Even though her performance career in ballet didn’t last very long, Marjorie Thompson still feels the influence of her early years dancing with the New York City Ballet, “when George Balanchine was artistic director,” she says.
“I was there at the right time,” reflects the Pacific Northwest Ballet’s conditioning program director and faculty member. “I got to work with Stravinsky, too…It was wonderful, a privilege.”
Marjorie grew up on Long Island, studied at the School of American Ballet and joined Balanchine’s corps when she was 15. Professionals that young are rare these days.
“It’s not good for the body,…for education,” Marjorie says.
She completed high school at the Professional Children’s School in Manhattan, counting Marvin Hamlisch and Liza Minnelli among her classmates.
After six years of performing, however, an injury compelled her to turn to teaching. To aid in her recovery, she started a form of exercise called the Lotte Berk method.
“I loved doing the exercises,” and she left dance instruction and started teaching exercise instead.
Eventually, she became the director of the studio, learning “how to run a business and work with clientele,” she says, which included “influential…eastside New Yorkers and movie stars.” After giving birth to her daughter, she says she found that method “didn’t feel as healthy to me anymore,” and she returned to the Pilates exercises she had done as a dancer, and began to teach that too.
Most dancers do Pilates, she explained, and did so long before its current popularity with the general public.
“It strengthens without creating bulk,” Marjorie says, and helps injuries heal. “Some of the dancers at PNB who I work with are super strong” because of Pilates. They may look fragile, she adds, but they’re not.
Marjorie returned to teaching dance, too, and in 1995 she was offered a teaching job at PNB. For extra income she would teach Pilates at a studio across the street.
“I would run back and forth between the two facilities!” she says.
So many PNB dancers attended her Pilates classes that she was invited to teach in-house. “It started out in ’96 as something we offered the dancers in the company,” she says. “Then it was offered to students, then opened up to board members.”
Now anyone can take the classes.
Except for a short stint in Pittsburgh, Marjorie has been at PNB since then, teaching ballet, conditioning and Pilates.
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As a National Merit Commended Scholar, Dena Phillips is one of 50,000.
It doesn’t sound like much, but since 1.5 million students take the PSAT college readiness test upon which the commendation is based, it puts her in the top 3 percent of college-bound students.
This math-loving senior at Northwest Yeshiva High School hopes to attend Stern College at Yeshiva University in the fall (Stern is the women’s college). She was hard-pressed, when asked, to think of a school subject she didn’t like, finally admitting that writing is not a favorite, although she loves to read.
She credits NYHS for her achievement.
“I think my school…provide[s] us with good study habits and study skills. They make learning enjoyable,” she says, adding, “I know that sounds corny.”
An athlete who plays volleyball and basketball for the school, Dena hopes the girls’ basketball team makes it to the state finals. The volleyball team did make it to the state championships this fall, but the Shabbat-scheduled game could not be changed and the team had to forfeit.
“There’s a huge interest” in girls’ sports at NYHS, Dena reports, even though only about half of the 100 students are girls.
Dena is finance chair of the school’s student council and has made the dean's list every year. She and her family attend Bikur Cholim Machzikay Hadath, where she helps out with the Shabbat youth programs.
“I babysit a lot,” she says. “I like working with kids.”
She expects to study something science-related in college.
When we spoke, Dena had just been accepted to a seminary program in Israel, which she will attend next academic year, before starting college. She’ll study at Midrasha Harova, “just a couple of minutes’ walk from the Kotel.”