You Can Get the Girl Out of New York

 My latest theater experience seeing Moulin Rouge Broadway, December 15, 2021 

You can get the girl out of New York. But, you can’t get New York out of the girl.

My first experience with American culture is embodied in several weeks of life-changing encounters with the legendary American dancer, choreographer, actor and educator, Jacques d’Amboise (1943-1921).

In the late 1980’s, I was a first generation, West Asian immigrant teenager in the 96+% white Long Island town of Smithtown (NY). Survivor of a violent revolution, a horrid war, and deeply traumatic, decade-long exodus of millions of Iranians leaving their country, following the country’s 1979 Revolution.  

I so desperately wanted to become a cool American teenager. The type I, and millions of others kids around the world, grew up watching in the movies. I put all my energy into learning English as well as I could. The struggle was profound, and real. The cool factor, far out of reach.

Until, as a student in the Smithtown (NY) High School school system, I became the recipient of d’Amboise’s generosity based on his belief in the magical power of the arts.

aving joined the New York City Ballet in 1949, d’Amboise was named principal dancer in 1953, and went on to dance 24 roles for the great George Balanchine.

In 1976, d’Amboise formed National Dance Institute, and started “knocking on principals’ doors and volunteering to teach dance for free as long as it was part of the curriculum (NYT).” How lucky I was that my high school had opened its doors to embrace the master’s artistry.  

The thrill of being chosen by Jacques to dance in his high-school-friendly choreography of “New York, New York” with the promise of performing on Broadway, was insurmountable.

Finally, I was a cool American high school kid.

Take that, Ayatollah!

Never mind the fact that after weeks of rehearsal, 48 hours before departure, my dad refused to grant permission for me to go to NYC to perform with the ‘company.’ There went my chance of being discovered. On Broadway. In New York City.

Imagine that.

“I could have been a contender. I could have been somebody.”

It was magic. Nonetheless.

Capturing magic through the arts became my mission, for life.

So, after graduating from high school, I entered the Stella Adler Conservatory of Acting in NYC. And, didn’t tell dad.

Hailing from true New York Theater royalty, Stella Adler (1901-1992), and her actor brothers Luther and Jay, were born to Russian-Jewish actors Sara and Jacob P. Adler. Their father was one of the founders of the Yiddish theatre in America.

In 1931, Luther and Stella became the founding members of the Group Theatre (New York, 1931-1941), an artists collective based in New York City. Alongside Stella’s future husband, the great American theater director and critic, Harold Clurman (1901-1980), as well as Cheryl Crawford and Lee Strasberg, the group became the pioneer of “American acting technique.” 

Many of the Group Theatre’s members – Stella Adler, Lee Strasberg, Sanford Meisner, Harold Clurman, and Robert Lewis – went on to become leading acting teachers and directors, passing their spirit and principles to the next generation of artists including Marlon Brando, James Dean, Robert De Niro, Paul Newman, Meryl Streep, Gregory Peck, and David Mamet, to name but a few.

Only the mad, magical city of New York could have produced “the bravest and single most significant experiment in the history of American theater (PBS).”

The two best pieces of advice I have ever received in life were given to me by teachers at the Stella Adler Conservatory:

The late James Tripp once told me, “You say ‘No!’ to yourself, too often.”

And, Alice Winston once shouted, “Get off the stage and marry a lawyer.”

I love Alice. To this day. May her soul rest in peace. I took her advice wholeheartedly. I did get off the stage… but, have never strayed too far from it. Married, I never did. Sorry, Alice!

She continued, “You are an intellectual [punctuating in-telle-c-tu-al].”

That was not a compliment.

“The stage is life, music, beautiful girls, legs, breasts, not talk or intellectualism or dried-up academics.” Harold Clurman

How could they have known so much about this very private and shy first generation immigrant girl?

… I can, and will in later posts, go on about all the ways in which New York has re-birthed me as passionate, resilient and outspoken American.

I can talk about how my mother, a first generation immigrant took to painting within months of landing on Long Island, until months before her passing in 2008.

Jacques, Stella, James, Alice, of course, mom, and, yes, dad, have all helped shape my identity as a woman, a creative, a New Yorker, and an American.

Even when living in Boston, London, Berlin, Paris, and Oxford (UK), I was unable, more like unwilling, to shed the intense, passionate and energetic energy that defines spirit of New Yorkers.

“As a woman, I have no country. As a woman, my country is the whole world (Virginia Wolf).” For me, as a woman, my home is New York. 

Homa Taj, Filmmaker, Artist, Museologist

 My latest theater experience seeing Moulin Rouge Broadway, December 15, 2021