Resident’s ‘dirty dancing’ re-airs on Oprah
Ellen Werksman choreographs Barrington High School’s orchesis, choir and musicals, and runs her own dance company, Dancewerks. |Photos courtesy Ellen Werksman
Updated: January 23, 2013 8:58AM
BARRINGTON — When a recently aired Oprah Show flashed back to scenes of Ellen Werksman winning the show’s 1988 “Dirty Dancing” contest, the long-time Barrington resident knew she had some explaining to do.
“You know, I have never won anything in my life except for the fifth-grade cake walk at Hough Street School in Barrington — and the dance contest on The Oprah Show,” Werksman laughed.
The latter win, with dance partner Lou Brockman, was more exciting of course, as it earned Werksman the opportunity to perform with the Dirty Dancing concert tour.
On Nov. 20, the Oprah Winfrey Network re-aired portions of Werksman’s winning moment. Since that “Where Are They Now” re-run, the accomplished choreographer has received multiple calls from excited friends and acquaintances asking her about it.
But Werksman has never been one to dote on her own list of credentials — she hasn’t had the time to.
Today, she choreographs Barrington High School’s orchesis, choir and musicals. Werksman also tours and teaches with her company, Dancewerks, as well as with Dance Masters, International Dance Challenge and Inaside Chicago Dance. She directs the semi-professional dance ensemble Midwest Dance Collective and awards more than $25,000 in scholarships to young, aspiring dancers annually.
Q: How long have you lived in Barrington?
A: I was born in Chicago and moved to Barrington when I was three years old. We have lived here our entire lives as a family. I moved to New York briefly after an early graduation from high school to be on scholarship with the Joffrey ballet. Soon after, I returned and lived in Chicago for about 10 years. Then I met my husband and we moved back to Barrington.
Q: Why did you pick Barrington?
A: We chose to relocate back to my hometown to be close to family, and to become reconnected with my high school alma mater so I could forge an ongoing relationship with them. I was in many of the musicals at Barrington High School during my four years of school there.
Q: What inspired you to get involved with dance as an activity and as a career?
A: I was dancing around the yard and doing cartwheels ... soon after, my parents decided to enroll me in classes, and from there I was “scholarshipped” through the program and hand-selected to participate in special activities to represent the studio.
Q: What do you like about dancing?
A: The challenge to constantly evolve and continually reinvent myself as an artist. Although a traditional art form grounded in technique is the ART of the movement; the creativity, passion, visualization, the applause and recognition of a job well done excites me... as well as the SCIENCE of the movement. At times the dancer is either right or wrong — they have to challenge the body to move on demand with expertise that comes from hours of rehearsal. Always striving for perfection.
Q: What is your proudest moment?
A: As a teacher, my greatest reward is seeing the moment the “light” goes on for the student ... knowing that my experiences in dance, the ability to share my years of expertise have enabled the student to finally understand. I am especially proud to bring my years of versatile training and unique experiences into all my teaching. It is so rewarding to share information with students about the real world of dance. My diverse career has made me a better teacher and mentor by allowing me to share all these years of dance; from cruise ship auditions to TV work, to the world of commercial dance and concert dance.
Q: What is your greatest achievement?
A: My greatest achievement is to have made a successful career of all the facets of dance. As a director, teacher, performer adjudicator and choreographer, I have established a full time career in the arts.
Q: What are your future goals?
A: The future looks bright for Dancewerks as we continue to grow and expand each facet of the organization. Every year we add more “Werkshops,” more performances for the company, more scholarships for aspiring dancers. Eventually I can see expanding the current studio location to include more programming, collaborative projects and provides as many possible opportunities for students in the field of dance. For example, additional performances have been added with the Elgin Symphony Orchestra, the Village of Barrington Holidays Delights and the Summer Car Show.