Posted by: thehungryrunner | January 31, 2008

In mourning: My first ballet teacher, Lisa Boehm

I just received the sad news that my first ballet teacher, Lisa Boehm, passed away on January 24, 2008 at the age of 94.  Her full obituary can be read at this link:  http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/obituaries/chi-hed_boehm_30jan30,0,2158345.story.

She was a prima ballerina back in her native Germany, trained in the Russian tradition by the same teacher as the famed Pavlova.  As if that wasn’t accomplishment enough, she later brought the finest quality professional ballet training to the Chicago suburbs, at a time when such a thing was tough to find outside of the city limits.  I think of how many of us flocked to her studio from all over the area; the number is staggering, as is the number of us who went on to professional dance and related careers thanks to the solid foundation provided by Lisa.  I credit her as the one who instilled not only the love of dance in me, but also the joy of discipline, hard work, striving for excellence and the ageless benefits of clean eating and daily exercise, as she was testimonial to all of those qualities.  More over, her class structure gave me the template off of which to develop my own style of instruction.  The skills I acquired to accurately assess posture and body alignment were a direct product of those early years spent under her tutelage.  Through Lisa, I came to appreciate how much the quality of one’s movements can be greatly enhanced (or diminished) by seemingly miniature adjustments.

I was already saddened, sometime last year, to drive by the old Elgin church that had been her studio — and second home to so many of us over the years – only to discover it had finally closed.  The end of an era.  I knew it would have to happen eventually, but somehow there was a part of me that felt as though Lisa could go on forever; she had that kind of remarkable resilience and endurance.  But reading about her passing has brought that grief to a whole new level.  That said, I will be forever grateful for her presence in my life, the wealth of gifts she bestowed onto mine and the lives of countless others, and for that I celebrate hers!

My Light-hearted Lisa Boehm Story:  Those Ubiquitous Oranges

As an adjunct to this obituary, I have to include a cheerful story that anyone who studied from Lisa would immediately recall:  her oranges!  To this day, I cannot see or smell the fragrance of a fresh orange without flashing back to ballet class, with us eager leotard-clad dancers lined up at the barre, going through our early plies, tendus, and rond de jambes, and Lisa walking up and down the rows, munching on her daily orange as she sprinkled water on the floor (to help give our soft ballet shoes better traction) and made the appropriate corrections in our technique.  The scent of that luscious fruit, freshly peeled and quickly filling the cavernous classroom, was enough to test the focus of even the most dedicated; it’s no coincidence that my consumption of oranges was highest during that era of my life!  Perhaps this is another reason I mourn her so much; Lisa was not just a masterful ballet instructor, but a model for healthy living.  Her adherence to a simple, European lifestyle helped her maintain her slender, limber dancer stature and seemed to further enhance her mystique; to this starry-eyed student, I felt as thought I’d been granted mentorship with a ballet goddess.  And I have no doubt this central ritual of hers — The Ubiquitous Orange — ignited my desire to eat healthfully almost more than any other influence in my life! 

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Responses

  1. Your comments about Lisa Boehm touched me. I could feel that I was in the presence of someone very special when my daughter danced with her from 1998 to 2003 (2003 was the last performance of Lisa’a girls with just a few dances from the Nutcracker during the ESO Holiday Concert.) It was a very peaceful feeling for me to take my daughter to her dance lessons and just listen to the music and hear Lisa’s German accent. I only wish my daughter could have had more years with her (she was only 10 when it all ended). I hope you know that a Lisa Boehm exhibit will be featured at the Elgin Historic Society Museum beginning with a special opening Sunday, March 16 from 1-3P.M. There will be a discussion about her life in Elgin.

    Keep running!

  2. What wonderful things you say about Lisa Boehm. I began taking lessons from her only a year or two after she began teaching in Elgin. It was an amazing experience that, like you, has held me in good stead for my whole life. I just went to a dance recital last night and it sucked to death. All I could think of was how professional Lisa Boehm, prima ballerina and strict yet fun-loving task master would have been scandalized. She was one in a million. Sometimes I would run into her in the store and after all those years, she would still remember me. Thank you for writing about her, she would be so pleased to know how many she touched.

  3. Lisa impacted my life for 10 years. She was a wonderful teacher and I also remember her love of fresh fruit, especially oranges. She also loved the bottle of homeade wine we gave her every year at Christmas.

    Her amazing teaching provided me with tenacity to endure pain with a poised outlook, and a simple grace to carry myself with confindence, whether on a stage setting, or just walking around (whether in heels or not).

    The Elgin area, as well as the profession of dance has lost a gem.

    My blessings to her family. (I do remember Frank as a wonderful jazz dance instructor). I LOVED his classes too.

  4. I also studied with Lisa from the age of 7 to 15. She taught me the value of hard work and dedication!

    Some of my best childhood memories come from perfoming in the Nutcracker every year. It was a magical time.

    I am saddened to hear that Elgin has lost such an amazing teacher!

  5. oh, thank you, thank you for your touching comments about Lisa. I too, studied with her and reflect almost daily on my time at her studio dancing for her and Frank. She was an amazing woman, teacher and an inspiration to all that she touched…literally.

  6. I had no idea that Lisa was going to have a exhibit at a museum! I studied with her from age 5 untill she stopped teaching at the little church downtown Elgin. I learned alot from her, but although she seemed to like me very much, (i had the same name as her daughter, so she took a likeing to me…) I was always a little scared of her, which prabably made me a better dancer. At such a young age, I never realized how amazing Lisa really was, but after hearing stories from my older sister, I now realized that I trained from a Prima Ballerina, and had experiences that a normal child at my age would not have normally had. To this day, I still perform at Hemmens, and everytime I step on the stage, I can picture the glitter that used to fall during one of the dances. Thanks for writing this! It brought back alot of memories of my childhood!!

    • janini1996: How wonderful that you continue to perform at Hemmens; to this day every venue I perform in is somehow compared to Hemmens in my mind. I agree, what a rare gift we all were given to study from her; I know I can trace my enjoyment of classical music, discipline, and always seeking the best technical execution of a movement or task (as opposed to just doing the bare minimum or resting on one’s laurels) back to my experiences with Lisa!

  7. I am so pleased to read from other people who studied with Lisa and enjoy your memories of her.
    She was one tough cookie, but I really liked her! When I first started with her (1997?) I would cry every day because I was not measuring up, I knew I had a decision to make: get better or quit. I tried my very hardest to get better, when Lisa saw my effort, even thought I sure never was the best dancer, we really became friends.

    Did anyone else calculate how old she was when you knew her when you read her age at her death, because I did, we always speculated on her age.

    My stories about Lisa are some of my favorite, her headbands, her answering the phone at the studio, etc. I miss her and wish i could have studied under her for many more years.

    • Hello Beth!

      Thank you so much for sharing your memories. They certainly stirred some more of my own and brought a smile to my face. Indeed, I feel very lucky to have studied with Lisa; I think much of my work ethic and discipline came from knowing and being inspired by her. To this day I know she impacts my life and motivation to try hard with everything I do. You raised such a good point; I think she could see when a person was giving it their all, and appreciated it very much no matter how much actual progress was being made.

      Her exact age was never made clear when I studied under her, though I think it turns out she was older than I’d initially thought as a kid. Whatever the exact number, she was such a living testimonial to staying active and agile at any age!

      You made me chuckle with your reference to her headbands! I’m only now realizing that the fact that I myself wear them almost daily….may not be coincidental. 🙂

  8. Hello, I know I am about 2 years late in commenting, but never the less I would like to post some of my thoughts about Lisa Boehm, a legend that will always remain with me! I was deeply saddened when I heard about a year after she passed that she was no longer with us~I truly felt a part of my childhood and what had shaped my whole being for many years in mourning. Of course, I remember the oranges and the wonderful accent, but also her beautiful saying “If you think you are a queen, then you are!” I remember vividly her flawless skin and the way it would glow from her healthy diet. I too, had the special opportunity to move up the roles of the Nutcracker at the Hemmens each year, school performances and all! My favorite was being able to dance the Adagio next to the Sugar Plum Fairy! I remember the dancers all being supportive and friendly with each other…the days before the dance competitions of today.

    I have been blessed to have my beautiful twins, Eleanor and Peter and have been busy raising them these last six years! I have always wanted especially my daughter to meet Lisa to come full circle so to speak. I too, have passed by the old studio and have shown my children where it was I studied the ballet. I will take my children to the Elgin Museum to see Lisa’s exhibit, how wonderful! I agree that the self-discipline she instilled in me is still a part of who I am today as wife and mother! She was her own beautiful woman and ballerina and I will always love her!

    Love to all,

    Hilary (Noback) Folga

  9. Good Afternoon, and thank you for posting this.
    I didn’t know she had passed away, although I knew she was really up there in age.
    I also studied with Lisa and stayed with her for 12 years. I was in the original production of what became the annual “Nutcracker.” At the end of my studies with Lisa when I went off to college, I held down five parts in the production. I began with her when she did not yet own the building on Villa Street and just rented the downstairs studio.
    I remember being quite proud when I had enough status in her hierarchy to change into tights and a leotard in the kitchen. Once you “made it to the kitchen,” you knew you were in!
    Lisa was absolutely one of the most profound mentors in my life. She was an independent woman before the age of Women’s Lib, she had her own business, and was in charge of her own life. I admired her very much.
    Lisa drove you to be better. She wanted nothing but the best from you and I clearly became obsessed with not only pleasing her, but in watching my own skills improve. She was a task-master and I can still remember her high-pitched shriek if someone wasn’t working up to her standards: “Aaaaaaaachhhhhh! Vhat ees That!? Cheeen Up!”
    This was followed by a lot of mumbling in German! She would then run back to the wooden box containing her reel-to-reel tape recorder to begin the music all over again.
    Looking back, I can see some of the tactics she used to get the best from her dancers. She made us want to compete, to better each other. I left in 1976 so I don’t know how she was in later years, but the atmosphere was competitive when I took class from her: We worked like hell to be chosen for parts in her productions! I was in several ballets with her. Lisa’s production of “Circus,” “Swan Lake” and “Sleeping Beauty” as well as five years in “The Nutcracker,” were some of the ballets I had parts in.
    Lisa’s training had a profound effect on my life. I’m now a professional writer, but I can still “do the moves,” Weirdly enough, I remember a LOT of the choreography of the parts I danced. Her training served me well in later life because I am still extremely flexible for my age.
    I remember the smell of oranges, the smell of rosin, of sweat, and the feel of the metal pipe that was bolted to the walls that served as the barre. I recall the odor of the “Prince Castle” burger joint next door wafting through the open windows on warm days.
    Lisa was an institution for decades and I’ll never forget those moments. I thank you for posting this tribute. It has brought me closure and a flood of memories.
    -Patricia


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