Dancing on the Day JFK Was Assassinated

I wrote this ten years ago, on the 50th anniversary of the assassination of John Fitzgerald Kennedy. Now, for the 60th year, I am updating it.

Like a lot of people today, I am thinking about the anniversary of the Kennedy assassination. For me, that fateful day ended up affirming my commitment to dance.

Me at 17, during the time I was in the Advanced Teenage Class at the Graham School, Photo by Jerry Bauer

While in high school, I was taking the Advanced Teenage Class every Friday at the Martha Graham Center for Contemporary Dance. I lived in Ridgewood, New Jersey, so, right after school I would hop on the bus to Port Authority, get on the subway, and arrive at the Graham studio on East 63rd Street in time for the 4:30 class.

That Friday, earlier in the day, our whole high school heard, over the P.A. system, that Kennedy had been shot. And a few minutes later, another announcement: He was dead. I don’t remember the immediate reaction in the classroom, but when I went into the girls’ room, everyone in there was crying. We really let it out. Ridgewood was a heavily Republican town, but plenty of us admired Kennedy.

Whatever was happening in the world, it was a Friday and that was my day to take class at the Graham school. (My after-school schedule included Mondays and Tuesdays at the Joffrey school, and Wednesdays and Thursdays at Irine Fokine School of Ballet right there in Ridgewood.) I wondered if our class would actually happen, considering the national pandemonium. But I didn’t know what else to do with myself, so I took the bus as usual. When I got to the studio, there were only about six of us there. Would David Wood, our teacher, show up? When David entered the studio, we stood up—as was the custom at the school—then sat down on the floor to begin. In his strong, deep, kind voice, David said, “I know this is difficult, that a great tragedy has occurred. But we are dancers, and what we do is dance.” And with that, we began the bounces on the count of One.

David Wood and Martha Graham in Acrobats of God (1960) photo Martha Swope, Billy Rose Theatre Division, The New York Public Library.






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