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Mentors
June 23, 2020
Who is your mentor?

"When I think of mentors who helped me to attain my dream...several names come to mind."

By Cynthia Harvey

Cynthia Harvey and Natalia Makarova in <i>La Bayadère</i>. Photo: Kenn Duncan.
Cynthia Harvey and Natalia Makarova in La Bayadère. Photo: Kenn Duncan.

They say it takes a village; a village and at least 10 years to become a dancer. With that in mind, when I think of mentors who helped me to attain my dream of becoming a dancer with American Ballet Theatre, and who simply helped me to navigate life, several names come to mind. No singular person is more important than another.

My first ballet teacher, Christine Walton, was the first person who influenced me. Mrs. Walton opened my eyes to beauty of line. She taught me about effortless grace and imbued in me the joy of dance. She continues to be one of the most open-minded people I know. I look to her now, like I did when I was a child, to respond to my inquisitive nature on the “HOW” of the dance.

The next influential person and mentor to me would have to be the legendary teacher David Howard. He came into my life at a time when I needed to learn how to really move. He dissected movement and helped me to understand that the linking steps were very important, and further, his own generosity of spirit was a lesson in love. Then, around the same time, Natalia Makarova became a mentor. She taught me the importance of dynamism. She taught me that simply making things look easy was boring and that quality and expressiveness were always something to aspire to. She gave me more than she knows.

Finally, I’d be remiss if I did not include Mikhail Baryshnikov as one of my big mentors. He taught me that purity of form was beauty in itself and verified that the work was the most important thing – always the work. He also made me understand that challenges could be attractive. I owe him, and the other people named here, a tremendous amount.

Cynthia Harvey retired from the stage in 1996 after a celebrated career as Principal Dancer with American Ballet Theatre and
The Royal Ballet. She was named Artistic Director of the ABT Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis School in 2016.