by Emily Sorenson
Southern California Ballet founder Sylvia Palmer-Zetler was recently honored by the national Dance Teacher magazine for her work teaching ballet.
She was one of four dance instructors nationwide to receive a 2017 Dance Teacher Award. Her fellow award-winners were Dawn Axam of Atlanta, Georgia; Bridgit Lujan of Central New Mexico Community College in New Mexico; and Sue Sampson-Dalena of Fresno.
The award honors four outstanding educators for their contributions to the field of dance, according to the magazine’s website. The winners are selected from nominations sent in by students, colleagues and other members of the dance community.
“I’m still in shock,” said Palmer-Zetler of the award. “It’s huge. It’s such an honor, I never expected that.”
Palmer-Zetler said she was in “really good company” with her fellow winners.
When she was originally contacted by the magazine about the award, she thought it might be a scam, she said, as she had been contacted by numerous fake award scams after earning her master’s degree. When she found out it was real, she said she was honored and everyone involved was very nice and helped her out at the Dance Teacher Summit, where she was presented with her award.
She did not announce her win, she said, so her students and colleagues were surprised by the centerfold article on her in the magazine’s July issue. “I told them, now you should appreciate me.”
Palmer-Zetler founded the Southern California Ballet, then called the Black Mountain Dance Centre, 30 years ago, following a career as a dancer in the National Ballet of Canada and teaching at the National Ballet School of Canada.
She retired as the ballet’s artistic director in February, but has remained on as the director of the Southern California Ballet’s Cecchetti program, which is a progressive system of training dancers from a pre-ballet beginning level to a professional level. Dancers must pass exams to move on to a higher level of instruction, which Palmer-Zetler will administer. She is one of eight certified Cecchetti examiners in the United States.
Her new role at the ballet allows her to reduce her working hours to three days a week, giving her more time to travel and enjoy her family, she said. “Now the burden is off my shoulders.”
The new co-directors of the ballet are Martha Leebolt and her husband Tobias Batley, who recently retired from the Northern Ballet in Leeds, England. Leebolt is a former student of Palmer-Zetler. The duo look over on Sept. 1.
“We have really quality people taking over,” she said. “I’ve had my eye on (Leebolt taking over) for a long time. They’re so good, reputable, talented, a perfect match.”