Exclusive Interview with Master Ballet Teacher Ceyhun Ozsoy

June 25, 2013
Ceyhun Ozsoy and Aubrey Morgan (Giacobbe Dance Academy - New Orleans, LA)

Ceyhun Ozsoy and Aubrey Morgan who went on to dance with NYC Ballet and as a guest on SYTYCD
(Giacobbe Dance Academy – New Orleans, LA, circa 1988)

What words would you use to describe one of your most influential dance teachers?

Ceyhun Ozsoy

Ceyhun Ozsoy

In a 2005 article by Anthony Ramirez from the New York Times, one renowned ballet teacher at the Joffrey Ballet School in New York was described like this:

“Ceyhun Ozsoy, who dresses in black pants and a collarless black shirt, is equally demanding. With his silver hair and deep tan, Mr. Ozsoy resembles the designer Giorgio Armani. He likes to bark: ‘It doesn’t look like ballet. Forget it!’ ”

True, like any great teacher, Ceyhun (pronounced ‘Jay-hun’) knows how to push his students. However, a more accurate description would also mention that he is warmly encouraging, knowledgable but unassumingly so, and very…funny.

Joffrey Ballet School in New York 

Joffrey Ballet School

Paquita staged by Ceyhun Ozsoy, Joffrey Ballet School in New York, 2012 (Image source) Click on image to enlarge.

In addition to running many of the nationwide auditions for the Joffrey Ballet School, Ceyhun has taught at their summer workshop since 1997. One highlight each summer is the student showcase, which gives the young dancers an opportunity to display their developing technique and artistry before an enthusiastic crowd. Last year, Ceyhun staged “Paquita” for the showcase and will stage his own choreography “Dance of the Hours” from the opera “La Gioconda” for this year’s performance.

The Modest Mentor

Ceyhun Ozsoy has trained many dancers over the years who have gone on to have illustrious, professional careers. One such dancer is Daniel Mantei of American Ballet Theatre (shown front and center in the image below.)

Daniel Mantei - update caption

Daniel Mantei shown center front in this photo by Daniil Simkin (Taken from American Ballet Theatre class onstage at the Sosnoff Theater, 2012)

When asked about his long list of successful students, Ceyhun is modest and introspective.

Ceyhun Ozsoy – “It is true that Daniel Mantei is dancing with ABT.  There are so many students whom I’ve taught who are currently dancing or teaching around the world. Yet, it is hard for me to tell anybody that they are my own students. I feel that it is impossible to take credit for a student’s success as though I have “created them”.  Maybe it is a different story at certain major ballet schools where a student begins training under a specific curriculum and is later fortunate to be be hired into that same professional company.”

“In my thinking, however, if I teach a student for a few years, then he or she goes to study at another school and somewhere along the way becomes a professional dancer, who should take the credit? So, while I am proud of the success of so many students I’ve taught over the years, I reject the notion of owning anybody. My experience has shown me this common scenario: I might teach a student for a number of years. Later, this dancer attends a summer workshop elsewhere, after which he or she might be hired by the company affiliated with that school. If so, at that point, the company can technically claim that this dancer is a product of their school. So, while I can mention hundreds of names of students I’ve taught, I never take any personal credit.”

“Instead, when a former student looks back at the list of the people who have influenced them along the way, if they can say to other people that, of all of their teachers, I was their best teacher, then that is good enough for me.”

Beyond the Joffrey Ballet School

When Ceyhun is not auditioning dancers and teaching for the Joffrey Ballet School, he can be found at a number of other dance schools and companies. First and foremost, he directs his own school, the Ozsoy School of Ballet, just outside of Dallas, TX. Mr. Ozsoy has also been a regular instructor for Compañia Nacional de Danza in Mexico City and, more recently, for the Dallas Black Dance Theatre, which he describes as, “Amazing, top to bottom.”

Dallas Black Dance Theater - Source

Dallas Black Dance Theater – Image source

Below is also an image of Ceyhun teaching class at the Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts in Dallas, where he is also on the faculty. (Click on the image below to enlarge.) Mr. Ozsoy has also taught master classes and choreographed ballets around the country. He served as Ballet Master for eight years with Delta Festival Ballet in New Orleans and was on the faculty at Texas Christian University in Fort Worth.

Ceyhun Ozsoy Teaching at Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts (photo © Jeremy Bittermann)

Click on image to enlarge. Ceyhun Ozsoy teaching at Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts in Dallas, TX, 2011 (photo © Jeremy Bittermann)

 

Ceyhun Ozsoy the Dancer 

Born and raised in Turkey, Ceyhun Ozsoy attended the National Conservatory of Ankara and later earned his teaching credentials at Hacettepe University. By the invitation of Dame Ninette de Valois, he studied with the Royal Ballet in London and later danced with the Bavarian State Opera in Munich, Germany. His professional career in Turkey included performing as a principal dancer with the National Ballet of Ankara where he later served as Ballet Master.

Binay Okurer & Ceyhun Ozsoy

Binay Okurer & Ceyhun Ozsoy – The ballet is called ” Judith “, Music by Cetin Isikozlu
Choreography by Alfred Rodriguez, Ankara, Turkey, 1974

 

When most people think of Turkey, the last thing that probably comes to mind is ballet. Contrary to what is generally known, however, Turkey has had a vibrant history of developing many distinguished artists of all genres. Nevertheless, I could not help but wonder how, with all of the possible options at the time, Ceyhun chose to study ballet?

Ceyhun Ozsoy – “I was too young at the time to understand what a career was, let alone decide what to do with mine. As a youngster, my mother asked me if I wanted to be a ballet dancer. I replied to her by asking,’What is that?’ She said, ‘That means you’ll get to dance with girls, jump high, and kick your legs. Sometimes, you’ll even get to lift the girls.’ All of that sounded very tempting and, because I already enjoyed dancing to rock’n roll music, I said, ‘ Cool! Let’s do ballet.’ ”

Growing Up in Turkey

Ceyhun was raised in the beautiful Turkish port city of Bodrum, Muğla. (Click on image to enlarge.)

Bodrum, Muğla

City of Bodrum, Muğla (in Turkey) source link

 

An interesting fact about growing up as a Turkish citizen is that you are required to serve in the military. I asked Ceyhun about his service in the Turkish Army, and if that meant that he had to temporarily put aside his ballet training and career.

Ceyhun Ozsoy – “I served for twenty months in the Turkish army. For three months I underwent basic training, and was then transferred to Ankara to serve at the Officers’ Club. Because I had learned to play piano in school, I was asked to play dinner music for the officers. Once they found out that I was a well-known ballet dancer at the opera house in Ankara, my commanding officer allowed me to continue practicing at the ballet company. At some point, I invited the offers to come to my performances, and afterwards my commanding officer was so thrilled that his orders were to, ‘Keep playing piano and don’t forget to bring me more ballet invitations!’ ”

“So, I was very fortunate to have such an experience in the army.  In terms of the actual military basic training, I believe that studying ballet requires even greater discipline than the army!”

Ceyhun Ozsoy with Friends in Turkey (From left to right:)

Ceyhun Ozsoy (in sunglasses) with classmates in Turkey (From left to right: Unal Erte, Yalkin Aksoy, Hasim Yedican, Tuner Galip, Ceyhun Ozsoy and Ozkan Arslan) Taken in front of the Ankara Devlet Konservatuari on graduation day after 9 years of boarding school, 1967. Click on image to enlarge.

 

Ceyhun Ozsoy’s Advice To Students

I always say to my students, “When you are in the class room, you are here for an hour and a half. You must be mentally and physically present throughout every minute of the class with full attention, hard work and you must give it your all. You can learn something from every teacher, but don’t waste your time or theirs.”  — Ceyhun Ozsoy

Ceyhun Ozsoy, Ozsoy Ballet

Ceyhun Ozsoy puts his ballet footwork to good use even when he’s not in the studio! Photo taken in New Orleans, 1984

 

DanseTrack – Just hearing these words of advice  has reminded me of something else that I’ve failed to mention about Ceyhun Ozsoy. When we first began this interview, I attempted to put into words a way to describe Ceyhun as a teacher. What I failed to mention is that Mr. Ozsoy is someone who clearly loves his work. This joy for dance is not only readily apparent to all, but it is continually passed along to his many, many students. It’s hardly a wonder why he is so admired and adored.

Thank you, Ceyhun, for sharing your story, inspiration, and words of wisdom.

From a most appreciative student,

Yolonda Jordan D’Amico, Editor for DanseTrack

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