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Alice Teirstein, 93, Who Inspired Young People to Dance, Passes Away

Alice Teirstein, a well-known figure in the New York dance community for more than half a century as a dancer, choreographer, and teacher, passed away on November 25 at her home in Manhattan. Teirstein was the founder of Young Dancemakers Company, a free summer programme that provides aspiring teenage dancers and choreographers with the opportunity to develop their skills and test them in performances. Teirstein was also the person who was responsible for establishing the Young Dancemakers Company. Her age was 93.

The news of her death was verified by Eva Teirstein Young, her daughter.

Ms. Teirstein, whose name is pronounced “TEER-steen,” first came to the public’s notice in the late 1940s as a dancer and choreographer while she was still a student in college. After being married to Dr. Alvin Teirstein in 1951, she reduced the amount of time she spent dancing so she could focus on raising her four children. However, when she was residing in the New York suburb of New Rochelle in the early 1970s, she once again became more public. She began performing and creating her own dances in Westchester County, and ultimately she brought them into the city.

She also worked as a choreographer for theatrical plays and musicals, such as the late 1980s productions of “Electra” and “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” by the Pearl Theater Company, both of which she directed. Even in her seventies, she continued to perform, sometimes even with a group called Dancers Over 40.

Jennifer Dunning said in The New York Times that “I Thought You Were Dead” was “a humorous, sensitive, and observant duet for two old lovers who are ready for anything at this stage in their life” after she and Stuart Hodes danced it as part of a 1996 revue put on by that group.

However, Ms. Teirstein was renowned mostly for her work as a teacher. She began her teaching career in 1976 at the Ethical Culture Fieldston School, a private institution located in the Bronx. She remained there for the next 34 years, during which time she developed a well respected dance department there. As a result of her time spent there, she began to reflect about ways in which New York City’s youth who did not have access to a school like Fieldston may benefit from receiving a dance education.

In an interview with The Riverdale Press in 2015, she said, “I decided in 1996 that I would want to develop a business for kids who would not otherwise have this chance.” The end consequence of their efforts was the formation of Young Dancemakers Company, which offers its classes at no cost to its students, draws applicants from each of the five boroughs, and performs in each of the boroughs on an annual basis.

Students are encouraged to develop dances that represent their experiences and concerns via collaboration with professional composers. These dances are created in class. As a consequence, works have been produced that address topics such as cyberbullying, self-discovery, the experience of immigrants, current events, and more.

In 1999, when Jessica Danser was just 15 years old, she took part in Dancemakers and met Ms. Teirstein for the first time. Today, Jessica Danser is on the faculty of the Ailey School as well as Talent Unlimited High School in Manhattan, and she established her own dance company in 2005.

Jessica Gaynor, who is now the creative director of Young Dancemakers, started studying from Ms. Teirstein while she was a student at Fieldston at the age of 13. She continued to learn from Ms. Teirstein while working as her assistant and, subsequently, while serving as the co-director of the company.

Ms. Gaynor said in an email that “one of Alice’s greatest talents as an educator was the significance she put on uniqueness.” “Alice encouraged her pupils to tell their own stories and react to what was happening in the present by having them participate in improvised activities. During my time working with Young Dancemakers Company throughout the summer, I often came across the slogan “You are a unique.”

Her work from the early 1970s included something called “Biblical Suite,” which was modelled by the five scrolls of the Old Testament. During the middle of the 1970s, she often performed a piece that she named “Nexus,” which not only used six professional dancers but also invited members of the public to join them on stage. In the 1980s, she produced works in parks in the city of New York, and some of those works integrated unknowing parkgoers into the performance.

In 1976, she expressed her viewpoint to The Daily Argus in White Plains, New York, saying, “My idea is that dance is a vehicle of expression for everybody who can move.” “Every person is unique and has something to say; sometimes those things may be communicated via dance.”

Ms. Teirstein’s spouse died in 2011. She is survived by her daughter, as well as her son Andy, as well as by two further sons, Mark and Paul, a sister named Judith Peck, six grandsons, and four great-grandchildren.

Jonathan James
Jonathan James
I serve as a Senior Executive Journalist of The National Era
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