Page One

Death of dance teacher remembered

By Ben Lumpkin Special to the Daily Planet
Thursday February 22, 2001

Students and staff of Berkeley High School gathered at the Community Theater during their lunch break Wednesday to mark the one year anniversary of the death of Marcia Singman, a dance teacher at the school for more than 30 years.  

Singman suffered a stroke last February and died a few days later at the age of 55.  

“Marcia was one of those persons who, when that person is gone, the loss is not just immediate, it’s a long term thing,” said Berkeley High vocal music teacher Wendell Brooks as he left the theater hall. Brooks was a colleague of Singman for 15 years. 

“There is no replacing the personality that she was.” 

Singman came to the school in 1968, two years after earning a bachelor’s degree in dance education from the University of Colorado at Boulder. Over the years she became involved in virtually all the arts programs at the school, including piano, choral, stagecraft, jazz, orchestra and dance.  

“She influenced literally thousands of kids,” said long-time friend Sally Wolfer, who teaches drawing and painting at the school. “When she died, the whole school mourned.” 

Students and faculty gathered around a makeshift shrine with candles and flowers Wednesday to share their favorite memories of Singman, or just to meditate on her passing in silence. Many were visibly moved. 

“This was for students and staff to come and be together,” said Berkeley High Visual Arts Teacher Miriam Stahl, who helped prepare the shrine. “She was the most positive person at Berkeley High.” 

Singman was one of the most popular teachers at the school and widely admired for her unflagging energy and optimism. 

In an academic atmosphere of competing perspectives where tempers sometimes flare, Singman’s spirit of tolerance and acceptance kept her above the fray, Brooks said. 

“She never criticized,” Brooks said. “She was a focal point both for her students and her colleagues. She was sort of a center.” 

“She realized that there were people of all different levels in her classes,” said Berkeley High senior Beth Morris. Morris began taking dance because she needed a Physical Education credit and then fell in love with it under Singman’s influence. 

“She really encouraged you,” Morris said. “She was just overall positive about everybody dancing.”  

Morris said she recalled Singman exhorting students to attend upcoming dance performances and auditions in the Bay Area, or teaching dance moves she had picked up watching talented dancers perform. 

“She had no children of her own and she really made her students her extended family,” Brooks said. “She built up one of the best dance departments of any big school anywhere.” 

Wolfer said some of Singman’s students are working at major dance companies today.  

Berkeley High Councilor Susan Werd said her daughter, Lauren Nagel-Werd, was one of those students who Singman inspired to put dancing near the center of her life. Although she had no interest in dance before attending Berkeley High, dancing is one of Nagel-Werd’s favorite pursuits as an undergraduate at Northwestern University, Werd said. 

Werd recalled trying to thank Singman for her positive influence on her daughter. Singman looked her in the eye and said simply, “You know why your daughter can dance? Because she’s smart.” 

“You could never give Marcia a compliment without her turning it around,” Werd said. 

Werd and others said the fact that Berkeley High dance productions continued as scheduled after Singman’s death last year was a tribute to her giving students the poise and confidence to take charge of productions on their own. 

“She put a lot of the responsibility (for production) on students and I think that really improve the shows,” said Berkeley High senior Tetta Martin. “She pushed people to their personal limits.” 

Martin has been dancing for 12 years and is auditioning for shows in the Bay Area.  

She had experimented with choreography before she ever got to Berkeley High, she said, but her skill has improved tremendously thanks to a challenge issued to her one day by Singman. 

“She said my choreography should flow from one step to the next,” Martin said. “I didn’t even understand what she was talking about at the time, but now I do.”