Cindy Reid, artistic director of the Ithaca Ballet, gets up and bends her knees into a low squat. She laughs as she holds onto the bench for support, recalling a time when such movements came more easily.
“I was jumping around in my sister’s old pointe shoes before I even took a dance lesson,” she said. “I just remember getting into them and hopping around down here in plié, which is something I would never be able to do as an adult.”
Those days of playing in her sister’s pointe shoes predated Reid’s first ballet classes. She said her mother, Alice Reid, who founded the Ithaca Ballet in 1961, was determined not to become a “ballet mother” even though all four of her daughters were dancers. When Cindy was finally let loose on the dance floor at eight years old, she hit the ground pirouetting.
“It was the easiest thing in the world for me,” she said.
Reid was a principal dancer in the Ithaca Ballet company for many years, and in 1984 was named associate artistic director, working alongside her mother. She also danced in New York City with the American Repertory Ballet Company, which later became the American Ballet Studio Company. Some reviews of her performances cited the fluidity and “brilliant technical clarity” of her dancing.
“I set the standard at that point, all the way up until I retired in ’99,” she said.
Since then, Reid has hung up her pointe shoes and traded them for a pair of neon pink hi-tops with rainbow laces.
“I have a whole fleet of these in different colors, and these are the brightest,” she said.
Reid, now 56, still has the small, slender frame of a dancer, even after her 13 years of retirement from ballet.
“I wish I could dance again,” Reid said. “But I can’t stay in shape anymore on two classes a week — it’s just impossible.”
Although retired from the stage, she continues to teach at the studio, located on North Plain Street in Ithaca. Reid said that, even after dancing for half a century, her passion for dance has yet to die out.
“My teaching and the staging of ballets are the two things that I adore doing,” she said. “I just love my job — it’s so much fun.”
At the studio, Reid is responsible for auditioning company members, setting the
training requirements, planning the program for the year, and casting and staging the ballets. Since the Ithaca Ballet is a training ground company rather than a professional company, most of the dancers are in high school.
When the Ithaca Ballet lost Reid’s sister, general manager, and mother in quick
succession, she was left with the company in her lap.
“I feel like sometimes I’m the only one left standing here,” Reid said. “One by one through death or through moving away I was left by myself, and sometimes I feel like I’m all alone.”
But Reid has persevered through these hardships and repurposed her creative
energy. She said being artistic director has given her a new perspective and purpose. She recalls the company’s performance of “Swan Lake” in 2008 as an affirmation, being the first full-length ballet she had ever staged.
“I really didn’t know if I was capable of pulling it together,” she said. “So to know that I could do that and that it was possible was so much fun.”
Ithaca Ballet student Julia Luna, 12, has been dancing for four years and has been taking classes with Reid since September. She says that Reid can be strict, but also helpful and encouraging.
“She corrects you at things you think it’s impossible to do, and then you realize, ‘I can do this,’” Luna said.
Reid said that having been a dancer for so many years, she knows what will get through to dancers and what won’t.
“I try to teach my dancers with kindness and understanding rather than [saying] ‘Oh, that looked terrible’ … you know, that’s not helpful,” Reid said, citing typical Russian training where intimidation and insults are used to keep dancers working hard. “At least I know what’s going through the dancers’ heads because I’ve been there.”
Although Reid does not subscribe to militaristic training methods, she does expect a certain level of technical excellence from her ballet students.
She became this ballerina mother, only she wasn’t gray-haired and walking around with a cane. She was young enough to make things light. – Amy O’Brien
“Ballet, if it’s done badly … if the footwork is clunky and the legs are turned in … I can’t stand to watch it,” Reid cringes at the thought. “It’s unbearable.”
Reid explains that when staging a ballet such as “Sleeping Beauty” or “Swan Lake,” which the company will be performing this spring, not much creativity is involved. When reproduction is the objective, technical perfection must be the goal.
“When you get everybody on stage and they’re in straight lines, and they’re in their tutus — oh, it’s just such a glorious moment!” she said.
But although Reid expects hard work and a healthy sense of competition among her dancers, she says she absolutely does not tolerate snobbery in her studio.
“I just won’t stand for it,” Reid said, furrowing her eyebrows. “Ballet dancers have a reputation for being snobby, and it’s nonsense because the best dancers are
Amy O’Brien, who has been teaching ballet at Ithaca College for nine years, grew up in Ithaca and began training with Reid at the age of five. She said Reid inspired her to keep dancing in college and professionally.
“She was still dancing [while she was teaching], so she was a wonderful role model,” O’Brien said. “We got to see an example and be inspired by her dancing.”
She explains that seeing the steps paired with the expressiveness of Reid’s
performances demonstrated the difference between dancing in class and performing for an audience.
“We felt like we were her children,” O’Brien said. “She became this ballerina mother, only she wasn’t gray-haired and walking around with a cane. She was young enough to make things light.”
Reid said that now that she’s more concerned with teaching than her own dancing, she is a lot tougher on her students.
“Now that I’ve retired and I don’t have to worry about keeping myself in shape, I crack the whip a lot harder,” Reid said. “It’s changed my perspective.”
Though she is stricter and more demanding now, she said she still tries to focus on making dancing enjoyable for her students.
“I can be pretty silly, and I like to make my kids laugh, because it is hard work,” she said. “But it should be fun more than anything because dancing is just a blast.”
Reid hopes patrons of the Ithaca Ballet will leave the theater having seen that ballet can be a beautiful spectacle when done well. It should be fun, entertaining and beautiful all at the same time.
“If we can do that, then we’re doing a good job,” she said.
The Ithaca Ballet will perform “Swan Lake” Saturday at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday at 3 p.m. at the State Theatre. Tickets are available at the State Theatre box office.