Ethel Winter, a Juilliard dance faculty member for half a century and a renowned dancer with the Martha Graham Dance Company, died on March 10 in Manhattan. She was 87.
Born on June 18, 1924, in Wrentham, Mass., Winter studied dance avidly from a young age, driving into Boston for dance classes in ballet, tap, Spanish, classical Indian, and acrobatics. When her parents insisted upon college, she chose Bennington, where she was taught by Martha Hill, the founding director of the Juilliard Dance Division, and William Bales. During her senior year at Bennington, she began her long career in Martha Graham’s company, where she was known for originating solo roles in Clytemnestra and Phaedra. In a 1962 New York Times review of the latter, John Martin wrote, “Ethel Winter makes Aphrodite permeatingly vulgar and vicious (though half an hour earlier, she was the most beautiful and heartbreaking Joan of Arc in Seraphic Dialogue).” Winter was also known for being the first dancer to take over Graham’s roles, and she was on the faculty of the Martha Graham School for Contemporary Dance from 1946 to 2006, serving as its director from 1973 to 1974.
Winter, who earned a master’s degree from Bennington, also taught there and at more than a dozen other schools around the country over the years, including Juilliard, where she was on the faculty from 1953 to 2003. She also danced with Sophie Maslow and Juilliard faculty member Anna Sokolow, and appeared in Broadway and summer stock productions as well as on television. She was a founder of both the London School of Contemporary Dance in Britain and the Batsheva School in Israel, and she directed and choreographed for her own company in the mid-1960s.
Her husband, Charles Hyman, died in 2009; she is survived by their son, David Hyman.
Elizabeth McPherson (B.F.A. ’90, dance), who studied with Winter at Juilliard, recalls her teacher.
Ethel Winter’s intensity, integrity, and joy defined her dance style and her approach to life. These qualities also colored her extensive teaching career. She taught in a manner that demanded excellence, but she was also wonderfully positive, approachable, and treated each student as an individual.
Now that I am a professor and educator, Ethel is my role model for being a caring and deeply committed teacher. In my student days, she once found me crying in the hallway. She proceeded to talk me through and out of my problem until I felt that everything was O.K. again. She remembered and understood the pressures of being a student, and could help guide you through the ups and downs. But this was also accompanied by setting high goals for us. There was no slacking off in her classes. I always felt that she was trying to help me become the best dancer and best person I could be in part by leading me to better understanding of myself. Later on in my career when I began writing, she again encouraged me—this support included strong critique, but also the idea that this was something I could do, and do well, if I put my mind to it.