By: Suzanne Maggard
On June 15, 2013, David Blackburn passed away and the Cincinnati dance community lost a beloved teacher and friend. Blackburn served as a professor of dance at the University of Cincinnati’s College-Conservatory of Music for over 30 years and played a vital role in the history of the Cincinnati Ballet as a dancer and then as Assistant Artistic Director.
David Blackburn grew up in the small town of Dundee, Michigan, but did not always know that he wanted to be a dancer. An outgoing young man, he was the senior class president and the drum major for the marching band at his high school. He enrolled at the University of Michigan anticipating a career as a musician, but during a trip to New York City, he was inspired to change his course in life and become a dancer. Shortly thereafter, he moved to Detroit where he began studying ballet with Sandy Severo. His first teacher was Severo’s assistant David McLain, who would become Blackburn’s long-time partner both professionally and personally.
Blackburn came to Cincinnati via the Dayton Civic Ballet. In fact, while a dancer with the Dayton Civic Ballet, he stepped in as a guest dancer in the first performance of the Cincinnati Civic Ballet on March 15, 1964 at the University of Cincinnati’s Wilson Auditorium. When David McLain was offered the position as Artistic Director of the Cincinnati Ballet and head of the Dance Department at CCM, he asked Blackburn to join him in Cincinnati, and so in 1966, Blackburn became a full-time member of the Cincinnati Ballet Company. Shortly after that he enrolled in the College-Conservatory of Music’s Master of Fine Art in Dance program. He was among the first graduates of the program in 1968, and he began teaching at CCM the following academic year. (Blackburn had completed a B.A. in Speech and Theatre from Wayne State University while he was in Michigan.)
Blackburn was known for his teaching skills and his ability to work with children in CCM’s Preparatory Department. He was a mentor and teacher for countless students including actress Sarah Jessica Parker and her brother Toby, both of whom attended classes in the CCM Preparatory Department. In 1984, Blackburn became the Assistant Artistic Director of the Cincinnati Ballet, but became estranged from the ballet after the death of David McLain that same year. Blackburn continued to teach at CCM until the early 2000s.
In the early 1990s, Blackburn donated material related to ballet and to both his and McLain’s careers to the University of Cincinnati’s Archives and Rare Books Library. These two collections are available for research. The first collection, the David McLain and David Blackburn Dance Collection, contains a variety of photographs, scrapbooks, notes, music scores, and clippings from McLain and Blackburn’s years with the Cincinnati Ballet, the Dayton Civic Ballet, and CCM. A finding aid for the collection is available online through the OhioLINK Finding Aid Repository. The second collection, the David McLain and David Blackburn Program Collection, contains programs and playbills from various ballet performances in the United States and abroad. The finding aid for this collection is also available through the OhioLINK Finding Aid Repository. Even more material related to Blackburn and McLain is located in the Cincinnati Ballet records which are also available at the Archives and Rare Books Library.
A recent obituary written by Janet Light for Dance Magazine draws on both the Archives and Rare Books Library’s collection and her own memories of David Blackburn. It is available online in Dance Magazine’s In Memoriam section.
A public memorial honoring David Blackburn will take place on Saturday July 20 in CCM’s Patricia Corbett Theatre. More information on this event and Blackburn’s life can be found through the following online sources:
Lyman, David. “Sarah Jessica Parker in Cincinnati next week: She’s arranged memorial service for long-ago mentor David Blackburn,” Cincinnati Enquirer, July 12, 2013, http://news.cincinnati.com/article/20130712/ENT07/307120177/Sarah-Jessica-Parker-Cincinnati-next-week?odyssey=tab%7Ctopnews%7Ctext%7CArts%20&%20Theater
Lyman, David, “Cincy Ballet’s Blackburn was a mentor to Sarah Jessica Parker, others,” Cincinnati Enquirer, June 16, 2013 http://cincinnati.com/blogs/arts/2013/06/16/cincy-ballets-blackburn-was-mentor-to-sarah-jessica-parker-others/
Video showing David Blackburn teaching: “Laura Robinson reporting for Kids World, circa 1976-1977,” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XwjOJ_JAvEs