BY JANIE ROSMAN
More than 250 people, many of them alumni, attended the recent grand opening of Coupé Theatre Studio in Nanuet. Founder Diane Coupé Frankel’s ties to the Rockland County community are strong, and the day held more than a few heartwarming surprises.
The only performing arts studio of its kind in Rockland County, Coupé’s current 22 full time teachers hold degrees in dance education or have had extensive professional performing careers.
Sitting in her office, Frankel spoke softly about her illustrious career, “I was born into dance,” she told the Rockland County Times last week. “My grandfather was a dance teacher, my mother was a dance teacher, my sister was a dance teacher.”
Sent to the Arts Educational School at Tring in England at age 12 or 13, Frankel studied ballet, jazz, tap, fencing — “it’s good for acting” — and every possible form of dance and theater alongside classmates including Jane Seymour and other well-known performers.
After graduation she transferred to the London School of Dance, where the school administration asked her to go to the London College of Dance and Drama once or twice a week. “They decided I was going to be a dance teacher because my family was well-known as dance teachers,” Frankel said. “I wanted to perform.”
Returning to Tring she taught for a little more than a year before taking a chance.
“On my day off I snuck up to London to audition and got a show,” she grinned. The show was an English pantomime (unlike what we recognize as pantomime in the U.S.), which reinforced her desire to perform. “People at school were not very happy. I was so young to be put into that school as a teacher. They didn’t want to lose someone good who could benefit their school and students.”
Auditions for, and performances in, shows in London, Copenhagen, Paris and Spain were followed by an opportunity in Las Vegas.
As she just finished a show with the choreographer in Europe she jumped at the chance, especially since he guaranteed her fare home if she worked as his assistant for three months. “I never went back home; I stayed,” she said with an impish grin.
Two weeks after her arrival in New York marked a turning point with an audition for the box-office hit “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum.”
In those days, she said, when a dancer worked for a choreographer, and it clicked professionally between them, the dancer may be considered for the next show the choreographer worked on.
“I loved my time on Broadway and met some wonderful people and am still in touch with some of them,” she said, naming character actors John Carradine, Davey Burns and Jack Gilford. “They were always playing tricks on the girls and on each other.”
After being swing (understudy for all the girl dancers) she left “Forum” after a few months to perform in “Little Me,” “La Grosse Valise” — which took her to Paris for six weeks, where her mother came to visit — “Nowhere to Go But Up” and others.
“The last show I did was “Coco” with Katherine Hepburn,” Frankel said. “While in “Mame” (at the Wintergarden Theater) she met Bob Frankel, she met Bob, the sergeant of mounted police in Times Square.
“He came backstage since police in those days went backstage to get warm and to look at the girls. He was standing in the wings, and I’m walking onstage, and he said, “Do you ride?” and I said, “Oh yes.”
She grinned again. “I didn’t ride.” He asked her to go riding, and she agreed, she said, although theater performers did not mix with civilians (who don’t work in theater).
That ride on the bridal path in Central Park led to a bridal gown.
Frankel left “Mame” and went to “Coco” then left the show to have James and moved to Rockland County in 1970. “I had no intention of teaching, she said, “and they asked me if I wanted to do “A Chorus Line.” Now with a family, she said no, and her husband suggested she teach.
“I was still a performer in my mind so I put up a sign and got one person,” Frankel said. They rearranged their basement with a mirror and a bar, one student signed up, “and I realized I enjoyed teaching yet rejected it back in England.
The next thing she knew she was teaching 40 children in her basement.
She alternated teaching with having her second child, Jennifer, formerly a Broadway dancer and now a physical trainer, and Mark, a member of Blue Man Group in Manhattan. James is the head of digital education for a worldwide music publisher.
In September the studio moved from Route 59 in Nanuet to its current location.
“I worked long and hard to get this kind of space but the dancers we produce deserve this kind of space,” Frankel said proudly. The youngest dancers are ages are three (tots), and the oldest is a tap dancer who’s 84.
“People who work here are top of the line, and we produce beautiful work,” she reflected. “The quality of the dancers that we have, I am extremely proud of.”
“The daughter of Clarkstown Supervisor, George Hoehmann, is one of our students”, Frankel noted. “I love Diane. “She is great and has built a vibrant business,” Hoehmann said.
And, one of her first adult tap dance students was Legislator Harriet Cornell. “I never realized that (County Executive) Ed Day has worked with my husband, Bob, who became an inspector in Manhattan South,” she added.
“We all worshiped in the same church years back,” Day said. “Diane is a one woman dynamo who took a dream and made it an amazing reality. As one who worked with her husband, a highly respected ranking officer in the NYPD, I only wish he were here to see this.”
The Rockland Youth Dance Ensemble (aka RYDE) is a 501 (c) (3) nonprofit organization started by Diane Frankel in 1980 to foster performance opportunities and education in the performing arts. Now in it’s 35th season performing “The Nutcracker” RYDE completed its first weekend at North Rockland High School last Sunday and will move on to Rockland Community College with performances on Friday, December 11th at 7 p.m., Saturday, December 12th and Sunday, December 13th at 1 p.m. and 4 p.m. both days; earlier performances are narrated. For tickets, you may call 845-624-RYDE.