The ballet students craned their necks to study Marcia Dale Weary as she repeated pas de bourrėe footwork at the front of the room.
“Back, step, front,” she said. “Back, step, front.”
Weary’s feet, donned in red shoes, moved in unison with her verbal instruction. Her posture elongated: back straight, chest high, arms outstretched.
The teenage students – mostly girls, and two boys – mimicked Weary’s moves.
Only the soft sounds of their feet sliding across the floor could be heard throughout the practice studio.
A few minutes later Weary strolled among the students, studying their movements. She emphasized precision.
“I should not see the back of your heel.”
“Stretch your arms. Lean in.”
“Balance, you have to try and balance.”
Later, she walked across the studio to turn on a CD player. She delivered sobering advice before hitting the “play” button.
“Ten thousand times you have to practice to become an expert,” she said. “We have a long way to go.”
60 years of dance in Carlisle
That same scenario has been repeated uncounted times since Weary opened the Marcia Dale School of Dance in 1955 in Carlisle, now Central Pennsylvania Youth Ballet. From small, humble beginnings, the organization has expanded and grown into a ballet school internationally known for helping young dancers excel.
“When artistic directors hear that a dancer has been trained by Ms. Weary, they prick up their ears and sometimes even make the pilgrimage here to recruit the prospect themselves,” noted a 2001 story in The New York Times.
This is the 60th year that Weary has helped grow dance leaders. Some are principals, choreographers, instructors. Others have chosen a field entirely different from dance.
“I am lucky enough to say that because of Marcia Dale Weary and the Central Pennsylvania Youth Ballet, my dreams became my reality,” Madison Keesler, a first artist with the English National Ballet, wrote for the CPYB website. “They gave me the discipline, training, and performing opportunities that I needed in order to obtain the beautiful life I have today.”
“Making the move to train at CPYB was the best decision of my life,” wrote Lia Ciro, a principal dancer in the Boston Ballet. “That one decision changed everything for me and enabled me to be where I am today. I am living my dream.”
‘You have to work beyond your limits’
The classes and the school’s instruction are not for the casual dancer. Students travel internationally to learn at the school.
The five-week summer program partners with nearby Dickinson College for room and board.
An alumni section on the school’s website lists hundreds who dance professionally, or lead instruction and choreography. They work for the American Ballet Theatre, New York City Ballet, Boston Ballet, San Francisco Ballet and many, many others.
Even those who didn’t pursue dance professionally, remind Weary why they admire her leadership.
“They write us letters and say thank you for teaching me to work beyond my limits,” Weary said, speaking specifically of a former student who is now a doctor.
“In order to reach a goal that you would love to reach, you have to work beyond your limits.”
‘I relate to those core principles’
Weary still teaches approximately 33 hours per week, which equates to about 27 classes, said Bonnie Schulte, director of strategic marketing and communications. About 8 to 10 students attend the beginner classes, and up to 16 to 20 students at the more advanced levels.
“Marcia values hard work, inclusiveness, a good work ethic, and earning the awards that you receive in life,” said Nicholas Ade, the school’s CEO. “These core values translate into what she does in the studios, which in turn translates to the students and, subsequently, to these young people becoming better community members.”
Ballet board member and Harrisburg attorney Amanda Lavis was introduced to the school about four years ago.
She believes in the board’s purpose because of the school’s principles: the hard work, the repetition, working beyond where you are and applying it to your profession.
“That’s why I jumped on board,” she said. “Look, I don’t know anything about ballet, but I relate to those core principles.”
Commitment, focus and the love of dance
In short, Weary helps create leaders, many women leaders.
Her advice can resonate in all professions. Take practice, for example. Repeating and practicing the same moves make up the foundation to her teachings.
But the passion for the work has to come from within, she said. Weary closes her eyes explaining each precise dance exercise. The rhythmical cadence of her voice reminds you of a poem or a song.
“Each exercise has so many things to it. Are my inner thigh muscles forward? Are the muscles on the outside of my knees back, are my little toes on the floor, are my shoulders down, is my chest up, is my back straight, is my …” she said, her voice trailing off.
Weary’s advice is simple: Commitment, practice, repetition and, most importantly, the love of dance.
“A love, a deep love for it,” she said. “If you don’t love it, you can still do it, but you are never a great dancer. If you see some of the dancers we have, it’s coming from a deep love within them. That you feel it. They make the audience feel what they are doing. They make the audience see the music.”