Elegant dancer, passionate educator Jacques d’Amboise dies

Full Screen
1 / 4

Copyright 2018 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

FILE - Dancer-choreographer Jacques d'Amboise appears during an interview in his office at the National Dance Institute in New York on March 3, 2018. D'Amboise, who grew up on the streets of upper Manhattan to become one of the world's premier classical dancers at New York City Ballet and spent the last four and a half decades providing free dance classes to city youth at his National Dance Institute, died Sunday, May 2, 2021. He was 86. His death was confirmed by Ellen Weinstein, director of the institute. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer, File)

Jacques d'Amboise, who combined classical elegance with all-American verve and athleticism to become one of the top male dancers at New York City Ballet, then spent more than four decades providing free dance education to countless youngsters through his National Dance Institute, has died at 86.

His death was confirmed by Ellen Weinstein, director of the New York-based institute. She said the dancer and teacher had died on Sunday at his New York City home from complications of a stroke. He was surrounded by his family.

Plucked for stardom at NYCB as a teenager by its legendary director, George Balanchine, d'Amboise performed with the company for about 35 years before retiring just before he turned 50. His exuberant style and dashing looks drew interest in Hollywood, where he appeared in films like “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers” and “Carousel.” But his real love was for the ballet stage, where he was known for iconic roles like Balanchine’s “Apollo” and the Gershwin-scored “Who Cares?”

In an interview with The Associated Press in 2018, d’Amboise described the moment he decided to end his dance career in 1984.

“I was almost 50, there were only a few roles left that I could do,” he said. “I was waiting to go onstage, and I suddenly thought, ’I don’t want to go on. I danced, came off, took off my ballet shoes and quit.”

He had already long determined his next calling, founding the National Dance Institute in 1976. The joy he took in providing a dance education to kids who might otherwise never have tried the art form — in schools, or for some, in classes at the institute — was on full display in the Oscar-winning 1983 documentary “He Makes Me Feel Like Dancin,’” a look at his NDI work.

“Jacques was a life force.” said Weinstein, who worked for some 40 years with d'Amboise, meeting him as a student at SUNY Purchase. “Jacques knew first-hand the joy and transformative power that the arts can bring to the lives of children and he dedicated the last 45 years to ensuring that every child has access to quality arts education.”

The institute, which moved into its Harlem building in 2011, teaches thousands of students every year in schools, and says it has reached over two million children across the globe.