Forging a Path: An Interview with Laurence Blake


Laurence went into a quirky sort of dance, full of quick poses and gestures. There was something boyish about him, like he was trying on the movements. And then he got comfortable and a little groovy. And then he couldn’t help himself.



How long have you been dancing and what’s the journey been like?

I actually started dancing when I was in the second grade of school, which is really young for a male. It really started with tap at my local dance school – Ms. Mona’s School of Dance and Voice. We were at the mall on I think it was a Wednesday night. I don’t know why I remember that, but the studio had a window we could look in, and we were watching the class being conducted. My mom just looked down at me and asked, “Would you like to do that?” And I said, “Yeah.” So she signed me up and that’s how I started.

Laurence_Blake_photo_by_Gregory_Bartning_010I started with tap and then moved into jazz and then when I was in intermediate school I started taking ballet classes. There was a director from West Virginia who came looking for males for an outdoor drama called “Honey in the Rock” in Beckley, West Virginia. I was 15 at the time but Ms. Mona called my mom and said, “Look I think it’d be a good experience for Larry to do this.” So I went and auditioned and was taken into the production. And my parents, for some reason, allowed me to go. I was very lucky that at that age they allowed me to go and do Summer Stock. So that was the seed of the whole thing.

My second year of doing Summer Stock there were some kids from North Carolina School of the Arts and they told me about the school and said, “If you’re really serious about your dancing you should audition for the school.” I got a date for an audition, drove through the night, got there at seven in the morning and the audition class was at nine that morning, did the audition, and got in. So my junior and senior year of high school I was at North Carolina School of the Arts and then I joined the North Carolina Dance Theater for two years which is the company associated with the school, and then from there I auditioned for Joffrey Ballet II, got in, and then a year later got into the Joffrey Ballet.

Laurence_Blake_photo_by_Gregory_Bartning_020I danced for the Joffrey from 1977 to the fall of 1980. I moved to LA in the fall of 1980 to help start a new dance company. Little did I know that Los Angeles is a hard place to start dance companies, so after two years I came to the realization that the company was really not going to get off the ground and I had to do something else. So I started teaching independently. I was on unemployment and doing whatever guest gigs I could get. I got a call from a friend of mine who said that Cal Arts was looking for a ballet teacher and wanted to know if I was interested and if so I was to call. And so I did. I went up two days later, taught a master class, and was offered the job. I’ve been there 32 years. I started as a part-time employee and now I am assistant dean of the school of dance.

What does your current dance practice look like?

It’s mostly through my teaching. I don’t have much time to take class myself. Lately I’ve been doing the Nutcracker with Pasadena Dance Theater. I was Drosselmeyer this past year and before that I was doing Mother Ginger. I’ve moved into those roles where I don’t have to be as physically engaged as I have been in the past, mostly because I don’t have time to really prepare my body.

I go to the gym when I can. I do Pilates to warm up before I teach, just to get the hamstrings going and the body moving a little bit.


How have the reasons for why you dance changed over time?

I look back at pictures of who I was when I was 25, and thinking about the rigor and what my body went through, I wish I’d had the intellect that I have now. I think I would have been a lot more nutritionally aware. When you’re in your late teens and twenties, you’re getting your own wings and experimenting and doing things that probably are not the best thing in the world. Those things didn’t necessarily break me down but I could have done things that prolonged my dance career.

Also at that time we didn’t have Pilates or the somatic work we have now, which I think is really great for dancers. Had it been available to me I probably would have gotten into Gyrotonic or Pilates work. Everything has come such a long way for dancers and keeping their bodies together.

I feel Mr. Joffrey channeling through me when I’m teaching. Even my choreographic process, working with Gerald Arpino, Twyla Tharp and Glen Tetley, I feel their energy or spirit coming through me. So I’m keeping their legacy going even though I’m not doing the same kind of work they did. Those values are still there.


Do you feel like you’ve achieved some measure of success? What does the idea of success mean to you?

People see that I’ve had a successful career, but when you’re in it you don’t necessarily think about it. You have to go in, take class, do your rehearsals and perform. I didn’t set out to be successful at what I did. It was just something I wanted to do; I wanted to be a dancer, and I was lucky enough to get some breaks along the way that I took advantage of and forge my own career path. Success is not something I really aspired to, even though I do feel like I’ve had success in my career, not only as a dancer but in my teaching practice as well. So even though there’s been success I hold onto my own values about who I am and what I believe in and how I want to conduct myself in whatever situation comes my way.

What do you perceive your legacy to be?

I think my legacy is really going to be in my teaching. There are pictures and videos of me dancing and I’m part of the “50 Years” Joffrey book, so my dancing does have a bit of legacy. But I think it’s really in my teaching since I’ve been doing it for 32 years and have my former students out in the world, forging their own paths. Whatever I gave them they are able to use and draw upon for their careers. Some of them are even teaching now. I keep in touch with the alumni through Facebook and I always get little notes like, “I thought about you today when I was teaching such-and-such to my students.” So I think it’s really the teaching that’s going to be my legacy and how I was able to give to my students everything that I was given along the way.

What advice would you give to a younger generation of dancers?

Because of social media and all the reality shows like So You Think You Can Dance, there is a belief that things can come instantly when in fact it takes years to go through a process of developing your instrument and develop your maturity and performance qualities.

I would also advice students that if they feel that things are not progressing as fast as they want them to, to take a step back, give yourself some space, and then come back to it and not to judge. Give yourself the time to process everything that happens to you and make sure that any kind of decision you make is the right decision and that you have no regrets. Never say, “I wish I’d done this” because you had the opportunity. Take the time and really listen deep down in your soul about why you’re making the decisions you make. If it’s the right decision you’ll know it.

Any last thoughts?

Because dance has such a short lived life span for ballet dancers particularly, I think it’s important that people understand what it is we dancers go through physically and emotionally. It’s not something we should take lightly. It’s something that is filled with joy. Filled with love. Filled with a lot of sorrow. All of those emotions artists have in creation. Whether you’re a musician or a painter or dancer, we all have that same inner drive in us that makes us do what we do just for the love of it, not for the financial gains or awards or fame. Very few people rise to the top and become famous or become celebrities, but other artists have just as much value as they do. They put just as much into their practice as someone that becomes famous. I think it’s really important for people to understand that people in the arts are truly there because they love it and they’re dedicated to it.



Laurence Blake is a native of Virginia and attended the North Carolina School of the Arts. Upon graduation he was asked to join the North Carolina Dance Theater. After two seasons with NCDT, Laurence joined the Joffrey Ballet II. He was asked to join the Joffrey Ballet in the fall of 1977 and danced ballets by choreographers such as Glen Tetley, John Cranko, Twyla Tharp, Sir Fredrick Ashton, Agnes DeMille, Gerald Arpino and Robert Joffrey. Upon moving to Los Angeles, he performed in several television shows including: CheersHotelBaryshnikov in Hollywood and Moonlighting. He has taught both nationally and internationally, and has been a member of the faculty of The Sharon Disney Lund School of Dance at CalArts since 1980, where he has taught ballet and contemporary dance technique, as well as dance composition. Laurence has choreographed work for Inland Pacific Ballet, California State University, Long Beach, and Loyola Marymount University. Additionally, Laurence is a founding member of the Los Angeles Chamber Ballet and has served as resident choreographer. 

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One Response to “Forging a Path: An Interview with Laurence Blake”

  1. Lorie

    Way cool! Some extremely valid points! I appreciate you penning this write-up and the rest of the site is very good.

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