Dancer to Dancer

7 Things You Should Know About Jerome Robbins and His Legacy

Robbins (center) rehearsing West Side Story (photo by Friedman Abeles, courtesy Dance Magazine Archives)

Dancer and choreographer Jerome Robbins was undeniably one of the most important figures in American dance—and he would have been 100 years old this year. In honor of Robbins' centenary, here are a few things you should know about the legend.


• Robbins attended New York University in 1935, intending to study either chemistry or journalism, but the Great Depression forced him to drop out because his family could no longer afford tuition.

• After he dropped out of school, his sister (a professional modern dancer) helped get him a few jobs. He danced with numerous troupes and in various musical productions, and eventually became a member of Ballet Theatre, now known as American Ballet Theatre.

Fancy Free was Robbins' first ballet, created for Ballet Theatre in 1944 when he was just 25. It became the inspiration for his first Broadway musical, On the Town, which premiered on the Great White Way on December 28, 1944.

• Robbins joined the newly formed New York City Ballet in 1949 and was quickly named associate artistic director under George Balanchine. He worked with and choreographed for the company until 1989, when he resigned from his position of co-ballet master in chief.

• The Jerome Robbins Foundation, created after his death in 1998, has helped fund artists, arts organizations, and AIDS-related charities, and has allowed the New York Public Library to develop the world's largest dance archive.

• In his lifetime, Robbins created 54 ballets and choreographed or directed more than 20 Broadway shows.

• Robbins received two Academy Awards (for the film West Side Story), four Tony Awards, two Emmy Awards, the Screen Directors' Guild Award, the New York Drama Critics Circle Award, and the National Medal of the Arts.


A version of this story appeared in the January 2018 issue of Dance Spirit with the title "Happy Birthday Jerome Robbins!"

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