Elizabeth Mackin Karas is a Pittsburgh native who began her Ballet training under Mansur Kamaletdinov, the former director of the Bolshoi Ballet. She continued her training during the summers at the School of American Ballet in New York City. Her senior year of high school she was given a full scholarship apprentice position with Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre under the guidance of Patricia Wilde. In 1987, she joined the Cleveland/San Jose Ballet and toured Europe with Rudolph Nureyev highlighting Scotland’s Edinburgh Festival. Elizabeth represented the United States in the Jackson International Ballet Competition and performed with her partner Talal, principal dancer of the Frankfurt Ballet. Capezio, impressed by her technical proficiency, approached her to lead a campaign endorsing their products in Dance magazine. In 1991, she joined the Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre and had her roles reviewed by such prominent publications as The Washington Post, The Pittsburgh Post Gazette, Dance Magazine, The Cleveland Plain Dealer, and The San Jose Mercury News. Tim Scholl of Ballet Review, noted dance historian, reviewed Elizabeth’s principal role is Giselle. Professor Scholl wrote, “The peasant pas de deux provided the evening’s most pleasant surprise when Elizabeth burst onto the stage. Elizabeth was a saucy peasant with a wonderful, individual style, an irrepressible bounce, and nicely articulated pointe work.” In her eight years with the company, she performed various soloist and principal roles and toured throughout the United States, Europe, and the Far East, including Taipei, Taiwan for the International Dance Festival. She was fortunate to come under the guidance of Janek Schergen, former ballet master of the Royal Swedish Ballet, Washington Ballet, Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre, and current artistic director of Singapore Dance Theatre. Mr. Schergen inspired Elizabeth as she transitioned from her career as a performer to her current passion of giving the art of Dance to her students. Elizabeth has taught all ages and ability levels since retiring from performing.
AN INTERVIEW WITH ELIZABETH MACKIN KARAS
How old were you when you started ballet?
I was three in creative movement and the teacher told my mother that I had talent. My mother told the teacher that all she saw was a bunch of running around.
How many pointe shoes do you use in a day as a professional ballet dancer?
One to two pair per day during a 38-week season
How old were you when you started dancing 5 days per week?
What summer programs have you attended?
Pennsylvania Ballet and School of American Ballet in NYC
Who was the teacher that most inspired you?
Janek Schergen who is the current artistic director of Singapore Dance Theater. When Janek was our ballet master, he would always warm himself up with his own personal class while the company was taking their morning class. When I was recovering from a foot injury, Janek invited me into his personal morning class so I could work on my recovery. This was an honor. He silently encouraged me to push myself. He never asked for recognition. He taught me that teaching was about giving yourself to others.
What do you remember about the day you retired from being a professional ballet dancer?
I was talking to my family about what I wanted to do. My brother-in-law said to me, “What are you talking about? You stood at that barre for 25 years, you can do anything.
What is your most memorable teaching moment?
When a 5-year-old student raised her hand and told me that she “felt the music in her feet.”
What advice would you give your students?
Work hard. Keep your mind clear so you can focus on your goals. This hard work in dance will teach you how to succeed wherever life takes you.
When you are not teaching where would we find you?
On a beach reading a book with my family.
What is your favorite book?
Recently, I read, The girl who fell from the sky, by Heidi W. Durrow. I think she is the next author to watch.
If you were to have dinner with anyone who would it be?
I recently met an actress living in Pittsburgh who was in the movie Cry Freedom, one of my favorite films. She had an inspirational story about her role in the movie. I would love to talk to her more about that experience so I could share it with my students.
What is your favorite reality TV show?
Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood
Tell us about a comical performance moment.
One Christmas evening I was driving to Cleveland from Pittsburgh with a fellow dancer. We hit a snowstorm and slid down a hill and our car spun out of control and rolled backward onto the shore of Lake Erie. The next day we were to perform in the Nutcracker. I had the lead of Clara and he was the Prince. I was so sore and shaken from the accident that I told my artistic director I could not dance. He said, “You’ll be fine.” So we bothperformed. In the last scene I was to come on stage for 16 more counts andwas lifted by my friend. Soon we were both flat on the floor. A dancer who was behind me said, “Mackin, get up!” I apologized to my artistic director for the fall and he said, “What are you talking about, you were fabulous.”