Lily Weiss on four decades of educating young dancers and her upcoming retirement.
For almost 40 years Lily Weiss has been cultivating young talent here in Dallas, 14 of which she has spent as the head of the Dance Department at Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts (BTWHSPVA) in Downtown Dallas. “I remember when it was just us, Dallas Black Dance Theatre and the Dallas Museum of Art,” Weiss says. “A lot has changed since then.”
And the community is about to face another change as Weiss plans to retire at the end of this year, sort of. Per the request of her principal, Weiss will return next school year to help manage the transition to a new department head and new faculty. “Never have we had a head and two faculty leaving at the same time so, I agreed to one more year to help with the transition, but that is it.”
Weiss has spent most of her life preparing young dancers for their professional careers. She received her Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in dance from Texas Woman’s University and taught at Southern Methodist University and Houston’s HSPVA before joining the faculty at BTWHSPVA in 1978.
Her accolades include the National Young Arts Foundation Distinguished Teacher Award, Distinguished Teacher by the Commission on Presidential Scholars ten different years by 11 students, SURDNA Arts Teacher Fellowship, the Texas Dance Educator Award, the Bates Dance Festival Teacher Fellowship and Distinguished Teacher from the Rockefeller Foundation. She is currently on the Board of TITAS and the Steering Committee for the Bruce Wood Dance Project since 2011.
“I plan to continue working in the arts in some capacity after I retire, but I am going to take a year to explore new opportunities. I am looking forward to having more time for myself.” As to why she chose now to retire Weiss says that the timing just felt right. “I love teaching, but I have seen too many people stay past their time and in the end it’s really the kids who suffer.”
During her tenure at BTWHSPVA Weiss has seen the school and dance program grow by leaps and bounds. “For the first several years back in the 70s’ and 80s’ and really even into the year 2000 we had an average of 90-100 dance majors. When we moved into the new building we jumped to 140 dance majors in 2010. In the last four years we have seen an exponential jump in enrollment. We are now at 215 dance major.”
That isn’t the only number Weiss has seen grow over the last few years. She adds that since the dance department moved into the new building back in 2008 they have seen a steady climb in the number of dance major applicants. “We usually had under 100 students audition and in those days we had maybe 35 slots for freshman. Now we have almost 200 auditioning for us and 50 slots for freshman.” Weiss attributes the most recent applicant increase to the school’s location which is situated right in the middle of the expanding Dallas Arts District in between Dallas Black Dance Theatre and the AT&T Performing Arts Center. “I think there are more trained dancers now whose parents want them to come to this kind of situation where they have more opportunities to participate in learning labs, internships and performances.”
When asked what she is going to miss the most Weiss says, “The kids without a doubt. They have such a great energy. It’s so nice being around people who are willing to do anything and aren’t jaded. I’m really going to miss that.”