It was by chance that Wilhelmina Frankfurt, then head of the upper division ballet and musical theater departments of a New York high school, met fellow dancer Cynthia Anne Stanley, the daughter of Virginia Stapleton, founder of the Stapleton School of the Performing Arts in San Anselmo. who also worked there more than ten years ago.
Shortly after the two hooked up, Frankfurt, a former New York City Ballet dancer under the legendary George Balanchine and Jerome Robbins, became involved with the Marin School, teaching Balanchine’s crash courses. – his specialty – during the summers. Now, years later, Frankfurt, which has been choreographing and directing dance and theater for more than 28 years, takes on a new role there as artistic director, the second in its more than 30-year history.
The San Rafael resident and the rest of the team are excited and motivated to continue creating a center for young people and adults to explore their creativity and pursue their passions.
Q How did you end up in ballet?
A When I walked into the local ballet school in Alexandria, Virginia for class when I was in kindergarten, my mom described it as I never looked back. And I started doing musical theater that year too. I think like a lot of kids who find an art form, when you find your thing, you find your world, you find your people and that’s what happened. And then ballet took over and I became totally obsessed with it. When I was 10, I was studying six days a week. Later, Balanchine saw me in a class. The stars have aligned. It was the right place at the right time, a bit of luck and skill, and a lot of hard work.
Q What prompted you to work with young people?
A After New York City Ballet, I ran a few small companies and had a lot of college residencies and artist residencies, but I was always drawn to the downtown public school population. When I was 17, I did what is now called community engagement for the New York City Ballet at the Metropolitan Opera through Lincoln Center, and loads of kids on buses would come in and I would talk to them. I ended up being pretty good at it. …Growing up, we didn’t have a lot of money, so that’s one of the reasons for my passion to help underserved kids because I get it, like there’s someone out there who could reach out and help you, you never know how it can help.
Q What did you learn from watching and working with Stapleton?
A She has this huge heart and her work ethic is outstanding, but one thing I really learned from her was during production. I have never seen such a degree of voluntary family commitment. She understood how to involve families and have a good time. And she really created a community.
Q You say you want to pass on “the great gifts that have been bestowed” upon you. Where does this come from?
A I studied with the best teachers in the world, who instilled in me not only their knowledge of dance, but the discipline of the art, and you carry that into your life no matter what you become. And you learn that no matter what level you have reached, there is always another level, there is always something to achieve. I also learned that there is nothing wrong with failing. I really failed in this ballet. I messed it up so much that I took a leave of absence from the company. I was ashamed of myself as a young dancer and when I came back Balanchine was not only welcoming, he understood that failure and the need to leave was part of my development. I learned to embrace the many different types of music and to deal with all the different personalities as well as the collaboration.
Q What do you want people to know?
A Our intention is to present the highest quality of performing arts education possible, with the idea that this is a place to come and be happy. All are welcome. I want them to come here and be brought up. That’s the beauty of Stapleton, it’s been a community since the beginning.