Marguerite Phares, a premier Sacramento ballet teacher who trained noted dancers for more than 60 years, died Nov. 14 of complications related to age, her family said. She was 94.
Mrs. Phares was a legend in the dance community for her success in molding young people into serious dancers. She taught ballet, tap and jazz to generations of students at the Marguerite Phares School of Dance in Sacramento, which she opened in 1947.
Known for her high standards and direct manner, she drilled students in the fundamentals of ballet at her studio in a remodeled home on Marconi Avenue. She insisted that they practice until the technique was perfect even if it took several years to accomplish.
Her approach paid off for many youngsters who went on to acclaim as professional dancers including Dana Hash, former principal dancer of the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater; the late Traci-Kai Maier-Forsythe of the Frankfurt Ballet; veteran Broadway dancer Linda Talcott Lee; and Rachel S. Moore, executive director of the American Ballet Theatre.
Mrs. Phares' influence in the dance world was widely recognized among ballet teachers and professionals, and Robert Joffrey reportedly gave scholarships and accepted students to his summer school on her recommendation. She visited and studied ballet styles of leading companies in Canada, France, Italy and Russia.
"I love to teach," she told The Bee in 1994. "I love to take young dancers and show them dance. It's a wonderful and fulfilling experience that I can't explain."
Mrs. Phares was a founding board member of the Sacramento Area Dance Alliance and an early director of the Sacramento Junior Ballet. As founder and artistic director of the Phares Ballet Theatre, she choreographed performances of "A Midsummer Night's Dream," "Cinderella," "Sleeping Beauty," "The Nutcracker" and other classics.
She reached out to colleagues in the dance community as a mentor and friend.
"She said, 'You've got some talented students there' and encouraged me to start the Ballet Folsom," said Deirdre Hawkins, founder of the Hawkins School of Performing Arts in Folsom. "She shared her bylaws with me and helped me get started. She was incredibly generous."
Marguerite Linton was born in 1917 in Columbus, Ohio. Although her Quaker father disapproved, she was encouraged by her mother's interest in the arts and began dancing at age 4. By 12, she was teaching classes with her younger sister, Jean.
After earning a music degree from Ohio State University in 1939, she danced professionally with her sister before marrying Hugh K. Phares Jr. They had two children and settled in Sacramento after World War II. Her husband, a longtime professor of architectural subjects at American River College and Sacramento State, died in 2003.
Besides teaching six days a week for many years, Mrs. Phares ran rehearsals for shows, auditioned dancers for her touring group and gave demonstrations at local schools. She retired several years ago but coached youngsters who traveled to Sacramento to work with her on the advice of younger teachers who were alumni of the Marguerite Phares School of Dance.
"Why do I do it?" Mrs. Phares said in a 1994 interview. "Well, I guess the only reason is because I love it."