Trudl Zipper Dance Institute Dean Margaret Tracey Brings Both Experience and Love for the Power of Expression Through Movement

“I love the work that I’ve done as a dance educator isn’t only focused on training tomorrow’s future artists, but also sharing this art form with a broad student body for the simple value of how it touches and transforms our lives.”

This article has been lightly edited for clarity and space. 

Welcome to the Colburn community! As dance has been a part of your life for quite some time, would you share some of your background in the field? 

As a professional performer, I was at the New York City Ballet for 16 years where I danced as a principal until my retirement. After that chapter, my post-performing career led me into teaching, and in 2007, I accepted the position of school director at Boston Ballet where I held that post for 14 years. For the past two years, I served as a freelance artist predominantly working in three areas: as a stager for the Balanchine Trust, as a guest faculty, and doing project-based work in consulting across North America and Europe. My consultancy engaged with dance education institutions both nationally and internationally.  

Going back even further, how did you become involved in the life of dance? 

As a young girl, I fell in love with the art form of ballet specifically and dreamt of doing something with it. But adolescence is when I fully committed to pursuing it vocationally. By the time I was 15, I was awarded a scholarship to attend the School of American Ballet, and that is when I started my professional training that led me to New York City Ballet. So between training and performing with the company, I was in New York with that institution for 20 years. 

What was it about dance that you were so drawn to commit your life to it? 

I remember my very first dance class; the empowerment I felt through the embodiment of movement without words was a transformative experience for me as an extremely shy little girl who never liked to open my mouth. And for the first time, I felt the strength and power of communication in a different form. And to this day, I can remember that sensation of when I was six like it was yesterday. 

Is there a specific form of dance that is your favorite or that you tend to be drawn toward? 

I get asked a similar question, what was your favorite ballet to dance? Or what’s your favorite ballet to watch? And it was whichever one I was doing at the time. And I obviously have spent my life committed to the art form of ballet and have a deep, deep affinity for that form. But I can be equally as inspired, motivated, and moved by any number of forms of dance. I’m just a fan of dance! 

What are some reasons that compelled you to join Colburn and the Trudl Zipper Dance Institute?  

Timing is one of the biggest drivers of life, I think. On a personal note, as I had mentioned, I had been freelancing for the past two years knowing that I would eventually want to find an organization to call my home. As much as I loved the traveling that I did over the last two years—the knowledge I gained, the people I met—I truly missed having a home base, building a team, and working with others. I’ve known of Colburn for a number of years. I have personally known the last two deans of the dance here at Colburn, and I taught here maybe five or six years ago for the Dance Academy. I was familiar with the work here, so I was excited about the growth possibilities more than anything. And specifically with the new building, knowing that the expansion is on the horizon and what that could mean for the Dance program. How will we further fulfill the School’s mission around dance? That was intriguing to me. 

Furthermore, the model of Colburn is different than any organization I’ve worked with to date. I’ve worked predominantly in professional programs that are associated with a major company. At Colburn, there are other performing art units, the Community School, Music Academy, and Conservatory, along with the strong Dance Program. I was fascinated by a new model and working within a new structure. I’ve also learned that Los Angeles has quite a rich dance community, and I am anxious to get to know it and discover how to continue to grow and elevate the programming here.  

If you can put this into words, what is your personal philosophy for dance? 

My personal philosophy for dance is first and foremost that it is another form of communication. You can think of music and dance as some of the most primal forms of communication: sound and movement. Every human being born in this world can understand that in some capacity.  

I love the work that I’ve done as a dance educator that isn’t only focused on training future artists, but sharing this art form with a broad student body for the simple value of how it touches and transforms our lives. Art is not a luxury. Art is a necessity in the fabric of our lives, and I can’t imagine a world not doing what I do and making sure that dance is a part of as many people’s lives as it can be. Dance is for all. 

What are some key takeaways that you hope those in our youth and adult dance receive by being in our program? 

I hope that every student walks into our space and our dance community with a sense that they belong—that fierce sense of belonging. One of our deepest needs as human beings is to feel as if we belong. Also that they discover something new about themselves in the process of learning dance. I am interested in students discovering the artistic genius that is within them. Not necessarily so that they become a star, but for however their dance journey ends up: Whether they land in politics advocating for arts, end up at Harvard discovering the next medical device to support knee replacements for dancers, or on the stage of the New York City Ballet.  

Extending this to the Dance Academy, are there other takeaways you have for these students? 

One of the things that is unique about the community of Colburn is that Dance Academy students are living, training, and communing with artists from the music world as well as the dance world. I hope what all of our students get through these collaborations is an appreciation for and an opportunity to be inspired by students in other disciplines. This is another really exciting aspect that drew me here to Colburn as I also studied classical music and I’m incredibly grateful for my musical education and how that informed my dancing.  

What are you looking forward to during your first academic year as Dean? 

I’m personally looking forward to a new work being done by a friend of mine, Janie Taylor, who is a revered former principal dancer with New York City Ballet and currently works with LA Dance Project. I saw one of her pieces this summer and was so inspired so I asked if she would create a piece for the Dance Academy. I’m also super excited about our Amplify artist, Michael Montgomery from Alonzo King Lines, who will be coming to create a piece for our Dance Academy students as well. Our Tap Faculty performance in November is going to be an incredible showcase, and then of course Misty Copeland’s going to be here next month. I’ve had a sneak preview of her film, Flower, and she’s done so many extraordinary things through dance to address social issues that we’re all facing. I really applaud how she is showing a new generation of Black Americans that they belong in ballet. I simply look forward to meeting each of our students across our multiple programs as they discover their own journey in dance here at Colburn!