Courtesy Juilliard

Remembering Lawrence Rhodes: Dancer, Teacher and Director

Lawrence Rhodes passed away on Wednesday, March 27, at age 80. Rhodes, best known as Larry, had a long and celebrated career as a dancer, teacher and director, most recently heading The Juilliard School's dance department.

I first met Rhodes in 2017, when we started work together on an autobiography charting his life and career. Over countless hours spent seated at the kitchen table of his Upper West Side apartment, Rhodes often reminded me that his dance career, both on and off stage, had spanned over 60 years; his passion for the work remained his driving force.


Rhodes was born in Mount Hope, West Virginia, in 1939, though his family soon relocated to Detroit. At age 9, a new classmate named Glenda Ann Bush introduced Rhodes to tap. The two became a duo known as Buddy and Glenda Ann (Rhodes went by the moniker Buddy until Robert Joffrey renamed him Larry in the 1960s), and performed at functions around the city.

Buddy and Glenda Ann performing in Detroit

Courtesy Rhodes

Though Rhodes took dance classes from Ruth Miltimore, he didn't start studying ballet in earnest until seeing a performance of Ballet Theatre at age 14. Combined with a love for The Red Shoes and all things Hollywood glamour, watching Alicia Alonso and Igor Youskevitch in Swan Lake sealed the deal. He started training with Violette Armand, and spent the summer of 1956 dancing on a tour of midwestern state fairs with the Chicago-based teacher Dorothy Hild.

Determined to make his way to New York, Rhodes finished high school early; he was the first man in his family to graduate. He worked for six months at the Chicago Theatrical Shoe Company to earn money to support himself, and on July 4, 1957 (a date he found particularly fitting), Rhodes arrived in the big city with $400 in his pocket and walked straight to the Ballet Russe School.

While studying at the Ballet Russe School under teachers including Leon Danielian and Frederic Franklin, Rhodes soaked up as much art as the city could offer. He and his friends frequently "second acted" shows, sneaking in at intermission and snagging empty seats. In 1958, only one year after arriving in New York City, Rhodes was accepted into the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo as a corps dancer, and adjusted to the grueling schedule of one month of rehearsal followed by six months on the road. At the end of his second year, Rhodes started studying with Robert Joffrey, and was invited to join his company.

Rhodes and Isaksen in John Butler's After Eden

Courtesy Juilliard

Rhodes' time in The Joffrey Ballet was marked by its founder's focus on creativity. In 1962, the heiress Rebekah Harkness came on board as its primary sponsor and brought in a host of new works, most notably Brian MacDonald's Time Out of Mind. Tensions between Joffrey and Harkness grew, and two years later they parted ways; Rhodes, along with many other Joffrey dancers, accepted an offer to join the new Harkness Ballet. During these years Rhodes flourished on the stage: He received rave reviews in Stuart Hodes' The Abyss, John Butler's Sebastian and After Eden, and Rudy van Dantzig's Monument for a Dead Boy. In 1967 The New York Times critic Don McDonagh wrote of Sebastian, "Mr Rhodes's intensity is allowed full sway and he dominates the ballet. Emotion is the life blood of the work and no one on the ballet stage is capable of generating as much of it as Mr. Rhodes." In 1967, at the age of 28, Rhodes took over as the director of the Harkness Ballet, balancing responsibilities onstage and off until its demise in 1970. Shortly after, Rhodes married his longtime colleague, the celebrated Danish ballerina Lone Isaksen.

Rhodes and Isaksen spent the following year dancing with the Dutch National Ballet before returning to New York for the birth of their son, Mark. For the bulk of the 1970s, Rhodes worked as a guest artist. He danced for Pennsylvania Ballet, Dennis Wayne's Dancers and the Feld Ballet, and toured with the ballerinas Naomi Sorkin and Anne Marie de Angelo; for two years he was the co-director of Milwaukee Ballet. In 1974, he began touring with Carla Fracci in Italy, as the Albrecht to her Giselle and as Mercutio in Romeo and Juliet. During this time, Rhodes gave daily class to Fracci's dancers and developed a keen interest in teaching. In 1978, after a particularly spirited performance of Mercutio, he retired from the stage.

Rhodes graced the cover of Dance Magazine three times between 1966–75, and was awarded the Dance Magazine Award in 2015. In this 1975 cover story, John Gruen writes, "Dancers admire Rhodes, because, without seeming effort, he unwittingly shows the complexity of dance. They glimpse the methodology of dance, and come into contact with hidden aspects of the art."

Rhodes spent the next decade at New York University, first as a faculty member and then as the chair of the dance department. He focused his efforts on professionalizing the program, condensing the undergraduate degree from four years to three and revamping the MFA offerings with the help of Deborah Jowitt. Rhodes also revived the Second Avenue Dance Company and made it mandatory for all students in their final year; his legacy remains today. Rhodes relied on his vast network to bring in new choreographers, including, in 1986, a young Ohad Naharin.

In 1989, Rhodes segued back to ballet, and became the artistic director of Les Grands Ballet Canadiens de Montreal, where he remained until 1999, working to cultivate relationships with choreographers including James Kudelka, Nacho Duato, Jiří Kylián and William Forsythe. He spent his summers guest teaching around the world, namely at Nederlands Dans Theater, Ballet Frankfurt and Lyon Opera Ballet, where he returned each year until his death.

Teaching at Juilliard

Courtesy Juilliard

In the summer of 2002, Rhodes became the head of The Juilliard School's dance division, a position he held until 2017. He worked to streamline the curriculum and increase performance opportunities by creating New Dances, a yearly concert giving each dancer in the school the chance to engage in the choreographic process. The list of choreographers that Rhodes brought to Juilliard reads like a who's who of the contemporary dance world. In the early years of the project alone, Rhodes welcomed Jessica Lang, Robert Battle, Dwight Rhoden, Aszure Barton and many more. Another highlight of his Juilliard tenure were three major performance tours both around the US and in Europe. Rhodes was feted for his immense contributions to the school after 2017's New Dances program.

Just a few weeks before he passed away, Rhodes emailed me with an idea for the title of his memoir: "I remember a woman in Mexico saying to me after a performance, 'nacido para bailar,' which translates to 'Born to Dance,'" he wrote. "I thought it was as good a compliment as one could receive."

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Here, Ball and two other experts share their advice for how to make the most of this precious opportunity to dive deep into dance—and how to handle complications that may get in the way, like injury and drama.

1. Show Off...Your Work Ethic

Summer intensives offer a preview of company life: You'll be dancing in a variety of styles over the course of the day, and all day, everyday. But that doesn't mean you have to be company-ready on day one! Though the first day may be filled with placement classes, try not to approach every class as an audition. "This year has taught us that the work is the important thing," says Ball. "Let go of trying to impress. The best impression I ever receive as a teacher is when I see someone receptive to doing things differently, even if that means taking one step backwards initially, to be able to take two steps forward by the end of the summer."

Angelica Generosa, a principal with Pacific Northwest Ballet, clearly made a splash during her first of three summers at the Chautauqua Institution's School of Dance. At 14, she was cast to dance the pas de deux from Balanchine's Stars and Stripes in the final performance. Generosa describes her younger self as "very eager." She'll be a guest teacher at Chautauqua this summer, and says that a similar eagerness catches her attention: "Dedication, and willingness to try. That twinkle in the eyes when a step is really challenging."

2. Make Friends

Even if friends from your year-round school will be with you this summer, branch out. During breaks at the studio, you may be tempted to spend time on your phone. "Take your headphones off," suggests Margaret Severin-Hansen, director of Carolina Ballet's summer intensive. "Share that ballet video with the person sitting next to you! Their eyes might see it differently; you could learn something. Or find that you have other things in common, too."

Do things outside the studio, too, even if your social circle is limited for safety reasons to a "pod" of classmates. "Sign up for activities," says Generosa. Go on that weekend shopping trip, or out for ice cream. "Be open," she says. "These are people you might see along the way in your future."

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Simon Ball leads class at Central Pennsylvania Youth Ballet.

Courtesy CPYB

3. Stay Healthy

"The first week is tough—you're going to be sore," says Ball. "Prepare yourself." He means that literally. Before your program begins, ramp up cross-training, especially cardio to build your stamina. Severin-Hansen recommends you also keep dancing. It no longer matters that your regular school might be on break: We now know it's possible to take virtual classes from home or in a rented studio. If you're on pointe, make sure to put the shoes on every day, at the very least for some relevés. Keep the skin on your toes tough; the last thing you want is to be sidelined by blisters.

If you are recovering from an injury or managing something persistent like tendonitis, take action even further in advance. Find out if your intensive provides access to physical therapy, and if not, make a plan before you leave home. Learn exercises and massage techniques that you can do on your own, and ask about virtually checking in with your regular doctor or PT. Once you arrive, says Ball, communicate with your instructors. "Chances are it's a common ballet injury that teachers understand. They'll be able to help you."

During her summer intensives, Generosa often suffered flare-ups of inflammation. "I knew the tendonitis in my knees was from over turning out, and in my ankles from lifting my heels in plié." She was able to alleviate some of her pain by dancing more thoughtfully, addressing those habits. She also got creative about taking care of her tendons during off-hours. "I basically did ice baths in Chautauqua Lake."

4. Deal With Disappointment Constructively

Whether you're placed in a lower level than you'd like or were hoping for a soloist role that went to someone else, disappointment is understandable. Try, on your part, to understand too. The faculty may believe you'll thrive more in that particular group, or see a technical issue better solved by not pushing you too fast. If you're not sure exactly what you should be working on, ask. "Trust that you can make the most of your experience, whatever level you're in," says Ball. "Don't be afraid of the conversation."

5. Avoid Drama

Competition is inevitable, but unproductive competition is unnecessary, and bullying unacceptable. Severin-Hansen lays down a very clear guideline: "Nobody should ever feel uncomfortable." If you hear or see anything that bothers you—whether directed at you or someone else—don't hesitate to speak up. "If there's even one person creating drama, you feel it in the class. Summer is short. There's no room for that." Tell the resident advisor in the dorms, or bring the problem to the school administration.

Angelica Generosa performs an arabessque elong\u00e9 on pointe while her partner stands behind her holding her waist and with his left leg in tendu. She holds her left hand on her hip and extends her right arm out to the side with her palm up. Angelica wears a purple leotard, black tights and a white Romantic tutu while Kyle wears a yellow shirt, black tights and tan slippers.

Pacific Northwest Ballet principal Angelica Generosa (shown here in rehearsal with Kyle Davis) made notes of corrections she'd received and variations she'd worked on during her summer intensives to help retain what she had learned.

Lindsay Thomas, Courtesy PNB

6. Fuel the Long Day

Depending on your housing arrangement this summer, you may be on your own for buying or preparing your own meals. Generosa recalls her first time living in a dorm and eating cafeteria food: "I wanted to try everything: pizza, chicken tenders, the salad bar, the dessert section—that was also my introduction to coffee." She found, however, that caffeine and sugar rushes would give way to energy crashes, and soon enough her better knowledge prevailed. "I told myself, 'Angelica, get your protein, vegetables, complex carbs—the right kind of energy.'"

Masking requirements may make snacking at the studios slightly more difficult. Nonetheless, there will almost certainly be somewhere you can safely have a nibble in between classes, whether that's a dancers' lounge or socially distanced in the studio itself. Make sure you always have something with you that's easy to munch on during breaks. Ball recommends protein bars or fruits and veggies. "Hydrating is huge," he adds, and suggests bringing packets of powdered electrolyte supplements to add to your water.

7. Retain Corrections

Take a moment each evening, Severin-Hansen advises, to write a few things down. "Say the whole class got a general correction, like 'Use your head.' The person who takes notes will think about it: 'When could I have used my head?' It's all about how you come back the next day and improve."

Generosa set a goal for herself to get better every day. To accomplish this, she would stay late to practice, she says, "so my body could adjust to what I was trying to achieve in that class." If you're inclined to follow her example, ask a friend to practice with you. You can film each other to get a glimpse of your own progress.

At the end of her Chautauqua summers, Generosa made notes of some things she had worked on and which variations she'd learned. "Then it wasn't like I left and that was that. I brought the summer experience with me, for my whole year."

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