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Hadley Honors RDA Festival

A tribute to former Pacific Northwest Ballet principal and master teacher Deborah Hadley

by Dean Speer

May 13-14, 2005 -- Pacific Regional Dance American Festival, Richland, Washington

Deborah Hadley has been significantly influential in my teaching life.  I first got to know her work when I saw her perform the pas de deux from Act III "Sleeping Beauty" during a demonstration on the small stage at the original Cornish College campus in Seattle.  She was partnered by Jerry Schwender, then also with Pacific Northwest Ballet, and a very elegant dancer.  The WOW factor was very high, let me tell you! 

She and Mr. Schwender later appeared on the dance series I produced, demonstrating partnering in ballet, performing the 2nd theme from "The Four Temperaments" and the "Black Swan pas de deux".  Ms. Hadley became a frequent guest teacher at the studio I directed in Chehalis and also taught many master classes throughout the greater Northwest, including many guest performance appearances.

I have always been struck by her thoughtful approach to technique and her willingness to pass along this in-depth knowledge in a meaningful way to students.  Her artistry and approach not only elevated the level of dancing at PNB but influenced many, and she continues to inspire future generations of aspirant dancers.  Students who have been lucky enough to have had classes with her will remember her energy and her expectation of a high level of intelligent work

In 1981, when she first told me what her hourly fee was, I was impressed too!  And she was right to insist that dancers be paid what they are worth, which has the net effect of raising awareness and value, which tends to bring the profession more in-line to a scale with a livable wage.  Too often artists “apologize” for the fees they ask and greatly undervalue their time.  Brava!

So this is both a tribute and an interview in honor of a respected dancer and teacher.  One who has impacted the artistic lives of so many.  Thanks!


Interview – 13 May

I was fortunate to catch up with the very busy and in-demand Deborah Hadley while she was on a short lunch break from teaching classes during Pacific RDA’s annual Festival, held this year in the Tri-Cities area of Washington state.  I also got to observe her teach a pointe class and the “honors” class.  We chatted about a topic dear to her heart –  teaching.  An edited version of that conversation follows below.

We met in the picnic gazebo in a park next to the mighty Columbia River – at the new Richland Community Center complex, where many of the classes were held.

How did you get started in ballet?

I’ve been asked this often yet I can’t remember my earliest dance lessons [laughs] but my real training began at seven at the San Diego Ballet.

You have clearly invested a lot of yourself – emotionally and intellectually –  in teaching.  You’ve developed a clear, analytic approach.  What was the catalyst for this?

While I was fortunate myself to have had good training early in my career, I was frustrated watching dancers work so hard to do what was asked of them without knowing “how!”

As you know, I’ve observed you teach over many years – and my own students have benefitted from your classes.  What’s been the biggest change in your approach to teaching or has there been a change?

I decided not to teach until I figured out how to explain technique in a mathematical way that anybody could understand and do.  I have found that this analytical approach works for ALL bodies and takes the “mystery” out of technique, as there is no guess work needed anywhere.  It’s great!  I think my main change as a teacher is that I’m not afraid of doing fewer things in a single class.  I prefer to focus on mechanics – the “hows” of technique.  I don’t feel at all bad about only giving what I think we should be focusing on at the time, which depends of course on the makeup of a particular class.  The students seem to love it and have more material to take away with them to use later.

What do you consider some of the highlights of your performing career?

Certainly having Kent (Stowell) create "Romeo and Juliet" on myself and Ben Houk.  I liked dramatic parts where I felt I could really get under the skin of a role.  I also enjoyed Teley’s "Voluntaries."  Working with Kent and Francia was a special time in my career.

And now?

[Laughs.] I tried retiring but it doesn’t seem to be working!  I teach now privately only, so I can be available and not on any fixed schedule which allows for travel and doing this kind of conference.  I also adjudicate for RDA and will be doing so for the national Festival in 2007.

Reading?  Hobbies?

I’ve no time for books! [More laughter.] I have a stack 12-high waiting to be read.  I will get to them ... I also love to fish and garden.

How’s your family and what are they doing?

Very well.  Thanks.  My husband is a consultant for air traffic control.  The boys are all adults now and busily engaged, including one who is a counselor for the Boys and Girls Clubs and one who works in human resources for Amazon.  I have a stepson who is an F-18 pilot in Iraq and another who is completing his last year in the Merchant Marine Academy.


14 May Honors Class:  Notable Quotes

Ms. Hadley worked closely, energetically, and enthusiastically with the students in this Honors Class, taking the time to use students as “demonstrators” so they could understand what she was working to get them to try.  Here are some of my notes on just a few of the many points she was making.  As it can be hard to understand some of the more technical comments out of the context of the class, at her request I’ve included only ones that are more general or simply inspirational.

"Be long & lifted...never short and “compacted” with tension and gripping.  You can make positions but can’t move."

"Hands are simple; move them as if through water."

"No tension in arms and necks...ever!  Hum while you dance if this is a problem – it is almost impossible to tense your neck and hum.  You will breathe and move more rhythmically as well."

"Legs really reach away from each other."

"Sous-sus is aligned with face – heels in front aligned to eyes and toes in front of nose."

"Deep, controlled pliés coming down are just as important as those going up – never short-change them! Work through the legs and feet."

"There is always more to every aspect of improving technique – especially pliés and tendus!"


Edited by Staff.

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