When Melinda Roy was asked to teach ballet, she balked. She was an accomplished dancer — a former principal with New York City Ballet — and a Tony-nominated choreographer who was currently working on Broadway. But a dance teacher?
“I told them I don’t teach ballet. Line-dancing, but not ballet. But I told them I was about to go away on a barge tour of France. And while I was there, I would think about it.”
Upon returning, she agreed to teach ballet for the Optimist Club in southwest Florida. That was 1999. A year later, she had formed her own school, Gulfshore Ballet in Fort Myers. And Roy, a resident of Sanibel Island, has enjoyed teaching every since.
”At first, I didn’t really have faith in myself,” she said. “But I felt that I should give something back because I had fantastic teachers like George Balanchine, Jerome Robbins. I felt it was my duty to teach.”
Certainly, the 49-year-old Roy has grown into an effective teacher. Evidence of that can be seen at Saratoga Summer Dance Intensive (SSDI), a program she and her husband, Roberto Munoz, have directed here for the past four summers. For five weeks, nearly 100 students immerse themselves in all aspects of ballet, from pointe to partnering, with some jazz and pilates thrown in for balance.
In three studios on Jumel Place, the three levels of students learn not just from Roy and Munoz but from former and current principals of New York City Ballet, including Patricia Wilde, Sean Lavery, Ashley Bouder and Daniel Ulbricht. While not star-struck, the young dancers are learning quickly and learning a lot.
“They are sponges,” said Roy, who has hand-picked the students out of a group of 500 hopefuls in nationwide auditions. “Which is great because this is really an intensive. They don’t have time to go to the local water park. They are dancing all day. After the session, we get calls from their teachers. They’ll say, ‘You don’t know me but I wanted to tell you that our student has improved so much after attending your intensive.’ That’s really gratifying.”
Q:You are living and working in Florida. Why come to Saratoga for the intensive?
A: It just seems like the perfect spot. I adore Saratoga. After I retired from City Ballet, I lived here. It’s a great environment. There is a wonderful community and I get a lot of my friends to teach. It is great to be taught by New York City Ballet dancers like Ashley Bouder. And because New York City Ballet is here, they go to performances. They also got to see Ashley in rehearsal for “Firebird” and “Other Dances.” They got to see how tiring it is to dance. You never see that onstage. So it’s nice to see the behind-the-scenes work with them. And the students, they just sat there with their mouths open, staring. So they get great training, great performances. Saratoga is a jewel of a place.
Q: What are your aims at the intensive for your students?
A: They come here from different schools and different teachers from all over the country. We try to help them clean up their technique. We want them to learn the correct way of doing things and leave feeling more confident. They are here to get strong and improve.
Q: What have you learned from your teachers that you want to pass on?
A: Everything. There is so much. With Balanchine, I learned to go for it. He would say, ‘don’t save it.’ When I watch rehearsal or coach, I’m adamant about giving full effort. The dancers saw this with Ashley in rehearsal. She could have been performing, she was putting that much effort into it. With Jerry [Robbins,] he was so complex. He taught more about how to relate to other people — that it is not just technique, that you have to go outside of yourself. That the whole matters more than the individual. I could talk about what I learned from them all day.
Q: Those must have been wonderful times. Why did you leave City Ballet?
A: I tore my ACL [anterior cruciate ligament] when I performed principal in “Stars and Stripes.” Everyone was clapping for me because I just did a triple pirouette. But when I came down, I couldn’t feel my leg. Witnesses, close to the stage, heard the snap. I dragged my leg off stage, saluting the whole time until I got into the wings. When I heard the music for the coda, I kept saying I can do it. But I couldn’t. There was a blank stage out there.
For two years, I couldn’t dance. I had to have my knee reconstructed. It took five surgeries. When I went back, it was really hard and scary. I was a jumper. But Peter [Martins] was great. Instead of the athletic side, he let me explore my artistic side. I retired in 1996.
Q: Then you were teaching line dancing?
A: I designed a boot bag that I wanted to sell. So I went into this country western club in New York, Denim and Diamonds, to see if it would sell in their boutique. I met some really nice people there. I saw they were line-dancing. I didn’t need to take the lesson. I watched for a little while to see what they were doing and did it. After that, I formed a little company, The Outlaws. We traveled around the country and we danced at parties and weddings. What was great about it was that it taught me the business side of dance. So when I moved to Florida and formed the company with Roberto, it helped.
Q: But before that you were nominated for a Tony for “Urban Cowboy.”
A: Broadway was a great experience. There were so many great performers, triple threats. When I went into the auditions, with my ballet background, I was looking for line. I took dancers with a strong ballet background. And every morning, before rehearsal, I gave them a ballet class. They loved it because as a Broadway dancer, they are responsible to keep themselves in shape. They don’t have a company class.
From there, I worked with Tommy Tune in “Paparazzi.” He was amazing. I worked with Patti Lupone in “Can-Can” and then Danny Glover in “Master Harold and the Boys.” It was phenomenal. The year I was up for a Tony, Clive Barnes wrote I must be the most unlucky lady on Broadway because I was up against Twyla [Tharp]. But I don’t care about winning. I was thrilled to be nominated.