Catherine Zeta-Jones shone brightest at the 2013 Bright Lights Shining Stars Gala, to benefit the NYC Dance Alliance Foundation. Head held high, posture perfect in a glittery red carpet gown, she began the evening posing graciously at the step and repeat at the NYU Skirball Center, and capped it with a pitch perfect extemporaneous speech, accepting the NYCDA Foundation’s Ambassador for the Arts Award. Then, she opened her arms, swept her dancer’s leg to one side, and curtsied to each side of the auditorium. A modern woman, and yet, a throwback to the glamorous Hollywood golden era. A Shining Star indeed.
In the three years since Choreographer Joe Lanteri founded the NYCDA recruited Co-Chairs Robin Cofer and Cassandra Seidenfeld to shepherd its gala, the evening has drawn such stars as Liza Minnelli, Mikhail Baryshnikov, and Roberta Flack. Lanteri’s vision, to provide college scholarships to dance students, has become reality. Since 2010, the NYCDA Foundation, for which he serves as Executive Director, has given $8.5 million to worthy high school dancers.
Lanteri hosted and directed the one night performance which spotlighted tri-state talent in the type of local dance studios that Zeta-Jones once called her second home. Studios including Westchester Dance Academy and Studio L as well as such Broadway stars as Charlotte DAmboise (“Pippin”), Joanne Borts (“Once”), and Mara Davi (“Irving Berlin’s White Christmas” and “The Drowsy Chaperone”) performed. There were no boring speeches this evening.
“The talent in this room, on this stage is just profoundly inspiring to me,” said Zeta-Jones, as she took the podium. “I was just thinking, OK I’m going to call Westchester and get right out there!” Her daughter, she said, studies there.
She remembered growing up in Wales, dancing so ardently at age four, that by the time she was five, her mother took her to the local Catholic Church dance class and said, “‘Please take her, for God’s sake. I don’t know what to do with her. The energy is overwhelming!’…”That’s where,” Zeta-Jones said, “I got my first splinters, doing jazz with no jazz shoes. When we did tap, we couldn’t make noise.”
“My journey was as a dancer. That was my first passion …The true cameraderie, working together, living decently, learning professionalism, poise, grace, stamina, all those things that I learned from that early age stood me in good stead for the rest of my career. Even if I never put on a pair of dance shoes in my life, ever. If I never sang a note, if I never said a line, if I had to stand up in a boardroom, those years of dancing would have helped me to become the woman I am.”
Thanks to Lanteri, college scholarships will help to inform a new generation of dance hopefuls.