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Choreographer Mary Wanamaker

From the Classroom to the Stage to the Ice

By Christine R. Walsh

For Mary Wanamaker, a walk down memory lane includes perusing the playbills of shows she’s danced in over the years ~ each one a symbol of her love of movement and of her irrepressible spirit.

A student of tap, jazz and ballet since the age of 8, Wanamaker lived and breathed dance; friends and complete strangers had encouraged the choreographer to head to New York City, the dance mecca of the world, but responsibilities, such as having her own studio at 18 and then teaching at Wachusett Regional High School, kept her in the Worcester area.

It was after Wanamaker choreographed a Wachusett performance of “Cats,” that fate started pulling her away from her home.

“There was a little ice skater in the audience ~ Beth Ann Duxbury,” Wanamaker recalled, “who saw my work and she told her mother that she wanted me to choreograph her next piece on ice. That’s when I started choreographing for skaters. ”

Wanamaker swapped the warm lights of the stage for the cold rink and soon she was choreographing performance routines for a roster of skaters. Then, in 1983, she gave up her stable surroundings and supportive community for the cutthroat life of New York City auditions. She was a triple threat ~ with ballet, jazz and tap experience on her resume ~ but despite those impressive credentials, it was Wanamaker’s belief in herself that turned out to be her greatest tool.

“I remember calling my mother and saying ‘I got cut today,'” said Wanamaker. “And she would say, ‘Oh you can come home. ‘ And I would say, ‘No.’ You had to persevere. ”

Wanamaker performed in Broadway shows including “42nd Street,” “Cabaret,” and “Tap Dance Kid.” She spent a summer working at Radio City Music Hall for Disney after a stressful three day auditioning process that whittled a group of 200 hopefuls down to a final cast of 20.

Upon her return to Massachusetts, Wanamaker received a phone call that was truly a “blast from the past.” It was her former skating student, Beth Ann Duxbury. Duxbury had performed with Disney on Ice and was coaching skaters and she wanted to utilize Wanamaker’s dance talents to help her kids.Before Wannamaker knew it, she was back in the rink.

Today, Wanamaker continues to coach skaters, but she has added some Olympic hopefuls to her roster of students. This past year, one of her “Synchro Teams” from Canada placed first in the world. According to Wanamaker, Synchro is similar to the Rockettes on ice. There are about 30 women, all working, skating and moving in unity. How does a team achieve this incredible feat?

“Practice, practice, practice!” Wannamaker said. “I spend about 30 hours a week at the rink.”

Wanamaker’s next big project is beginning a “Theater on Ice” program at the Colonial Figure Skating Club, Inc. With two other coaches, she will translate theatrical pieces into skating performances and eventually compete against other groups. She admits this endeavor might take up some of her free time, but she has accepted that. Her husband, on the other hand…

“My husband’s going to kill me!” Wanamaker laughed. “But it’s ok. I’m high energy.”

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