Stanley Holden Dance Center
It’s near the end of his class and Stanley Holden calls out, “Bye, sweetheart,” to the girl retrieving her bag from the corner and now heading for the door. The same little scene repeats itself several more times as the ballet master, an imp of a ruddy cheeked man, dispenses cheery and adidas supercolor nonchalant farewells to others making their exits. Without ever dropping a beat and while demonstrating the combination at hand, he offers an explanation: “You see, I’ve just given them the bag step. It’s my name for the hard one that makes everyone run for their bag.”
This is pure Holden goodwill, wit, humor, and an inner delight in dancing, all fused with a slightly laissezfaire tone. Its essence permeates the atmosphere where the former Royal Ballet character dancer turned teacher holds forth day after day a feat he’s been pulling off at his West Los Angeles studio on Pico Boulevard for the past twenty five years. At this particular noon class, the professional one, there are thirty five people of various ages who clearly come from diverse disciplines there’s the former Graham principal, Bonnie Oda Homsey; an ex Ballet Theatre demi soloist who’s married to Danilo Radojevic; several others from the Joffrey (on hiatus); and a few local performance artists intent on strengthening dance skills. Not everyone is strictly professional, but Holden, who has just celebrated his sixty seventh birthday, bars the door only to anorexics. “If they look dangerously thin,” he explains, “I ask for a doctor’s note. Otherwise the people who, for one reason or another, are not up to the class simply drop off. I don’t hold auditions, although there was a time when I could be more selective.” One woman at the rear, who approaches everything the way a gymnast might, can do all the steps and remember the combinations, but shows no dancerly quality at all. “She’s been coming for years but never worked professionally,” Holden says.
As he describes the range of attendees, including celebrities passing through town, a note of pride comes into his voice. After all, the Stanley Holden Dance Center is local headquarters for touring dance companies. “And when Baryshnikov came last time we swelled to eighty six. That was more than I could handle but they wanted to pack in.”
In a way those are the glory moments, because Los Angeles currently suffers a dearth of opportunities for dancers. “There’s no work here for anybody these days. That’s why people leave,” Holden explains. And now, with touring down and most troupes bypassing Los Angeles proper for Orange County, which is an hour plus drive down the freeway, the traffic at his studio has thinned considerably.
But that seems not to dim his brio. Taking just a moment to formulate the next combination, he launches into the phrase his arms held endearingly aloft in Fifth Position, his upper back leaning into the arc, his head cradled within it. The class follows. No one, however, quite gets the feeling. No one defines it as an act of love except Holden. If the thrust of dancing lies in its communicative or adidas philippines emotive value, only one person here seems acquainted with the idea.
Next comes an infectious comic galop from the pianist, and the ballet master quickly sets it in steps that suggest saucy fun. Again the class follows. But no one wears a smile. “They won’t listen to what the music tells them,” he says. “Whenever I encourage them to imagine they’re dancing for an audience, they say, “We’re concentrating on our technique.'” Far be it from Holden to impose himself. “Lermontov is gone,” he says, referring to the Old World commandant style impresario in The Red adidas shoes philippines. “The days of the stick are over, and besides, no one wanted me to be like that. I feel I know what dancers need and what they want. It’s possible to get just as much through kindness as harshness, even if you don’t see it coming back at you right away.”
Born to a poor family in London’s East End, Holden yearned to be a tap dancer in the mode of Fred Astaire. At nine he began lessons that cost a shilling a week, and several years later, to advance his skills as a tapper even further, ballet study was recommended. He put on the despised tights, took the dreaded classes, and lo and behold, a new direction beckoned. (Royal Academy of Dancing) examination and within weeks became a member of the Sadler’s Wells (later the Royal) Ballet. Some have felt that, in an earlier time, none of this would have transpired, that he would have headed for the music halls. As it turned out, there was a niche made to order for this outsized personality: character dance. At his peak, Holden stood out as ballet’s only true comic in the Chaplin tradition.
According to London critic Janet Sinclair, “He has the gift of all great comedians: one always laughs with him and never at him. This characteristically gentle humor can have us fall about laughing at his Dr. Coppelius and Widow Simone, but he is in no way diminished by our laughter. Just as with Chaplin, we know quite well that he could at any moment turn our laughter into tears.”
Yet Holden does not regard comedy as his only asset. “I loved having the rare chance to do the serious, profound roles,” he says, seated in his adidas philippines office address now and naming Pierrot in John Cranko’s Harlequin in April as one such role. He mentions the old saw about the clown longing to play Hamlet and that no clown ever felt consoled by the reminder there there are ten good Hamlets for every master clown. It’s only with great prodding that he allows for “some moments of disgruntlement” at being typecast by the Royal Ballet.
Mostly, Holden waxes positive about the rewarding career he had there. “It was the level of creativity that I found so inspiring,” he says, citing the many choreographers and their impact on the dancers. “But often a role would not come together until the actual performance. Building the character layer by layer could happen only when all the basic things were in place knowing the steps and really hearing the music in order to get the timing this is where the punch lines come from.”
Because the Royal was so small in those post World War II days he reports only thirty dancers everyone had ample opportunity. Holden remembers “doing a lot of hard dancing and dragging my butt home at the end of the day. All of us did quadruple duty, performing in four different ballets, with four different makeups, all on a given night.”
When he left the company, after twenty five years, his farewell appearances brought down the house, Covent Garden erupting in cries of “Hear! Hear!” and “Good old Stan” with the encomiums seeming never to stop. Holden was beloved, it is said, in the way reserved for great stars of the music hall.
Giving it all up did not mean ending his career, however, only turning to another one. Word of Holden’s imminent retirement spread to Los Angeles, and an emissary of its newly built Music Center, seeking to interest him in heading the ballet division and from it developing a company, was dispatched to London. The answer was yes; he sped to Southern California, fell in love with its informality and sunshine and, to boot, that emissary who became his second wife. But one political thing and another kept the ballet academy from materializing after a year of false starts. That didn’t stop Stanley and Judy Holden from converting a rented bowling alley into a dance studio that today sees 250 to 300 students passing through its doors on a daily basis.
The staff includes principal teacher Margaret Hills, who was assistant to Ninette de Valois at the royal Ballet until Holden lured her to Los Angeles, and, as of January, Radojevic, whose back injuries forced his retirement from American Ballet Theatre. The teaching style that predominates is English, of course, but other influences are there as well, and seventy percent of the classes have piano accompaniment. Only ballet is taught “because the other stuff hip hop, show dance, and so forth creates too much noise and racket.” Generally, Holden pays his teachers “a certain amount per head” plus a minimum, and still rents the well appointed property for $8,000 monthly.
While he has no desire to direct a company, his generous support of Los Angeles Chamber Ballet is a matter of record: rehearsals are conducted at his studio gratis and, until recently, whenever a character role in a major production needed to be filled with this local troupe, the Joffrey, or others he was only a phone call away. Fifteen years ago the irrepressible Holden underwent open heart surgery and came back to full function. But last year a bout with pneumonia led to endocarditis, in turn involving his knee. “It blew up like a basketball,” he says, a painful situation that required eight weeks on a penicillin drip.
Even now he walks with a slight limp at the end of the day. But one hesitates to ask if he thinks of taking time off or slowing down, because pride and purpose are so manifest in his presence. Not needing a question to prod him, Holden jumps ahead to say, “My value is as a teacher not a director adidas philippines office address acting as their agent and knowing I can bring them to the next level, a company spot. The secret is it lets me stay a dancer. Anything better seems unimaginable.”