Brooklyn native Dawn Lille graduated from Barnard College with a B.A. in American studies before earning master’s degrees in literature from Columbia and in theater from Adelphi. She went on to earn a Ph.D. from New York University in performance studies. Her main ballet training was at Ballet Arts, and her main modern training was with May O’Donnell. She also studied composition with Nona Schurman and is trained in Laban’s theories of effort and shape and Labanotation. A member of the Juilliard faculty since 1997, Lille has also taught at the High School of Performing Arts, Barnard, Brooklyn, and City Colleges, and throughout Israel and England. She has contributed dozens of articles to magazines, journals, and encyclopedias and is the author of a book about Michel Fokine; her book on Alfred Corvino is due out next year.
Who was the teacher or mentor who most inspired you when you were growing up and what did you learn from that person?
My mother, who preached “Dream all the time.” Jeanette Roosevelt, my first modern teacher, who is still calmly pushing me forward. An English professor, John Kouwenhoven, who said “Take a risk; if it doesn’t work out, take another one.”
When did you first know you wanted to be a dancer and how did you come to know it?
I started ballet classes at 7½ and within a year knew exactly what I wanted to be. Interestingly, Vitale Fokine was my initial teacher, and little did I know I would someday write a book on his famous father.
What dance performance have you attended that changed the way you think about dance?
When Alicia Alonso brought the Cuban National Ballet to New York in the ’80s and I saw their production ofGiselle, I finally understood what Romanticism is about.
What’s the most embarrassing moment you’ve had as a performer?
In college, we created and performed a piece that was a satire on known dance genres. A last-minute add-on was a duet I performed with a dancer who did not have extensive training. The concluding 16 measures “floated away” from me, and I walked offstage with great authority, leaving her to cope alone.
If you could have your students visit any place in the world, where would it be, and why?
Bali. There is genuine beauty everywhere—in the people, the landscape, the arts, the philosophical beliefs. And the arts are considered an integral and necessary part of existence.
If your students could only remember one thing from your teaching, what would you want it to be?
That teaching is sharing, not pontificating. It is also fun and invigorating.
What is the best vacation you’ve ever taken, and what made it so?
It was with my family on a sailboat throughout the Greek isles and on the coast of Turkey that ended in Rhodes. We laughed, ate, wandered through little villages, windsurfed, water skied, and had long, heated discussions about which ruins to visit and which to avoid. (My children are as outspoken as their mother!)
What is your favorite thing about New York City?
I love it all, in all seasons—but especially the sense of life and excitement, the “buzz.” The Union Square Greenmarket the day before a holiday is quintessentially New York.
What are your non-dance related interests or hobbies? What would people be surprised to know about you?
I get great pleasure from all the arts and like to travel, to cook and to ski—with loved ones.
What book are you reading right now?
I am reading two books at the moment: The Yiddish Policemen’s Union, a highly imaginative work by Michael Chabon, whom I consider one of the best contemporary writers, and Erotomania: A Romance, a raunchy and funny novel by Francis Levy, my neighbor. Both are well written and result in laughter as well as thought, not a bad combination given our current world.
If you weren’t in the career you are in, what would you be doing?
I might be some sort of an architect—but for habitats and environments that take into consideration the occupying humans, not ostentatious design.