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Arts Toolkit

Arts Toolkit: Dance

Kentuckians in Dance

Dance Company Pianist Mary Riesenfeld Crawford
Louisville, KY

Who Mary Riesenfeld Crawford grew up in New Jersey, but has lived in Louisville since 1974. She earned a bachelor's degree in elementary education at New York University and has a master's degree in education. Mary also studied piano performance with Lee Luvisi at the University of Louisville. She has been company pianist for the Louisville Ballet for more than 20 years and also plays piano in a big band.

What “Every day, the ballet has a class for dancers to do the fine-tuning and practice for what they're performing. The format of the class is the same every day—an hour and a half. The teacher gives the dance step combinations, from slow to quicker and less complex to more complex. The combination is demonstrated or spoken, and it happens very quickly. My job is to play music that fits the combination that's been given. Different teachers have different preferences in music: It can be something jazzy or something classical. Some things I create on the spot that might imitate another style that I know. There is music that's been put together that's considered ballet music and CDs, but the Louisville Ballet prefers to use a live pianist, because I can keep going and give them what they want on the spot.”

When/Where “I work in a large studio for an hour and a half a day. As the company goes into production, the time of the class is moved to later in the day. It helps to have a flexible schedule.”

How “I have to choose music and rhythms that support what the dancers are dancing and are also satisfying to listen to. I want my music to help them jump when they jump, to help them lift when they lift, and so on. They'll ask for a tango, a polka, and a march.... I have a couple of notebooks where I collect music that fits the kinds of things the dancers do in class. I also listen to CDs of other ballet music.”

Why “I really enjoy the freedom to choose what I want to play. I like the hour and a half of focus. It's almost like a meditation sometimes, where I think of nothing but what I'm doing. I have a sort of semi-audience. I know the dancers are listening, but I am not the performer here. I get to perform without being the center of attention, which suits me very well.”

Getting There “You need a hodgepodge of training. You need to know classical piano for technique and endurance, you need to learn ballet music, and you need to be able to improvise. I learned while doing. Helen Starr [former Louisville Ballet principal dancer and now assistant artistic director] and another company pianist, Jackie Metzler, taught me. It's not going to make you rich in a financial sense, and that's important to know. It could be a job to supplement something else. If it's something you want to learn, it really helps to learn from somebody already doing it.”


600 Cooper Drive, Lexington, KY 40502 (859) 258-7000 (800) 432-0951