should know about the arts. The best way to learn about the arts is to do them. The most easily and quickest accessible way is through dance and music. They’re doorways to the other arts. That’s why we concentrate on introducing children in school systems to very high quality dance and music, and always with a performing element. At the end of the program, there’s always a performance. There are always quite amazing performances. We’ve done that now since 1976. The first show we did was 1977.

DTH: Why are you visiting Northside Elementary?

JD: The school has Arts in Action, which was seeded by me and my teachers. It’s one of the 11 (affiliates) in the United States. I try every year to go visit each of them and see how they’re doing. This is my visit to North Carolina. I’ll be there for two or three days. I love North Carolina. I’ll be visiting the schools that are taught by one of our teachers. I’m going to see what the children are doing. Maybe I’ll teach a class.

DTH: What is your favorite part about visiting these schools?

JD: Everything is children, everything is children. That’s why children should have the best we can give them. Children are everything. So, what can I give children that I know of? I know dance, and I know it really well. I try to set up these programs and train teachers to work with children who are nonprofessional and don’t aspire to have a professional art. This is not to make ballet dancers or Broadway show jazz dancers. It is to introduce children to an art form that I feel is basic and vital. 

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