The dance community remembers a legend.
On July 18, 2009, Claire Bataille, associate director of the Lou Conte Dance Studio, updated her status on Facebook. “Larry Long is in critical but stable condition at Cook County Hospital. One broken leg, 3 broken ribs, some broken bones in his face. They are monitoring for internal bleeding…but feel optimistic he will pull through. Of course he will. He’s Mr. Long. I’ll update if I hear anything…please do the same so we can keep our community in the loop.”
Three days earlier, Long and his wife, Dolores Lipinski, were in their car at Ashland Avenue and Hubbard Street and were hit on the passenger’s side. Long never regained consciousness and, per his instructions, was removed from life support on August 22 at the age of 72.
It was a tense five weeks at the Ruth Page Center for the Arts: Long had taught dance there nearly every single day since 1973, the year he and Page cofounded the Chicago Ballet. Larry E. Long’s nameplate was still on the desk between myself and the center’s executive director, Venetia Stifler, when I sat with her to discuss the events of last summer. “The first word we had was that it was critical, but that he would recover, and we’d been there before with Larry. He had 13 lives, you know.” Long had been accompanied by an oxygen tank for years, and there’s a soft spot in the center’s largest third-floor studio where he would rap his cane on the floor in time to the music, audible to almost every corner of the former Moose Lodge at Dearborn and Oak Streets. As the days passed, though, “the word recover started to fade, and then every day, it’d be ‘What’s the news? Where are we?’ One day it would be up, and the next it would be down.”
Forty years of students and colleagues in Chicago weren’t all who waited anxiously for his condition to improve. Long directed and assisted the direction of companies in New York, London and Washington, D.C., and his advanced ballet classes were a destination for professionals both local and visiting, a place to brush up on technique and reconnect with the essentials of the form. Mikhail Baryshnikov named him one of the six best teachers in America in The New York Times, and he’s one of ten “20th-century masters” profiled in Gretchen Ward Warren’s 1996 book, The Art of Teaching Ballet. In it, longtime student Amy Rose, formerly a soloist with both American Ballet Theatre and Pacific Northwest Ballet remembers, “I never had to learn to perform because his classes were so wonderful that you…were already performing in your soul, not just plastering a smile on your face.”
Creating remarkable dancers was Larry Long’s life’s work. To pay his legacy forward, a Master Teachers Fund was initiated in October to raise money to bring guest teachers and workshops to the school’s students. To help get it off the ground, the MacArthur Foundation is matching all donations the fund receives this year, including the sale of tickets to “Remembering Larry,” a tribute concert Sunday 18 featuring performances by the center’s dance companies in residence and ShawChicago Theater Company, also headquartered there. It will take place in the theater that sits just below that studio floor’s soft spot. “I would warn people not to book a Thursday night show because Larry’s last class ran until 7:30,” Stifler says. “We could ask him not to use his cane, but he’d start getting into his class and just forget. It’s been months now,” she adds, “but there are times when I’m sitting here and expect to hear him up there banging away.”
The Civic Ballet of Chicago, CDI/Concert Dance, Inc., DanceWorks Chicago, River North Chicago Dance Company and ShawChicago Theater Company remember Larry at the Ruth Page Center for the Arts Sunday 18.