I met Finis Jhung at his studio on the upper west side of NYC. I was between contracts with Kansas City Ballet and The Washington Ballet. I had a few months break and was looking to study. I knew Finis was considered a great teacher and after my first class with him I was hooked for life. I never knew anyone like Finis Jhung. A pure teacher, one who gave information without drama, he loved to teach. I continued to take his classes in NYC whenever I was on break. Years later I found myself teaching and I thought back to Finis.
He began to create videos now DVDS and also Teacher Training Programs and wonderful books. I purchased everything, I watched his DVDs over and over so I could absorb the information.
My studio, although small by choice because I wanted to run it myself, has produced many professional dancers. I attribute this success to my training with Finis Jhung.
I attend the Summer Teacher Workshop every year. The notes he gives on the class exercises are thorough, it is anatomically perfect. He teaches us how to teach people to dance to move, not positions and not forcing the body. We work and learn to engage the muscles properly, on balance standing or in the air. Its all the same.
There is always something new to learn. It is also really exciting and fun to connect with other teachers around the world and hear their stories. Finis brings us together. He is my mentor and friend. He is an amazing example for everyone not only in ballet but in life.
People have been asking me to write my biography for years.
But, I don’t like looking backward – I’m always trying to think of new ways to teach ballet, so my mind is always focused on the present and future moments.
This past winter, my son Jason started producing my new FJ Single Streaming Exercise videos and he sat me down for an interview for what was supposed to be a short video for the About section on my website.
He asked me a question about when I first found my love for ballet, and I ended up talking for 40 minutes and more or less told the story of my life since I first began dancing at age 9 in WWII Honolulu.
After finally watching the whole interview, I began looking through my photo collection, and realized I have a lot of very interesting pictures from my past 71 years of loving ballet.
So, I thought, why not a pictorial memoir? Not a biography with zillions of words, but more like a scrapbook of interesting photos and little stories about them.
I spent most of January and February collecting all the photos I could find: from growing up in Honolulu, studying with “Mr. C” (William F. Christensen) at the U. of U., dancing on broadway in Flower Drum Song, joining the San Francisco Ballet, going to Hollywood to dance in the film version of Flower Drum, joining the Joffrey Ballet, the Harkness Ballet, leaving the ballet world for 3 years to devote myself to world peace through Buddhism, opening the Finis Jhung Ballet Studio, getting married, losing our first child to meningitis, but then having another son, Jason, who is today my office manager and emerging video producer, founding and directing my own Chamber Ballet USA, going through a divorce and single-parenting Jason, teaching in all the major studios in NY, and at workshops in the USA and Europe, and producing more than 50 instructional ballet videos and 18 music CDs for the ballet class, and today teaching my adult babies at The Ailey Extension.
What has been extremely time-consuming, frustrating and rewarding was locating the photographers who took the photos so that I could have their permission to publish. Michael Avedon photographed the Harkness Ballet, and after weeks of searching I was told that, sadly, he had passed away. I was greatly saddened to learn this as we had been good friends. And even more saddened to know that I would not be able to use his photos.
And then, through Christine Redpath, I was referred to Mimi Paul (yes, that gorgeous NYCB ballerina of the 60’s) who told me Michael is very much alive! And now I have secured his permission, and you will be able to enjoy his photographic artistry.
I did not keep diaries, and, in fact, I threw out some incredible media when I left the ballet world, so it is challenging to try to remember specific events.
But at the same time, I am being energized as I realize through the photos all the wonderful events that have happened so far have fulfilled all my childhood dreams I had growing up in a poor family in Honolulu.
I am blessed, and hope to share that with you in BALLET FOR LIFE: A Pictorial Memoir by Finis Jhung.
Speaking of which, if any of my customers or friends are in publishing I am actively seeking a publisher. Please contact me via email: firstname.lastname@example.org or via phone: 1-800-357-3525
Finally, do any of you have a favorite memoir? If so, what do you love about it?
It’s that time of the year again – out with the old, in with the new. Now, I’m not suggesting everyone will want to do what I did, when I discovered that burning your bridges to the past can open doors you never knew existed.
In 1968, I was a principal dancer with The Harkness Ballet in Monte Carlo. My childhood dreams had been fulfilled—I only wore white tights and danced classical roles. I was also I a devout Buddhist (having converted 20 Company members), and, one day, had a realization: “I can’t be lying here at the swimming pool in Monte Carlo doing nothing”—while the world is in tumult following the assassinations of JFK, Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy; Vietnam; hippies; LSD; women’s lib; racism; and college protests.
In January 1969, The Harkness Ballet performed in New York. Shortly after the season, I told Larry Rhodes, who was the director, that I had decided to stop dancing so that I could devote my life to achieving world peace through Buddhism. I had no idea what I was going to do for a living.
After sitting in a hot tub and crying my heart out over what I then thought was the greatest mistake I had ever made, I pulled myself together and found a 9 to 5 job working in an office as secretary to a private investor. My evenings and weekends were now free to roam the streets looking for people to invite to our Buddhist conversion meetings.
For three years, every waking moment was happily devoted to Buddhist activities. And then, the owner closed his office and I was out of a job. I asked my Buddhist leader what I should do, and he said “Why don’t you teach ballet?”
I contacted Wilson Morelli who said he would love to have me teach at his studio in downtown Manhattan. I went to look at his class and was shocked. I could not remember what the steps were called! I was seeing ballet through the eyes of a stranger. I was in a mild panic. How could I hope to teach professionals when I couldn’t make sense of what they were doing?
I was in trouble—after I quit ballet, I zealously burned all the ballet memorabilia: books on technique, beautiful photo books, and films I had taken of Erik Bruhn onstage—the man who was one of the greatest dancers of the 20th century and had mentored me. I purposely destroyed all the reminders of my ballet past so that I could prove I was completely happy being a “nobody” without any special identity.
And now, in order to make a living, I was about to re-enter the ballet world. In desperation, I ran to the book store and bought all the ballet books available. My first class was attended by four students. Clearly, I had made a dreadful mistake—how would I survive making such little money? And teaching every exercise in 3/4 since I was too insecure to try anything else.
As we now know, I did survive—and thrive—and am now in my 44th year of teaching.
Because I had burned my ballet bridges, I was free to create my own ballet technique, based on teaching the way I wish I had always been taught – with sensible exercises that warmed you up slowly and thoroughly, built strength and artistry, and even more, with explanations on HOW and WHY we ballet dancers do what we do.
Through the years, I’ve graduated to teaching adult beginners in classes at The Ailey Extension in New York, written a Technique book, and sold over 54,000 instructional videos. Another book and more videos are on the way. 2017, here we come!
I call my adult ballet students at The Ailey Extension my “adult babies” —not because they act like babies and throw tantrums like divas—but, on the contrary, because they come to class with the openness and purity of mind only a child can have. With a sense of wonder and a strong compulsion to learn, they show a limitless potential to improve class after class.
Among my adult babies are doctors, lawyers, bankers, business people and homemakers. Some have never ever been in a ballet studio, others are returning after a hiatus of several decades. They differ in anatomy, background, and aptitude.
However, they all have a common bond in that they are serious about learning ballet, which brings out the parent in me. I don’t insist they all force themselves into classical positions their bodies can’t handle, nor do I insist they do movements that are beyond their means.
Instead, in slowly-paced exercises that are digestible and doable, I show my babies which muscles to use and when and how to use them. I am always on the look-out to make sure they are using their bodies correctly so that they get stronger as they get older. This is probably the key to why adult beginners seek out my classes and instructional videos: I teach the movement process. I want them to be educated ballet students who know how to work their bodies to their advantage.
For both old and new students, my ballet class provides a lifetime of firsts—standing with good posture like a dancer, feeling the strength of working from the core, shifting weight from one foot to the other in various positions—and, also, from out of the blue, having a completely new thought that solves personal and career problems.
Not all my students live in New York—many are spread across the USA, in Australia, South Africa, Dubai, and with our armed forces in Europe and the Pacific. They are my long-distance babies who are learning with my instructional DVDs, streaming videos, and working one-on-one via Skype.
My adult babies know they are on to something new—who would have thought studying ballet could make you feel younger in body and mind?