A Personal Remembrance of My Teacher/Mentor, Anne Rudolph by Zohara Schuster

Anne Rudolph was born in Hoboken, New Jersey. In her childhood, her family moved back to Bad Oeynhausen, Germany. A superb athlete, Anne caught the attention of Adolph Hitler. He wanted her to train German youth for war. Walking down the corridor to meet him, she changed her mind and left. She did not cooperate and fled Germany to come to America. Anne’s mother resisted her way as she operated an “underground railway” to help Jews escape from Germany. Anne’s mother once demonstrated the courage to hold one’s belief in the face of danger. The scene took place at a civil court in Germany in the town where Anne’s mother lived. The judge ordered everyone to stand and say, Heil Hitler. Her mother remained seated! The judge leaned over his table and calmly asked Mrs. Rudolph to stand and say, “Heil Hitler.” She told the judge that Hitler’s name would never take the place of God’s, and she remained seated.

Anne came to Chicago and connected with Jane Addams and Hull House. She stayed at a beautiful all-women’s hotel affiliated with Jane Addams. Her experience with Hitler inspired her to teach people about the evils of war. She was committed never to train youth for combat. Her compassion led her to help start the rehabilitation center for children with Cerebral Palsy at Michael Reese Hospital. While not a patient in the Michael Reese program, Judy Sampson was a six-month-old child with Cerebral Palsy that Anne nurtured. Years later, I used to assist and watch Anne work with Judy. When Anne was teaching Judy, she was like a human-machine transferring over her healing rhythm that helped release Judy’s spasms until Judy could try to do it herself. Sometimes Anne used counting of how many movement repetitions they did. Still, the counting always changed based on Judy‘s determination and ability. Anne always tried to set up her lessons to make Judy feel successful. Anne’s goals for Judy were for her not to have a distorted body, eventually have a boyfriend, get married, and live a full life. I do know that Judy’s body was not distorted, and she was beautiful. Anne could have dedicated her time to develop her school and dance company but instead offered her time and energy to restore Judy’s health and vitality. Judy was able to live a fuller life because of the dedication of Anne Rudolph. This story compares to that of Hellen Keller and her teacher, Anne Sullivan.

Dr. Howard Bartfield met Anne at one of her concert performances, and it was love at first sight. Howard was a very successful oral surgeon who was always in demand, and he too was generous of spirit. During the Depression, he lost most of his financial investments but still served many clients without charging them. They married, and he became very supportive of her work. Dr. Bartfield, as an oral surgeon, believed in preventative dentistry. Anne was influenced by his work, especially in her Body Education teachings related to preventing physical freedom loss due to aging. His influence led to her discovery of a new way of teaching movement. Two weeks before his death, he was teaching me how to use my toothbrush correctly. I always said that

Anne was in charge of my body, but Howard was in charge of my teeth! They were a perfect couple in supporting each other how to generously give over their talents for the benefit of all humanity. In Germany, Anne had been a modern concert dancer. In Chicago, she continued to give dance concerts. She performed in such venues as the Goodman Theatre, Fine Arts Building Theater and taught modern dance in their dance studio. As a performing artist, Anne’s struggle and conflict were that her passion for dance pushed her beyond her physical capacity. The conflict inherent in the artist’s performance energy was that they overwork their bodies. She observed these tendencies in her dancers, and they were getting injured before their performances. Correcting these tendencies was a significant turning point in her style of teaching. She had to discover a new way to train dancers to minimize their injuries. From her observations, she then developed posture alignment work. She found that the most important movement that reflects how a person moves is through their walk. Anne’s performance energy knew no boundaries, but she claimed that BODY EDUCATION saved her life!    

When she furthered her artistic and educational career, she established her studio on Michigan Avenue in Chicago. I was three when I began studying with Anne in that studio. My mother found Anne Rudolph through a connection to a Jewish orphanage. She provided a home for one of the orphans, Merle, who cared for me as a mother‘s helper until she got married. Her one condition for helping my mother was to continue lessons with her teacher, Anne Rudolph. My mother said, “yes, if you take my daughter for lessons too.” That was my innocent beginnings of entering the expressive world of movement. She taught one class for children, but I stayed the whole day. Anne told me later; I used to sit in the corner and watch all the classes quietly. My reward was, I could go into my teacher’s magical box of different colors chiffons and dress up and play monkey with her. That was my beginning of how Anne touched my soul.

As the diaries indicated, she was always worried about meeting the rent. Still, all the lessons to those from the Jewish orphanage were free. She would also run one class into another and offered that it would be free if people wanted to stay to continue the next session. 

I think I was five when Anne closed her school, but she already touched my heart with her unique gift of bringing out my young imagination. I always left wanting more. That sealed my destiny. I was to be part of my teacher’s life. My mother attempted to replace my teacher by setting me up in other dance schools, but with no success. In those classes, I didn’t have the freedom of self-expression. Instead, they replaced freedom of expression with stylized techniques. The teacher made body corrections with a stick! I told my mother that I only wanted to take lessons with Anne Rudolph. She told me that she would get her number, but I would have to call her. I thought of my teacher as if she was larger than life. I was nervous and shy, but I did it. I think this was the beginning of my learning how to work with influential people. When I called Anne, she asked me where I was studying. I told her, “if you want me to be a dancer, then I can only learn from you.” Anne set up my classes at her home on Rush Street off Michigan Avenue.

I had taken two lessons, and then she shared how she analyzed my body. At eight years old, I was developing a lumbar curvature. She said it needed to be corrected, or my curvature would be in every movement I created. She planned to prepare a program that would entail spinal alignment work. She would give me movement exercises to practice. The following week she would tell me if I was improving. I thought about the plan, and the next week I told her I wanted to do her program. She gave me a visual image. She said, first I had to make my foundation strong, like preparing a cake, and then put the frosting on top. The frosting is the treat, and she compared it to me dancing. I was ready for the challenge, so that was my beginning of learning her methods of prevention, preservation, and joy of the moving body. The joy was me experiencing dance. Again, I never knew who would show up in my so-called “after-school private sessions,” but it was always exciting. I do recall Judy Sampson being in some of my classes. I thought we shared the same goal of trying to make our bodies stronger. Because I was such a dedicated student and was significantly improving from the homework that Anne gave me, she rewarded me by giving me a forever scholarship. These experiences represent my humble beginning of Anne Rudolph becoming my teacher and mentor.

I think I was around 16 when we used to go to the park and sit on the benches for hours, observing how people walked. Some of the questions she would ask me were:

1) Are they dropping their weight to the right or left side? 

2) Are they turning out the right or left foot?

3) From what part of the body are they dropping their weight? Anne always asked if she could see the backs of her students’ shoes. She could tell from how the shoes were wearing out which side her students favored as they walked.

Here are some of Anne’s sayings that I grew up learning.

1) Your feet should be a springboard for lightness in space.

2) Always walk with a lift.

3) Move through your joints, not in your joints.

4) If you hear yourself walking, you’re walking too heavily.

5) An aging body is narrow in the front and broad in the back.

6) Your body should be a long “U,” open in the front and narrow in the back.

7) How your body performs at twenty is nature’s doing, but how your body performs in your later years is your doing!

My life with my mentor was continuous. I was learning Anne’s work without knowing it. There were no schools or teachers offering anything like her method, just hands-on experience with Anne. I never missed a class. I never had any dreams of becoming a great teacher or dancer. I just loved being in her presence and witnessing how she transformed peoples’ bodies and lives to be the best that they could be!

Anne always wanted to write her book. At one point, she chose me to be part of a team that would put the book together. I rejected the invitation because I thought I wasn’t mature enough to work with the other teachers’ egos. One of Anne’s greatest fears was that if she wrote her book, people would draw from it only movement routines, and these routines might not fit with what people needed. Again, routines could stop a teacher from thinking and feeling and not being in the exploratory moments.

Anne had a generosity of spirit like no other. The creative energy combined with the desire to help people often leads an artist to trust people who appear to support you and your work. I’m now going to share something that happened before my time with Anne. It relates to her desire to publish her work. Anne had a wealthy patron who was also her student. This person became one of my teacher’s closest friends. Anne shared all her struggles with surviving as an artist and her movement education ideas. This student was never a dancer or artist, but she was wealthy and intelligent. Eventually, this person broke away from Anne and wrote a book about the work without Anne’s knowledge. Of course, the relationship ended because Anne felt this student stole all her ideas for her benefit and gave Anne no credit! After that experience, Anne was not as trusting. 

In my early 30’s, I was becoming well known for teaching Anne’s work. The television show 20/20 wanted to do a presentation on me. All my friends were very excited, except me! I remembered how one of Anne’s students plagiarized her work for her glory. That urge, however, never came into my body. I called up the producer of 20/20 and told them they’d got the wrong person. I never created Body Education, and I’m only one of Anne Rudolph’s teachers. I directed the producer of 20/20 to seek out the pioneer, Anne Rudolph. With great success, they interviewed Anne for an hour.

She lived her life the way she taught, never two classes alike. Her teaching style kept me open to be receptive and flexible for life’s challenges, which prepared me for how to react in our last moments together. I had the great honor to be present at her passing. We went into her bedroom. She was seated at the end of her bed with an air of nobility. She unbuttoned her white blouse and asked me to help remove it from her body. She laid down with grace and ease. Her breathing was relaxed. Before my very eyes, her skin seemed to transform into a heavenly glow. She looked thirty years younger. Her last direction was for me to straighten her out. How fitting because her whole life work focused on the principle of straightness. Then she floated her head, arms, and legs into a uniform cradle position. It appeared as if she was floating in another universe. As she was coming down, I gently embraced her head and upper torso and eased her to her original position. Her eyes turned slightly glossy. Her body gave up her soul, and I knew she was no longer earthbound. Her death was her final DANCE performance, and I was her audience, but never her last curtain call because her work lives on through her students. 

Her final performance was a magical moment based on beauty, not a tragedy.

She was indeed an artist, and her sense of timing was always in the moment!

-Zohara

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