Jacques d'Amboise, once a star at the New York City Ballet, never runs out of enthusiasm for what he's doing now, teaching schoolchildren - many of them too uncoordinated to be athletes - to dance.
And the children never run out of the exhilaration of participating in a physically challenging situation where there are only winners, no losers.Each May, some 1,000 children present an "Event of the Year" for the public. They come from schools where d'Amboise's National Dance Institute holds weekly daytime lessons. The excitement level and joy of being or watching children in homemade costumes run out on stage and dance makes the "Event of the Year" live up to its billing.
The institute has programs in Austin, Texas; Santa Fe, N.M.; Washington D.C., and Trenton and Newark, N.J.
"They have their own events, with different choreographers and plots," d'Amboise says. "I go around like a circuit rider to these things. I would be fragmented if I didn't have quality teachers and staff."
A documentary about D'Amboise in 1984, "He Makes Me Feel like Dancing," won an Oscar, six Emmys, a Golden Cine and the National Education Association Award for the Advancement of Learning through Broadcasting.
But the "Event of the Year" has never been filmed. That is one of d'Amboise's dearest wishes and he thinks, since this year's event will be the most elaborate ever, this would be an excellent time for it to happen.
Each year for the "Event of the Year" here, d'Amboise chooses a theme, writes a story, selects music and choreographs the dances which tell the story. Judy Collins usually composes and sings the title song. Many times, children from foreign countries have come to take part.
For this year's "Rosebud's Song," in Madison Square Garden's Paramount Theater, May 22-23, d'Amboise is presenting an environmental message, that people must honor the land.
He wanted to represent Mother Earth, but not by people from certain countries or religions. "I do it by geographical locations on the earth - the highest, lowest, wettest, driest, coldest and hottest places - and the children who live there."
So d'Amboise, accompanied by his photographer-wife Carrie, has been making trips to those highest (Nepal), lowest (Dead Sea), wettest (Hawaii), driest (Chile's Atacama Desert), coldest (Siberia) and hottest (Ethiopia) places to audition children.
On a recent trip to Chile, he said he found "a little Baryshnikov - in three days of auditions he was always the best."
Siberia, d'Amboise says, presented his hardest choice among the places he visited.
"Four hundred children lined up to audition. I ended up with two boys and two girls," he says. "They could win the heart of anybody all over the world with their charm. One pair looked best together. The other two were made alternates and given gifts."
In the wettest place, the Hawaiian Island of Kauai, d'Amboise chose two girls whose parents later decided they might lose their culture if they left Hawaii. So he chose Sandra Tory, who'd impressed him at the first school where he'd held auditions, in Honolulu. Her family turned out to be from Kauai.
In Israel, he says, they went to the Ein Gedi Kibbutz.
"Forty of maybe 90 children auditioned," he says. "We picked two girls, who turned out to be friends. Choreographer Mirali Sharon is going down from Tel Aviv to work with them.
"You know, when you go with the children you've picked, to meet their families, the common denominator is they have somebody who cares about them, loves them, believes in them and is there for them. That's why they're trying their best. They have a healthy belief that making an effort in life will bring success. That's kind of universal."
About the 1994 "Event of the Year," d'Amboise says, "Musically it's phenomenal. We'll have the Boys Choir of Harlem, Juilliard string players, singers, musicians from all these places, Max Roach, David Amram, Judy Collins, an actress who's famous in India. Robin Williams will narrate if he isn't committed to a movie. Other narrators will be teenagers who are our alumni.
"But what the National Dance Institute is for hasn't changed at all. It's to introduce children to the possibilities of excellence in themselves, by using involvement with the performing arts and dance as a catalyst. It's an arts education motivational program that works.
"We have 29 schools here this year and include children who are blind, emotionally disturbed and hearing-impaired. Our most successful are the emotionally disturbed. Some who haven't spoken before are completely transformed."
On Saturday mornings, the SWAT team, dancers who are especially good, and the Celebration team, last year's SWAT team, take part - with concentration - in an additional class.
Teaching children, d'Amboise says, is more rewarding than coaching professionals. "It's so much more interesting and fun. Children are so delightful. They're so willing to believe; they're giving; they don't hold back. And when you see a gangly little child suddenly become beautiful. . . ."
D'Amboise and his wife have four children: George, who works with juvenile delinquents in a detention center in Boulder, Colo.; Christopher, who heads the Pennsylvania Ballet; Charlotte, a dancer about to appear in Saudi Arabia with an Indian rock star, and Catherine, her twin, living with her husband in Albuquerque.