Damara Bennett Tribute

We were deeply saddened to learn of the passing of Damara Bennett. To say she had an impact on OBT and our community of dancers and teachers would be an understatement. Damara helped shape the Oregon Ballet Theatre School, grow the community of ballet dancers and teachers within Oregon, and nationwide, and established a level of excellence in the artform that continues through those who were lucky enough to have worked with her.

Damara as a dancer with San Francisco Ballet

Damara received her formal ballet training under the direction of Lila Zali in Laguna Beach, California, where her early dedication and talent afforded her a Ford Foundation Scholarship from the School of American Ballet. In 1971, Damara joined San Francisco Ballet, dancing under the direction of Lew Christensen and Michael Smuin. During her tenure at SFB, she studied under Erik Bruhn, Tatiana Grantzeva, and Terry Westmoreland and performed the works of such distinguished choreographers as Frederick Ashton, George Balanchine, Maurice Bejart, Lew Christensen, Willam Christensen, Jerome Robbins, and Michael Smuin.

Damara was the director of OBT School from 2003 to 2013 and worked closely with then Artistic Director Christopher Stowell. Many of Damara Bennett’s students have gone on to dance with professional companies such as American Ballet Theatre, Boston Ballet, Dutch National Ballet, Miami City Ballet, New York City Ballet, Pacific Northwest Ballet, San Francisco Ballet, and of course, Oregon Ballet Theatre! The current OBT company roster includes her former students Brian Simcoe, Thomas Baker, Zuzu Metzler, Kelsie Nobriga, and Jessica Lind.

OBT School teachers Elise Legere, Olivia Pyne and Kembe Adam, OBT company artist Zuzu Metzler, and former OBT artistic director Christopher Stowell shared with us the incredible impact Damara Bennett had on their lives and how she influenced them as dancers, teachers, and as people.

“I was very sad to hear of Damara Bennett’s passing. As a long time faculty member of the School of Oregon Ballet Theatre I had a deep appreciation for her unending passion and devotion to the art of Dance, her students, and the reputation of our school. Her guidance upheld the tradition of excellent training. Damara taught every level in the school, from level one through adult classes. I was impressed most by her demanding emphasis on technique while instilling the joy of movement in her dancers. Students looked forward to the long hours of rehearsals and performing challenging and fun choreography in the Annual School Performance.

Damara’s commitment was evidenced by her presence in the studio 6 days a week (willing to do 7), teaching classes, holding rehearsals, or just communicating with her students and faculty. It was indicative of her love for the artform and dedication to teaching. She left a notable legacy. Damara Bennett will be missed by many hundreds of former students.”

–Elise Legere, OBT School Teacher

“As a student of Damara, I experienced her ability to pull more out of you than you knew you had to give. As I transitioned into teaching under her, I learned how to always see the potential for “more” in every student. There is not a single class I teach that does not have her mark on it. From Pre-Ballet to Adult Classes, her influence continues to affect hundreds and hundreds of students. Her sense of humor, her deep love of ballet, her care for each individual student, her high expectations both for herself and others, and her hard work ethic are all part of what made Damara such an impactful and dearly loved person.”

–Olivia Pyne, OBT School Teacher and former OBT School student

“Damara’s passion for teaching and dance was insurmountable, and you can see it in her students. She cared for each dancer of all levels so deeply, in hopes that they would not just be successful in their future ballet careers, but in their lives as well. You were taught how to dance, but more importantly, you were taught diligence and integrity. I am extremely fortunate to have had the opportunity to be one of her ballet students and to have had a teacher as great as she was, as I would not be the dancer or person I am today. Thank you Damara for all that you did for OBT and for everyone who was lucky enough to meet you.”

–Zuzu Metzler, OBT Company Artist and former OBT School student

“Damara was a truly lovely woman, full of life and energy and drive. She sought the best in all of us and was generous and kind to mentor us in our own growth as teachers. I hear her voice every time I’m in the studio and hope I am able to pepper my classes with some of the same joy and respect for ballet that she brought to every class she taught. Damara brightened the world around her and blessed all of us at OBT School with her commitment and passion and love. Her legacy will live on in hundreds of students and dancers all around the world. I’m eternally grateful for Damara.”

–Kembe Adam, OBT School Teacher


Damara Bennett and Christopher Stowell
Damara Bennett and Christopher Stowell in 2012

“It is impossible to encapsulate everything Damara was to me over our 35-year friendship. We met as dancers, instantly became kindred spirits, I’m like an uncle to her daughter Ellie; Damara gave me my first opportunities as a teacher and choreographer and we laughed together throughout it all. But, taking on the leadership of OBT together and creating new lives in Portland solidified a partnership that I will never experience again. 

Damara’s values as an artist and person influenced her every move, the focus and dedication she instilled in each of her students was incredible to witness and I, as well as the global dance community, owe her so much. She was uniquely, innately gifted at creating dancers with drive and respect, dancers with solid technique that became adults with solid values. 

All of us fortunate enough to have been part of her world should commit to upholding her legacy for future generations.” 

-Christopher Stowell, Assoc. Artistic Director of The National Ballet and former OBT Artistic Director

Help us honor Damara Bennett and share your memories in the comments below.

Header photo and 1st class photo By Ashby Baldock, 2nd class photo by Blaine Truitt Covert.

11 thoughts on “Damara Bennett Tribute

  1. Damara pushed me, even at an age when anyone with any sense would’ve laughed at the idea of my trying to improve my technique, to a level I had never bought I might achieve. It didn’t matter how I looked doing the work—she expected my best, every class, and I wanted nothing more than to give it. As those who know me have heard me say many times, Friday mornings at 9:00 were, for three wonderful years, the best hour and a half of my week. Damara and so many of the other teachers at the School—Elise, Tracey, Kembe, and all the marvelous company dancers who so often and generously shared their insight and experience with us—have my eternal gratitude for changing my life.

  2. Damara quote: “Your frappe (ankle beat) should be so sharp, that it goes in and out at the same time.”

  3. When I was still dancing and went to cpyb, she was one of if not the only teachers who saw potential in me and would praise me. Other teachers could be incredibly abusive towards me, but Damara was never anything but encouraging with a hint of humor that pushed me to be better in a way that didn’t make me feel like I was truly being pushed, but enriched. I remember one time she told me, “you can do a double Erika” with so much warmth that for once I truly felt like someone believed in me and I could really do something right. I was incredibly insecure as a dancer as I am in life, but her classes always left me feeling both challenged and inspired. I was always on my leg after one of her classes, and when the rest of the day was awful, her class was a shining light to keep me going. I am sad to hear that she has passed and I am sorry for all of our personal loss.

  4. Damara was so much more than a ballet teacher for my daughter. She taught her what it means to be a hard working responsible and decent human being. I remember 8 year old HELIA making her bed one morning. I asked her what motivated her:“Damara said in class „ I hope not one of you lets your Mom make your bed“. This is just one of many lessons Damara taught her students. She had high expectations for the kids, her teaching staff and herself. I highly respected her and felt honored when she asked me to work with the students of SOBT. Those were wonderful years. We miss her terribly. We will never forget her! Bettina and Helia Megowan

  5. Me. Damara inspired my daughter to improve her dancing but also so much more. She taught her students the value of hard work and it helped not only the dancing but also every aspect of life. She will be dearly missed. RiP.

  6. I was School Administrator for Oregon Ballet Theatre for 3 years with Damara. My experience of working with her, and our friendship that grew out of it, was one of the most formative of my life. Honestly I haven’t stopped crying since I learned of her passing. I had always hoped that my daughter would be able to study with her when she was old enough- because Damara is just the best teacher there is. We weren’t able to make that happen- but we did try. Here is a blog I wrote on the day I learned of her passing about all the wonderful things she brought to everything she did: https://wp.me/p7RJSI-fn

  7. I was fourteen years old when I first met Damara. It was 2003, and I was attending my first summer intensive at OBT — my first big step forward in pursuing my dream of becoming a professional dancer. Despite the fact that I was much older than most the students in my class, Damara took me in, invested in my training, and showed me the value of hard work and determination. Now, as a dancer and teacher, I think about Damara all the time. She was tough, persistent, and demanded excellence. But she was also gracious, encouraging, and always routing for my success. Throughout my six years at OBT, as a student, trainee, and then apprentice, Damara was always there, pushing me to be my best, and never letting me give up on my dream. Damara was an incredible teacher, mentor, leader, and friend. I miss her so much.

  8. As a jazz dancer, I was afraid to take Damara’s class. She was stern and demanding but kind. She had a very professional work ethic. She even loved Broadway tunes, especially Oklahoma!
    She would grumble when I slipped into a jazz movement and would remind me that pirouettes didn’t have bent, turned in knees nor do we flick our heads! But then she would smile that Cheshire smile!
    I bet she is having a hoot with Nureyev right now.
    Holly Brooks

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