From Where I Sat Lay: James Lipton

Classic Arts Features   From Where I Sat Lay: James Lipton
Writer, poet, composer, actor and "Inside the Actor's Studio" host James Lipton reminisces about his days as a young dancer studying on Carnegie Hall's eighth floor.


As the revised title indicates, my happiest memory of Carnegie Hall is horizontal. This is also a belated confession, dating from a happy time for me when the building's eighth floor teemed with dancers, among whom I was one, studying at Fokine with Benjamin Harkarvy, who was the teacher of the moment. Each night, his 6 PM class was packed to the mirrors with principal dancers of American Ballet Theatre, New York City Ballet, and, perspiring and aspiring in their midst, me.

With two major dance schools, Fokine and Ballet Arts, emptying out at the same time, the line outside the eighth-floor showers was often daunting, with the result that my classmates and I waited our turns, panting and drenched, sprawled on the floor outside Fokine, backs against the wall, quivering legs extended in an open second.

On one of those nights, I noticed a small door at floor-level. Its resemblance to the door in Alice in Wonderland prompted me to push it open and crawl through, followed by Melissa Hayden and a gaggle of dripping dancers. As astonished as Alice, we found ourselves crouched in a crawl space, the floor of which was the concert hall's ceiling, affording easy access to its light bulbs from above.

Then it happened. From below, the opening notes of the night's first offering rose, enveloping and enchanting us as we lay on our bellies in our sopping tights, tunics, and t-shirts, our faces pressed against the openings in the ceiling's grid, afloat on ... nothing but music. A dancer's dream!

Below us, the occupants of the "best" orchestra seats glanced curiously up, palms extended, at what seemed to be a leak in the lofty ceiling, where we were cooling out in our newfound paradise: to which we returned night after magical night, literally and figuratively high on dance and music.

I'm not an acoustical engineer, but I'm willing to bet that we had the best seat in the house: free of charge. I make this confession voluntarily and fearlessly since the statute of limitations has doubtless run out. Besides, we've long since emerged from the little portal and jet_-ed gracefully: and gratefully: away.

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