Dallas — Patricia and Tanju Tuzer are quite possibly the most recognized and famous ballet couple that Dallas can call its own. Founders of both a local ballet school and pre-professional company, that has turned out technically astute dancers and performers, and was the training ground for current Bruce Wood Dance Project Artist Director Kimi Nikaidoh, the couple has had a profound influence on many of the city’s youngest dancers.
Patricia, a Dallas native, met Tanju while they were both dancing for New York’s Harkness Ballet. Pat was a soloist and a principal dancer, Tanju was also a fellow company principal, and the two translated their love on stage to a real world fairytale, one that found them traveling the world. Tanju was establishing a career that took them across Europe and to dance leading roles with major companies. But they found their way back to the United States and to Pat’s hometown and the opening of their first ballet school, the Tuzer School of Ballet, in 1977. By 1985, they had established themselves as the school to train at, and now, the students of Tuzer Dancenter have found an education and home that will be theirs forever. Last year, Tanju was diagnosed with colon cancer, but that hasn’t slowed him down.
We spoke with Pat and Tanju as they prepare to receive the Dance Council of North Texas’ Mary McLarry Bywaters Award for Lifetime Achievement in Dance this weekend at the second annual Dallas DanceFest.
TheaterJones: How did you first find yourself in dance?
Pat: I somehow decided that I wanted to start dance at the age of two-and-a-half in Irving, Texas, with Joy and Dale Riley. They accepted me at this very young age and I [have] never stopped for 60 years. My family did not have much exposure to the arts, except my dad listened and loved classical music. We moved to Richardson when I was six and I continued my ballet studies with Anne Etgen and Bill Atkinson for 10 years, until I was asked to stay in New York City, at SAB [School of American Ballet].
Tanju: My parents were struggling financially and so they took me to an audition for the state supported art school, in Ankara, Turkey, when I was 9. I initially really only loved the physicality of dance and then, eventually, ballet became my passion. After graduating, I became a Principal dancer of the Turkish State Ballet Company. My teachers there, Molly Lake and Travis Kemp, were my motivators and their love and guidance was unending. They had danced professionally with Pavlova’s company [Anna Pavlova was a famous Russian prima ballerina and choreographer] and their lives were immersed in ballet. It was contagious. I was lucky to have such fine examples and inspirations.
Is there a particular moment in your life that made you know that dance was going to be your career?
Pat: I believe that it was the summer of 1969, when following the summer workshop, the School of American Ballet invited me to stay the winter term on a full scholarship provided by the Ford Foundation. My parents accepted this, and at the ripe age of 16, set my dance life in motion. I was also very fortunate to get a professional contract with the Harkness Ballet, in New York City, when I was only 18 years old.
What have been some the challenges that you all have faced starting your own school?
After we had danced professionally in New York, South America, and Europe, we decided to return to Dallas to start our family and open a studio. We rented a shopping center space for eight years and then outgrew it. Trying to get a loan to construct our own building was a great challenge. I cried at every banker’s feet to get a mortgage and finally, by chance, found one who would lend us the money. In 1985, we built the largest studio “by dancers and for dancers” in the Texas area.
We also face the challenge of being slightly “old-fashioned” when it comes to training. We believe in good old hard work and discipline with love.
What have been some of the successes in your career and with the school?
We have had the privilege to dance for some wonderful companies and have lifelong friends that we met along the years. We were able to be saturated and satisfied with our stage lives and then were able to open the studio of our dreams and pass our gathered information and experiences to thousands of Dallas children.
What have been some of your best memories with your students?
We have so many over these last three decades, and luckily, social media keeps us connected, when distance gets in the way. Many do stop by the studio with their new families and we love seeing them and reminiscing. Many alumni dance in our annual Nutcracker performances, and we love to have them on the stage again with Tuzer Ballet.
We also always remember the premiere of Tanju’s Carmina Burana, in 1989 at the Dallas Morning News Dance Festival. It was a very complex, difficult and adventurous dance and our young dancers created quite an excitement for this town.
Also, after the 30th Anniversary show of Tuzer Ballet’s Nutcracker this past December, we had over 225 alumni join us for a reception at the Eisemann Center. There were lots of tears and laughter and it was very touching to have them reveal how their time at Tuzer’s shaped their lives.
Where do you see yourself in your career, from what you have done and made in the past, to what you want to do next?
We hope to continue the legend and reputation, and help young people to carry with them the tools they need to be successful in life, no matter what profession they choose.
We would like some to carry the torch and teach and choreograph, and impart to others those qualities that they learned from us. We actually have many dancers, choreographers, and teachers, amongst our alumni.
Congratulations on receiving the Mary Award for Lifetime Achievement in Dance. You both are very much deserving of the award. Is there anything you would like to share about receiving this honor?
We would like to thank the dance community, and also we want to thank all of those who have passed through our doors over the past 38 years as dancers, parents, teachers, friends, choreographers, and board members.
Thank you to all that believed in us, helped us, and entrusted their children to learn from us. It is our passion and it has been our pleasure. We will continue the journey.
» The second Dallas DanceFest is Sept. 4-6. Performances will take place on Friday and Saturday night at 8 p.m. with the 2015 Dance Council Honors awards ceremony and performance showcase occurring on Sunday afternoon.
» For a full list of this year’s DDF participants, including biographies, plus profiles, reviews and more, see our special section devoted to the DanceFest.
» To read a bigger feature about the event, go here.
» Tickets for both events are available through TICKETDFW: online at www.TICKETDFW.com, by phone 214-871-5000, or in person at the box office 2353 Flora St., Dallas, TX 75201. For more information, go to www.dallasdancefest.org