Lauren Anderson: Raising the ‘Barre’ for Every Ballerina

January 15, 2014

At least once or twice over the years I’ve crossed paths with the phenomenal dancer and former principal dancer of Houston Ballet, Lauren Anderson.  

Lauren Anderson & Carlos Acosta in Houston Ballet's production of Don Quixote

Lauren Anderson & Carlos Acosta in Houston Ballet’s production of Don Quixote. Choreography by Ben Stevenson. Photo: Jim Caldwell – courtesy of the Houston Ballet.

Although I can’t recall where we met,… (was it in a rehearsal studio? or somewhere backstage?)

Lauren  Anderson in Don Quixote (Houston Ballet)

Lauren Anderson in Don Quixote (Houston Ballet)

—Here’s what I do remember.

Besides her amazing gifts as a performer, what really set Lauren apart was her personality.  In fact, from the very first moment we met, Lauren Anderson was disarmingly kind, welcoming, and…funny!  

Today, I had a chance to catch up with Lauren Anderson — one of my true heroes in the ballet world.

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DanseTrack –  While growing up, which performers most influenced you?

 

Lauren Anderson –  Virginia Johnson with Dance Theater of Harlem.  She was the first Black ballerina I ever saw and she was absolutely beautiful!  

 

Virginia Johnson & Eddie Shellman in Arthur Mitchell’s Creole Giselle for Dance Theatre of Harlem

Mikhail Baryshnikov Gelsey Kirkland in the Nutcracker (Image by © Bettmann/CORBIS)

Mikhail Baryshnikov & Gelsey Kirkland in the televised production of The Nutcracker (Image by © Bettmann/CORBIS)

I was also inspired by Mikhail Baryshnikov, because he could do anything.

And then there was Gelsey Kirkland, because she used her feet beautifully.

These are all things I wanted to have and be able to do as a young dancer.

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DanseTrack – If you were asked what it is that you love most about classical ballet, what would you say?

 Lauren Anderson –  I always loved doing anything to music as a child. I was a violinist first, and classical ballet just feels good when you get it.

 

 

Lauren Anderson Firebird

Lauren Anderson in James Kudelka’s production of the Firebird, (Photo by Jim Donovan courtesy of the Houston Ballet.)

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DanseTrack – You are presently the Artistic Outreach Associate for Houston Ballet’s Education Department.  What can you share with us about that program? 

Lauren Anderson – The Education Outreach Department has a diverse selection of programs geared towards students from pre-kindergarten to 12th grade. In addition to our programs for performance, participation and arts integration, we also offer workshops for dance teachers, core curriculum teachers, and teachers in training.

As for challenges?

Before becoming Artistic Outreach Associate at Houston Ballet, the vast majority of my teaching experience was for students in the professional ballet school. My challenge now is scaffolding steps for beginning and inexperienced students, some of whom have never danced before.

The joy, however, is not just exposing these students to ballet, but putting it on and in their bodies!!!

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DanseTrack – In March 2014, you will be offering master classes in Paris, France as a special guest for the Société Auguste Vestris. What can you tell us about this exciting event?

Lauren Anderson The Société Auguste Vestris and its founder, Katharine Kanter, felt there was a need for students of color to see and have instruction from a ballerina of color. Even though I am from another part of the world we all speak the language of ballet. I  look forward to the opportunity to pass on what was given to me.

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DanseTrack – You’ve already achieved so much as an artist. What’s next Lauren?! What would you like to accomplish that you haven’t already!?

Lauren Anderson – I have always been in the studio. In fact, I never thought about college or my future outside of the studio until I retired. I am in college now at 48 years-old. Is that crazy? I have a 4.0 gpa and would like to graduate with a 4.0.

Soon, I will have earned my Associate of Applied Science in Medical Office Administration Degree. I also have a beautiful son named Lawrence. He is ten and not a dancer, but is  a musician. He is very talented and passionate. I just want to be a good Mother!!!!

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 DanseTrack – Thank you, Lauren, and we wish you all the best for school, your family, and career!!

Yolonda Jordan D’Amico, Editor for DanseTrack

 

More About Lauren Anderson (Bio as it appears: here)

Lauren Anderson, Photo by Pam Francis (Source)

Lauren Anderson, Photo by Pam Francis (Source)

Native Houstonian Lauren Anderson danced with Houston Ballet from 1983 to 2006, performing leading roles in all the great classical ballets, appearing across the world to critical acclaim, and in the process, becoming one of Houston Ballet’s most beloved stars.

She trained exclusively at Houston Ballet’s Ben Stevenson Academy from the age of seven. She joined Houston Ballet in 1983 and in 1990 became the first African-American to be promoted to principal dancer at Houston Ballet – and one of the few African-American ballerinas at the head of a major ballet company anywhere in the world.

Ms. Anderson danced leading roles in most of the classics. She created the title role in Ben Stevenson’s Cleopatra, and her performance as Cleopatra received accolades from international critics. Anna Kisselgoff, dance critic for The New York Times compared her to the great Italian actress Eleanora Duse, and Christine Temin of The Boston Globe pronounced her “a powerhouse in interpreting the role that Stevenson created on her.” Ms. Anderson performed across the globe as a guest artist.

In 1990, Ms. Anderson received The Special Jury Award in the USA International Ballet Competition and in 1996, the International Critics award in Chile. In April 1999, she was featured on the cover of Dance Magazine. She’s been featured in the magazines People and Pointe, as well as on the television programs “A&E Breakfast with the Arts,” “CBS News Sunday Morning,” and the game show, “To Tell the Truth.” She has been honored by The Martin Luther King Foundation, Coalition of 100 Black Women, YWCA, by the Urban League, Asian Chamber of Commerce, Delta Gamma Foundation, Texas Woman’s Chamber of Commerce, National Council of Jewish Women, Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Houston City Council, Texas Legislature, and the United States Congress and the list goes on.  In 2000, Ms. Anderson was chosen to be an honorary member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc.

In January 2007, Ms. Anderson assumed her new role of Artistic Outreach Associate in Houston Ballet’s education department where she teaches ballet classes at Houston Ballet’s Ben Stevenson Academy, conducts master classes at area schools, and lectures to students on dance and her historic career as one of America’s most distinguished African-American ballerinas.

 

A Note from the Editor

Ever since DanseTrack was founded, many readers have asked why I have not used this as a forum to talk more about my own experience as a dancer, or whatever. Quite frankly–at least in my own eyes–that is probably the least interesting topic…..EVER!! In fact, it’s like pulling teeth just to get me to write my own bio!

The fun thing, however, is that DanseTrack has allowed me the opportunity to acknowledge the many artists out there who have inspired me over the years. Now,…as we enter our second year, I realize that my list of such artists is pretty long.  So stay tuned!

—– Yolonda Jordan D’Amico 

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2 Responses to Lauren Anderson: Raising the ‘Barre’ for Every Ballerina

  1. February 2, 2014 at 5:06 am

    I’m so happy one of my ballet friends posted this article on Facebook. Your site is fantastic!