Gene Marinaccio was, by far, one of the best dance teachers I have ever encountered. His combined depth of understanding of the art form, his comprehension of the human body's potential, and his ability to communicate all this to his students is well beyond the scope of most dance makers. I feel lucky to have studied with him. Unfortunately, I cannot locate him as I am pretty sure he has stopped teaching. The following is an open letter to Gene, and one that I should have written a long time ago.
Dear Gene –
This is one of those letters that should have been written years ago, but for whatever stupid reason wasn't.
I would like to thank you for all the wonderful classes and all the wonderful choreography you created. But, most of all, I want to thank you for changing my life. You probably don't remember me, but I am Geri Cofone (now Jeter), the red-head Italian girl who took classes with you back in the late 60s, and occasionally after that, including at the studio located in the church on Wilshire.
Yes, I took class; yes, I wanted to be a dancer. However, what I didn't understand until many years later is that you didn't only teach dance. You taught those who were listening how to live.
One of the phrases I most remember is: "If you aren't going to dance for me now, when the hell are you?" I have paraphrased this many times over the course of my life. As a result, I have had so much fun and so many interesting moments. I have lived in England and various cities in the U. S., piloted a canal boat on the Avon, Regency danced with guys dressed as Klingons (my husband is a sci fi writer), catered the opening of the Bath Postal Museum, played with cool rocks as a graduate gemologist, sipped white wine at a café surrounded by snow banks in the Italian Alps, spent eight years as a dance writer in Nevada and California, edited technical theater magazines, and was chief editor of a magazine for the Las Vegas Italian-American community. Currently, my husband and I are living in Ecuador. Because, "When are you going to have an adventure? How about now?"
|"Cantique de la Vie" by Gene Marinaccio|
Photo by Jan Deen
Additionally, all the physical work in ballet class has paid off in a way I never expected. Eleven years ago, we were in a pretty nasty car accident. Car was rear-ended, husband was fine, but the guy swerved and nailed my side of the car. The damage to my spine was extensive. The doctors wanted to do major surgery. They gave me tons of potent drugs (which I never took). After all the medical nonsense, I told them they could bag their surgery. They told me that I couldn't keep taking the major drugs I needed for much longer. I told them I never took those things and only ever took Advil. Then, they asked how was that possible because I had to be in a tremendous amount of pain.
Okay. My back hurts a lot. But so what? I got a Pilates Reformer and began a workout program. I am not healed completely, and sometimes I need a cane, but I am not in a wheelchair, and Advil is still the strongest thing I take.
And it's all because of your classes and the lessons in how to overcome discomfort in the process of achieving a goal, whether it's a perfect placement or merely the ability to walk a few blocks. You also taught us to visualize our bodies and make corrections — pretty helpful when doing rehab.
I know this may sound sad, but it isn't. I am so grateful for the things I can do and for the reasons I can do them. You and your classes are a great part of that. You taught your students that they could break down barriers, real and imagined. This is a remarkable gift you gave us all.
That's pretty much it. I know teachers sometimes wonder whether anything gets through their students' thick skulls. Just thought you should know that even those who didn't continue dancing benefited tremendously from your efforts.
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