Dance Legend Mary Anthony: Still Kicking at 93

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Twenty-five years ago, Jennifer Dunning wrote in The New York Times, "DANCE doesn't seem to take much stock of its wise elders. Among those veterans is Mary Anthony, one of the city's most highly respected modern dance teachers." I'm a big fan of wise elders. It's how I learned medicine. So when I got the chance to meet the now 93-year-old Ms. Anthony earlier this week, off I went to her beautifully-lit, peaceful but active studio in the East Village of New York City. My goal as a doctor: try to gain some insight into her longevity. Yes, genes are important and she certainly chose the right parents. Exercise and diet are important (she still dances and is a vegetarian). But - more interesting to me - what have been the emotional and philosophical foundations of her life?

Mary Anthony came to New York City from Kentucky at seventeen with twenty-five bucks in her pocket, a dream of becoming a dancer, and a lot of spunk. As Mary Richards harshly found out from Lou Grant, not everybody likes spunk. But Ms. Anthony somehow made her way into the company of modern dance pioneer Hanya Holm, opened her own studio, introduced modern dance to television in the 1950's, founded the Mary Anthony Dance Theatre in 1956, and went on to a luminous career that's still glowing.

Great teachers knock me out and Ms. Anthony floored me. There she was, at 93, sitting on a chair in front of the barre, gently and rhythmically striking a drum, giving instructions to her dancers as they improvised their way across the dance floor. It was wonderful to see young students treating her with such respect, locked in on her every softly-spoken word.

Of course, I asked her to dance and tell me the secrets of her vibrant longevity. She showed me a few moves (her hand movements reminded me of Bob Fosse, who she said she loved), shared some stories (the music failed to play in one of her first New York auditions so she improvised and blew everybody away), spilled some philosophy (hint: don't even think about not believing in yourself), and left me wondering how anybody could fail to take stock of a wise elder.

To watch this week's CBS Doc Dot Com and my interview with Mary Anthony, click here:

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  • Jonathan M.D.

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