The group of School Sponsors, dancers, and alumni smile for the camera at the School Sponsor Luncheon.
School Sponsor Luncheon 2022; by Christopher Duggan

“This is the heart of the Pillow,” said Board Trustee Nancy Kaplan, addressing a tent full of smiling faces. 

On Friday, July 22, The School at Jacob’s Pillow held the School Sponsor Luncheon, a day to celebrate the special support of School Sponsors. Seated throughout the space were pairs or small groups of Musical Theatre Performance Ensemble dancers and proud sponsors of The School.

For 90 years, The School at Jacob’s Pillow has offered dancers all over the world the opportunity to learn and grow with a renowned roster of choreographers, artistic directors, educators, performers, dance leaders, and change agents. The School at Jacob’s Pillow produces future dance leaders, many of whom return to their Pillow home as accomplished alumni performers, teachers, and company directors.

Members at the $5,000 level have the option to become a School Sponsor, meaning their philanthropic support will directly go towards The School. A portion of this support makes it possible for The School to award  scholarships for those needing financial assistance. Sponsors have the option of being matched directly with a dancer to get to know both the dancer and their journey through The School’s curriculum .

“Gathering around a meal to chat and share Pillow experiences is inspiring for both our dancers and our School Sponsors. Everyone departs feeling connected to one another and to the meaning and purpose of the work occurring in the Perles Family Studio under the direction of our Artist Faculty,” said The Carole & Dan Burack Director of The School “J.R.” Glover.

"J.R." Glover and Sterling Harris pose with two School Sponsors at the School Sponsor Luncheon.
“J.R.” Glover, David and Abbie Strassler, and Sterling Harris; by Christopher Duggan

This year the Luncheon provided a special time to recognize the 2021 recipient of the Lorna Strassler Award for Student Excellence at Jacob’s Pillow. Each year, one dancer is selected from all School programs for the Lorna Strassler Award, which consists of a full program scholarship plus a $2,500 cash award. 

There’s a unique circularity to a community as historic as The School at Jacob’s Pillow. Here, dancers often grow from students to performers or, in the case of Kaplan, to Sponsors and Board Trustees themselves; career pathways have a habit of coming full circle. 

This was evident in the tent of attendees. Jeffrey Page, the Musical Theatre program director, is himself an alum of The School. Leonardo Sandoval catapulted his professional career while he was a dancer at The School and now leads Music From the Sole who appeared that week on the Henry J. Leir Stage. And the attending 2019 and 2021 Lorna Strassler Award winners, Adriana Ogle and Sterling Harris, connected with Sandoval through the Pillow’s tap alumni network. Ogle performed with Music From the Sole that week and Harris, who came from the 2021 Tap Dance Program, coincidently spent the week before rehearsing with the group.

For Wendy McCain, being a School Sponsor means getting to watch the next generation of dancers grow from classes in the Perles Family Studio to performers as alumni on the Henry J. Leir Stage. Wendy recalled the opportunity to meet a School dancer each year, some of whom still keep in touch years after departing from the Pillow. This summer, Wendy was matched with Kannen Glanz, a dancer in both the Contemporary Ballet and Contemporary Performance Ensembles. During his 5 week stay at the Pillow, Kannen and Wendy bonded over lunch, and Wendy was there to congratulate him after his culminating performance.

“Meeting and connecting with Wendy at the Pillow was truly such a special experience. To be able to interact with someone who is directly supporting my professional development only incentivizes me to continue on the trajectory that I am on because I know that she genuinely believes in my work and wants me to succeed. One of my favorite memories with Wendy was having lunch with her because we were able to create a meaningful connection beyond the studio… I am so thankful for our time together and I know it will only grow even after my time at the Pillow,” said Kannen.

4 women stand smiling for the camera at the 2022 School Sponsor Luncheon. 2 are School Sponsors and 2 are dancers in the Musical Theatre Program.
Carol Starr, Nancy Kaplan, Kayleigh Bowen, and Ella Bleu Bradford; by Christopher Duggan

Each year at the Luncheon, sponsors and dancers get to meet for the first time, sharing their mutual love of the Pillow. Seated over lunch, Judi Dichter and Aïssastou Thiam shared memories and anecdotes from each of their times at the Pillow. 

Judi, a lifelong lover of dance, has been visiting and supporting Jacob’s Pillow for years, but recently became a School Sponsor. Judi was drawn to The School by the prospect of supporting the next generation of dancers.

“Knowing what they’re being offered here is so special,” she said. 

For Aïssastou, getting the chance to meet the School Sponsors was memorable.  Having arrived at the Pillow for the first time that week, the Luncheon was a moment to further welcome her and her peers into the historic community.

“It’s a beautiful moment,” she said.

In three weeks, many of the sponsors will return to observe classes and rehearsals, and ultimately watch the Musical Theatre Performance Ensemble take to the Henry J. Leir Stage. As the dancers depart from The School, they will leave as alumni with a community of artists and supporters by their side.

“You leave here so grown… these dancers around you, they will be your friends for life,” said Nancy Kaplan.

Written by Emma Garber. Published July 2022.

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2019 Contemporary Program dancer, Zane Unger, with 2019 School Sponsors Richard and Linda Schaffer; photo Grace Kathryn Landefeld