“I always thought I would be either a doctor or an archaeologist or a crook,” Jacques d’Amboise told Jeffrey Brown for an upcoming PBS NewsHour broadcast.
Today, he is instead a legendary ballet star and educator to thousands of young dancers.
D’Amboise grew up in Depression-era New York City in the 1930s and 1940s and began dancing at the age of seven. In 1950 when d’Amboise was just 15, he joined the New York City Ballet, and at 17 became a principal dancer with the company. In 1976, d’Amboise began giving dance lessons in New York City’s public schools. “It’s better than Broadway to watch these fabulous New York City children dancing and interacting,” d’Amboise said.
His program grew into the National Dance Institute, which today provides free dance lessons for 6,000 children every week. D’Amboise told the Paris Review that the opportunities he had inspired him to teach others:
I think I did my solo before I was seventeen and I was doing principal roles while I was still quarter ballet. And Freddie Ashton came to the U.S. and did a ballet for me, and then I did my first movie. I turned eighteen on the set. I just did what I wanted and had everything given to me. And in a way that was why I started National Dance Institute: I never had to audition for anything; I never had to pay for a dance class.
Check out some scenes below from d’Amboise’s career and the early days of the National Dance Institute.
All photos courtesy of the National Dance Institute.