‘Pioneering is in my blood’

Foto's van het afscheidsfeest van Henny Kamerman, in het Danstheater van de Theaterschool (fotografie: Jean van Lingen)

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The energy she radiates is just as impressive as her C.V. Having recently turned 65, jazz dance pioneer Henny Kamerman who since 1976 has meant so much to the Theaterschool is retiring. What does she regard as the highlights of her time here? And…what does she plan to do with her passion for dance after her retirement?

In 1989 you established a brand new study programme for jazz theatre and show musical dance. What was the climax for you personally?
‘For me the production we staged together with the Alvin Ailey school in 1994, was a very special moment. As artistic director during the three years that preceded it, I had built up a new study programme from scratch with a team of enthusiastic teachers. When I decided to invite the Alvin Ailey School to create a collaborative production, many people thought: What a nerve! I must admit, it was risky … such a new study programme teaming up with an internationally renowned institute.’

It turned out a big success…
‘Yes! In the first place it was a fantastic experience for the students. And we received a lot of positive feedback from the professional field and the press. We put our fledgling study programme on the map in one fell swoop. You set up a new study programme, you have no role models and suddenly everything falls into place. That was fantastic.’

Were the formative years of the new study programme difficult?
‘A major incentive was that the development of the new study programme coincided with the emergence of the musical in The Netherlands. Our first graduates immediately found employment. There was an enormous demand for our students. In the beginning 75 percent of casts performing in Dutch musicals came from our school!’

In 2002 you became advisor for dance internationalization at the Theaterschool. You devoted  yourself to promoting student exchange. What are you proud of?
‘That through my efforts, so many students have been able to study abroad. It’s marvelous to see them return so full of confidence. From my own experience I know how very important it is for your further dance career. I’m very grateful for the chance I got in 1972 to follow a free study at the Alvin Ailey School and the Dutch scholarship I received for my upkeep. I wanted to convert that gratitude into creating chances for a new generation.’

What was the biggest challenge you faced?
‘For me it was a big challenge to set up free student exchange – I enjoyed promoting our school among other schools abroad. That resulted in a lot of outstanding exchange programmes with international study courses like Purchase College, Tisch University and the Alvin Ailey School.’

Setting up the innovative RendezVous programme is another of your achievements: you invited foreign choreographers and dancers to visit the school when they were touring Holland. You coordinated no less than 65 seminars. Which one in particular do you remember?
‘One of the most exceptional was the Masters of Jazz week in 2005 with Junior Almeida and Rick Odums from France and Donald McKayle from the U.S. It was wonderful to have those people visiting the school for a week.  We organized jazz, composition and repertoire lessons for students of all the dance study programmes. These activities led up to a grand finale: performances in the Danstheater. What an atmosphere, what a boost for the students and the school!’

What are you looking forward to most now you’re retiring?

‘ That I’ll have much more time to travel and won’t be limited to the duration of school holidays.’

And what will you miss?

‘I really enjoy teaching. Luckily, I don’t have to give that up just yet. I’ll be teaching at the Theaterschool until the summer holidays. Moreover, as long as I feel fit and energetic,  I’ll instruct teachers in Holland who have their own dance school.    

You will be leaving for New York shortly, the city where you once started your jazz dance career. What do you plan to do there?
‘I’ll be pursuing my passion for dance and teaching. I’m following a short course about dancing with Parkinson patients. Currently in Holland there is only movement therapy for Parkinson patients. This is new: based purely on dancing and the joy it gives you.’

So before long we can expect to see you pioneering dancing with Parkinson patients here in Holland?

(laughs) ‘No! I’m allowing myself just a first taste. There’s no obligation…I have more freedom and space. But who knows. Pioneering is in my blood.’