We met Sharon Booth, an inpirational Canadian-born, Juilliard-educated dancer who found her way to Vienna, now teaching contemporary dance at the Staatsoper
Sharon Booth was nicknamed “The Giver.” She says this comes from giving her all on stage and to her students. Admittedly, even in conversation, this mother of two delivers energy with every word she utters.
Born in Montreal, she studied at the Juilliard School in New York City and spent four years dancing in San Francisco before moving back to Montreal to join the renowned reparatory company Les Ballets Jazz de Montreal.
For many this is already a stellar career.
As fate would have it, at 29, at the peak of her career, Booth suffered a hip injury and doctors told her she would never dance again. “I had massive restructuring of my hip and consequently my life.”
Coming to Vienna was a way to get away from dance – like many expats here, she came for love and stayed for, well, many reasons. She “re-trained” to become a Master Pilates Trainer at the Pilates Academy Vienna. But dance soon made its way back into her life.
It began with teaching at a studio and doing small projects with Tanzhotel and Tanzatelier. She even started performing again. When Manuel Legris took over the Staatsoper, Simona Noja, became the head of the ballet academy. Noja hired Booth to teach contemporary dance, which she has now done for the seventh season running.
“I’m a specialist because I’m from somewhere else.” Being an outsider brings a different take, she said. The degree from Juilliard helped. This also means she sees big differences between the North American and European teaching styles. “The Eastern European and Russian influence on classical ballet is still very strong here.” She calls it the “Ballet Gulag”: a cookie-cutter approach with little flexibility in technique and aesthetic. The dancers have to “get there, however, [they] have to.”
“Dancers are always told what to do,” she explained. “Ask a classical dancer to just start moving and she’ll look at you like a deer in headlights.” Classical dancers simply aren’t that creative, she said. That’s why she encourages her students to go to clubs and dance at home and listen to their favourite music so they don’t forget how to dance. “Doing pliés at the bar is not dancing.”
She has delved more into “non-performative” dance by becoming a certified holistic dance therapist, which she demonstrated at a TEDxVienna event in May 2016, where she performed with the trainees
in the program. “I brought them on stage with me because they were able to evoke this intimacy that classically trained dancers have a problem with, because we’re always searching for the aesthetic.”
This year will find her working for the first time as Artistic Director of a dance festival, Tanz Bozen in Italy. Drawing upon invaluable connections from all stages of her career, she’ll be busy putting together
the performances and workshops for the nearly 700 dancers attending.
“Asha Thomas is coming to teach contemporary,” she smiles happily. The principal dancer at Alvin Ailey graduated with her from Juilliard. As is Eric Gauthier, the director of Gauthier Dance, a classmate from National Ballet School in Toronto. She beams when she talks about introducing her students to these influencers. In her view, it’s the leg up that every artist needs to succeed.
Where to find Sharon Booth this summer
25 Hours Hotel
Sharon and her husband love the view from the rooftop bar terrace and with the kids they prefer the downstairs burger truck, Burger de Ville with its adjacent park area and nearby playground.
7., Lerchenfelder Straße 1-3 (map)
For some solid Hausmannskost Sharon likes this old-timer Gasthaus at the far end of the Prater Hauptallee, near the Lusthaus. It has plenty of shady outdoor seating to watch horses from the nearby stables trotting by.
2., Freudenau 255 (map)
Ahhh, the Enzis. This is where Sharon likes to kick back and be reminded that Vienna has in fact entered the 21st century. Of course you’re likely to find her and her young’uns at the Zoom Children’s Museum or next door at the baby-friendly Dschungel Café.
7., Museumsplatz 1 (map)
The gourmet in Sharon gets its fill at a small experimental kitchen in the 8th. Led by the chef who once hosted Silent Cooking, this place has prosecco on tap and creates delicious tapas-style renditions of underloved ingredients, like blood sausage, red beets, or chicory.