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Teacher inspires passion for dance

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Pamela Taylor-Tongg, artistic director of Ballet Hawaii, performed in this year’s production of the “Nutcracker” at the Blaisdell Concert Hall.

As artistic director of Ballet Hawaii for the past 25 years, Pamela Taylor-Tongg has touched many lives.

Hundreds of ballet dancers have blossomed under her mentorship and tutelage, with the opportunity to perform in classics such as the ever-popular "Nutcracker."

During her tenure, Taylor-Tongg, 63, has brought in master dancers from throughout the world for the nonprofit; opened satellite campuses in Wahiawa and Kapolei; and established scholarships for low-income students.

This year, Taylor-Tongg marked a milestone by bringing Ballet Hawaii students to the Youth America Grand Prix, an international dance competition. Taylor-Tongg also was named the 2010 Outstanding Teacher at the event. For these accomplishments, Taylor-Tongg is one of the Star-Advertiser’s 10 Who Made a Difference this year.


Every day through year’s end, the Star-Advertiser will recognize people who changed Hawaii in 2010. Some are familiar names; others shunned the spotlight. But all made a difference. The winners were chosen by Star-Advertiser editors from nominations submitted by staff members and readers.


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The "Nutcracker," which just concluded at Blaisdell Center, is one of Taylor-Tongg’s favorite ballets to orchestrate, offering students many different roles and an opportunity to dance on the same stage with top guest artists.

The reward comes at showtime, she said, which is the culmination of weeks of hard work.

"That’s my favorite time — once the curtain opens, and everyone is dancing to the best of their ability," Taylor-Tongg said of Ballet Hawaii’s last "Nutcracker" performance for the year. "We have such delightful guest artists, and so many wonderful memories."

Besides planning and implementing the season programming, she teaches at the Dole Cannery dance studio, and works seven days a week.

Her goal in the next few years is to find a permanent home for Ballet Hawaii, and expand the offerings to include other types of dance.

"I’ve never known anyone as dedicated as she is to what she does," said Susan Schull, who has known Taylor-Tongg for 20 years and served on the board with her. "Every program she ever is involved with is good. You’ve got to be impressed. She is sweet and kind, and she’s an inspiration for these girls. The school has thrived under her direction."

Taylor-Tongg started ballet when she was just 3 years old in Chicago. She danced well into her teens.

After she married and had a child, she went back to dancing at age 22 — unusual for anyone on the path to becoming a professional dancer — which would eventually lead her to audition for the Atlanta Ballet.

She danced as a soloist with the Atlanta Ballet for 10 years, and was the company’s ballet mistress, before taking the post as artistic director of Ballet Hawaii.

"I always tell my students, ‘If you love to dance and that’s in your heart, no matter what the circumstances are, you will continue in some way or other,’" she said. "Where there’s a will and a passion, there’s a way."

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