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Do You Hate Ballet?   

by Finis Jhung

A frequent comment made by Hip-Hoppers and Jazz Dancers is "I hate ballet."

That’s sad . . . you may have your reasons, but you’re missing out on some very important training that could seriously affect your future.

Ballet has been the beginning of several enormously successful careers.

I’m thinking of people I’ve had in my ballet class, like Patrick Swayze, Sharon Lawrence, Bebe Neuwirth, Charlotte D’Amboise, and Gillian Lynne.

Patrick Swayze studied with me when he was in New York. While he was taking my class, he had knee problems, and I thought he was another talented young dancer aiming for a ballet career. Well, who could have predicted he would have become the famous Hollywood actor that he is? Ballet teaches you to "never give up", to keep working towards goals, and certainly the years of dedication and discipline that Mr. Swayze gave to ballet technique have stood him well. His cat- like grace as a dancer, posture and great physique are certainly attributes that made him distinctive and stand out from other actors.

Sharon Lawrence studied with me while she was still performing in musicals like "Cabaret". In recent years, we’ve seen Sharon’s video career skyrocket with shows like NYPD BLUE, and big network specials with her name above the titles. I remember her in ballet class as working quietly and doing every exercise full out and with expertise. Again, as with Patrick, I never imagined she’d go full time into acting and become the star that she is. When you see Sharon on TV, you notice how poised and graceful and beautiful she looks. I’m sure her years of ballet training have something to do with that.

Bebe Neuwirth is no slouch in ballet class either. We see her on all the posters for "CHICAGO" that are in the subways and on buses in NYC, and she is well known for her role on "CHEERS" and "FRAZIER", as well as films and TV specials. And all the other women in "CHICAGO" (not to mention most of the men) all have had ballet training to a fairly serious level, some having performed in professional companies. There’s a reason they all have such great looking bodies and look so slinky and sexy -- they’re ballet trained, their muscles have been stretched and toned and they have the long lines of classical ballet training.

Charlotte D’Amboise first came to my attention while appearing in "CATS" on Broadway. You may have seen her recently, on the road with "CHICAGO." Charlotte is a dynamically powerful performer, and she’s got legs that go on for days and a body that exudes energy. Again, she is an accomplished ballet dancer, and always comes back to class when she has the time. As I think of her, and her great legs (and Bebe's, too) those muscles have been beautifully worked and stretched doing tendu and dégagé and all the other exercises in ballet class. I’ve also noticed that performers like Charlotte work very intelligently in ballet class - they’re there to get what they need, and they get it and go on with their careers.

Gillian Lynne choreographed the original "CATS" and "PHANTOM" productions on Broadway. She was raised in the world of ballet, dancing traditional ballerina roles like the Lilac Fairy in England. And if you’ve seen and loved "CATS", you know that this is one of the most demanding shows every choreographed. It’s a killer, which may be why it’s the longest running show in Broadway history. In fact, just last night, a visiting teacher from Tacoma told me she was brought to tears by the end of the show. It may seem a long way from Lilac Fairy to CATS, but that’s show biz. You know, if you want to bring things out of your cast when you’re choreographing, you’d better have paid your dues yourself, and put yourself in a learning situation where you take orders and respond to directions from others. You go back and "woodshed" it until you get it right. That’s ballet training at it’s best.

The point we’re making here is that ballet is the best foundation you can have. . . for just about any career you can think of. Ballet training requires discipline and dedication. It is a discipline that demands exactness. It shapes your body and your mind. And, along the way, you can build up a formidable dance technique that can be exciting and dazzling. The confidence of knowing you can balance, turn, and jump will stand you in good stead when you have those big auditions. There’s nothing like real skill, and knowing what you’re doing and that you can deliver the goods. Stick with it!

Copyright © Finis Jhung.     This page may be printed, copied or distributed freely, provided this copyright notice remains.

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Biography of Finis Jhung

Since 1972, Finis Jhung has been a mainstay of the New York dance scene. He is a source of enlightenment for dancers of American Ballet Theatre, The New York City Ballet, The Joffrey Ballet; star gypsies of Broadway; dancers from The Ailey, Taylor, and Cunningham Companies; aspiring professionals the world over; and amateur beginners.

From 1982 - 86, Finis was Founder, Artistic Director, and Choreographer for Chamber Ballet USA. In 1988, Finis joined the staff of The Broadway Dance Center. He has also taught at Marymount Manhattan College, The Alvin Ailey American Dance Center, The Bartholin International Ballet Seminar in Copenhagen, and at festivals and workshops around the U.S.A. Currently, he gives daily classes at Peridance Center in New York City and master classes on tour with The Manhattan Dance Project.

Born in Honolulu, Hawaii, in 1937 of Korean-Scottish-English parentage, Finis graduated with high honors from The University of Utah in 1959, where he studied with William F. Christensen. After a six-month tour of duty with the National Guard, Finis joined the Broadway cast of Flower Drum Song. He toured with the National Company and then joined the San Francisco Ballet Company, where he became a soloist. During that time, Finis went to Hollywood and danced in the film version of Flower Drum Song. In 1962 Finis joined The Joffrey Ballet and toured Portugal, Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Russia, Iran, Afghanistan, India, and countless U.S. cities. In 1964 Finis joined The Harkness Ballet of New York, where he became a principal dancer and toured France, Italy, Rumania, Greece, Germany, North Africa, and more of the U.S.

Critics everywhere acclaimed his technical brilliance and elegant stage presence. Finis has been written about in numerous national publications and most recently was featured as a "ballet virtuoso" on Lifetime TV. His life-long love of theater and dance has led him to reevaluate ballet teaching. He has developed uniquely innovative methods that make studying ballet easier to understand and more enjoyable for both teachers and students.