The one woman who has continued to inspire me as an artist and human being is Marie Cecile Gibson. She was my ballet teacher in Louisville, Kentucky, from the age of 11 to 14. By the time I was 14, she had arranged for my audition to the School of American Ballet and subsequently helped facilitate finding a local benefactor to pay for my education at a New York private school — something my parents could never afford. She herself had been a ballet student at the Paris Opera Ballet School and went on to dance professionally for the great choreographer Roland Petit. As a teacher, she has impacted many lives, besides my own. For the past 20 years, she has cultivated and dedicated her life to creating NOBA, New Orleans Ballet Association, which has provided over 35,000 free dance classes to the community. Over 80 percent of the students who attend these free classes are at federal poverty level in New Orleans and 90 percent are African-American. She created a community “Nutcracker” production providing roles for 300 children, adults and even senior citizens. She has taught me the power of generosity built into artistry, and how hand in hand, those two ideas can actually change the world we live in.
Wendy Whelan is a principal dancer at the New York City Ballet. Watch an NYC-ARTS segment about the School of American Ballet and learn more about New York City Ballet’s history and repertoire on American Masters and NYC-ARTS.
Photo by David Michalek.