Tag Archives: Mary Pat Robertson

Dancing at 20, 50 — and now 80

1990 group birthdayIn six months I’ll be 80.

I’m dependent for my health and strength on Pilates, as taught in the Anthony Rabara studio, and I’m learning new strengthening moves at Princeton Fitness and Wellness, but nothing beats actual DANCE.

Dancing (modern dance) used to be my life. I danced a lot, in college.  Some, in my 30s. Less, in my 50s. (The image* is of my 50th birthday party, led by my then dance teacher,Esther Arnhold Seligmann.  Even less in my ’60s, though with Alma Concepcion I did try to learn flamenco, until I realized what it was doing to my knees.

Absolutely no dance in my 70s.

Now, on the cusp of 80, I have rediscovered the joy of moving through space.


You don’t get it in Pilates, you don’t get to move through space in a gym, you can move through space only in a dance studio, and dance studios are notoriously unfriendly to old bones.

mary pat robertsonSo I am beyond thrilled to find a dance class geared for seniors, one that satisfies my desire (yea, my need) to move through space but honors my arthritis. Mary Pat Robertson,who had extensive experience in Merce Cunningham technique as well as being a master teacher of ballet, has begun a class for mature dancers of 50 plus years (that’s me), ranging from beginners to former professionals (I’m in between), to”retain flexibility, balance, and core strength.”

It’s at the new Martin Center for Dance, established by Douglas Martin and Mary Barton martin center logoupon their untimely exit from American Repertory Ballet. (This article in U.S. 1 explains some of the details and here is an earlier Town Topics article by Anne Levin).

I had studied Humphrey/Weidman technique and ‘experienced’ Graham technique, and I’m finding that Cunningham technique is kinder to old bones. Robertson merges what she learned at the Cunningham studio with what she experienced at a special “over 50” class in London.

It’s good for me. It’s fun. It has me moving (safely) through space.

Intrigued? Come and see! Robertson teaches the “over 50” class on Mondays and Thursdays, 11 AM to 12:30 p.m. at the Martin Center for Dance11 Princess Road, Suite 5. What used to be a warehouse is now a stylish space for two dance studios and a black box theater.

*Recognizable faces in the 50th birthday picture: top row, Mary Hultse, Sandy Goettinger, Barbara Palfy, ?, Ann Yasuhara, ?, Pat Hatton, Joan Crespi.  First row, Esther Seligmann, ?, ?, Barbara Figge Fox, Anna Rosa Kohn, Brenda Fallon, Nicole Plett. (Additional IDs welcome. With little provocation I will show you the video. It reflects Esther’s amazingly free spirit.) 

Beethoven: An edge of aggression and danger


For Princeton University Concerts today, the Takacs String Quartet played for a stage-full of people who came to meditate while listening to Beethoven. This session — free including sandwiches afterward — helped to celebrate the 6-concert Beethoven cycle. The quartet played the first movement of Beethoven’s Opus 18 #2 (it was on the first program, Tuesday) and the adagio from the E-Flat Major quartet, Opus 127, which is scheduled for the 4th program, January 19.

Princeton’s classical music audience is generally quite respectful. No unwrapping of candy, no shuffling of feet, coughers are embarrassed, sneezers more so. But rarely have I been in a listening group where everybody tried so hard to sit still. Today at Richardson Auditorium an overflow crowd filed into the auditorium, onto the stage, for Mindfulness and Music, a guided meditation. The posters overhead celebrated the Takacs quartet’s six-concert Beethoven cycle. The quartet was surrounded with people sitting on chairs and kneeling on pillows. Matthew Weiner of the Office of Religious Life explained the rules and struck a gong three times. Long silence. More long silence. We all meditated our hearts out. Than the quartet began to play.

First violinist Edward Dusinberre said later that it was a whole new experience to begin from silence — no entering with adrenaline pumping, no prep to get ready, just — lift the bow and break the silence. “It was a fragile moment,” he said.

Andras Fejer, cellist, confirmed that – with this meditation group, so receptive, in such an intimate space, the quartet felt they could just present the music, with no need garner attention by ramping up dramatic contrasts.

Geraldine Walther, the violist, was nearly overcome with emotion as she described how, as she played (and I hope I’m being accurate here), she feared for the values that she held dear. Yet she knew that these values have survived since Beethoven’s time, for 200 years, and she found comfort in that.

Mary Pat Robertson, one of my long-time friends in the dance community, had this response. It was so moving to be able to experience chamber music up close, and with a group of people coming to the experience with a specific desire and intentionality to their listening.”

Robertson offers a way to think about how Beethoven can help us get through what many of us believe will be a period of national and international turmoil:

“When we think about music to meditate to, we might think of anodyne “spa” music.  Beethoven’s music has an edge of aggression and danger that are far from that.  It is music made in a time of uncertainty and political instability, declaring the power of the individual soul.”

beethoven-poster-img_2213“We have been living (up until now) in a time of great peace and prosperity, relative to his era.  Those of us who shared this experience together took away a heightened sense of the risk-taking of great art, and the importance of sharing our emotions with each other with the materials of spirit that are uniquely given to each of us.” 

“As one of the quartet said, “we are only the vessels.”


Three decades of dance: Mary Pat Robertson

mary patAfter 35 years at Princeton Ballet School, Mary Pat Robertson has retired. I’m very sad for the dance community but glad for her to have a less compressed schedule

In a comprehensive article by my colleague Anne Levin at Town Topics, Robertson says — and I know this to be true about her — that she loves coaching young dancers and mentions two of her former students among the many. Kraig Patterson  (formerly with Mark Morris) and Unity Phelan, Phelan, whose father is entrepreneur John Phelan, was named in a March 1 essay on rising stars at City Ballet by New York Times critic Alastair Macauley. I saw Phelan teach a master class at PBS and was captivated by her energy and fascinated by her feet. More on that at another time.

Meanwhile I hark back to what was, for me, the heyday of modern dance in Central Jersey, the early ’80s, when Robertson launched an innovative company, Teamwork Dance. Teamwork concerts were never dull, The late Geulah Abrahams and Michelle Mathesius  had their own companies — and even Mark Morris performed at Trenton’s Mill Hill Playhouse. Grant money was available and — surprise! — just a little bit of dough encouraged a lot of dance.

One of Teamwork’s principals, Janell Byrne, also danced with Abrahams and has had her own company for three decades at Mercer County Community College’s Kelsey Theatre. Her choreography is on the program this weekend at Rider University, which is now the center for innovative dance. “Transforming and manipulating a scenic element…..” sounds intriguing!


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