The Measure of a Man.

“Man is the measure of all things: of things which are, that they are, and of things which are not, that they are not”. Like many fragments of the Pre-Socratic’s philosophers, (These philosophers rejected traditional mythological explanations for the phenomena they saw around them in favor of more rational explanations. Many of them asked:

From where does everything come?

From what is everything created?

How do we explain the plurality of things found in nature?

How might we describe nature mathematically?

Others concentrated on defining problems and paradoxes that became the basis for later mathematical, scientific and philosophic study.

This phrase “Man is the measure of all things: of things which are, that they are, and of things which are not, that they are not”  -epitomizes the mind and coaching ideals of ballet coach Jerry Burr as he works with company dancers   A phrase that has been passed down to us without any context, and its meaning is open to interpretation. As is any journey of a character development Charleston Ballet Theatre’s season opener Carmen was stacked full of the essence of Jerry Burr’s work and his ability to teach a dancer how to interpret a role. 

Jerry Burr, celebrates fifty plus years on stage, and has danced in over twelve countries with companies as diverse as the Netherlands Dance Theatre. and the Zurich Opera House. Mr. Burr was also an original member of the Joffrey Ballet and has appeared in European and American television and films.

In 1978, he returned to the United States to become a Professor of Dance at the University of Akron, where he helped build the dance program and train some of the strongest students in that department. He is a notable dance historian and currently holds the rank of Emeritus Professor of Dance. His notable roles with the CBT Company include The Doctor in Seven Deadly Sins, Herr Drosselmeyer in The Nutcracker, Fate in Carmina Burana and Professor Van Helsig in Dracula. Mr. Burr trained Karen Ziemba, Broadway musical star, winner of a 2000 Tony Award for her role in Contact as well as me.

But is with whom Jerry danced with , the likes of all the great dancers and choreographers in Europe Sonia Arova, Erik Bruhn, John Cranko, as well as his love of Elizabethan theatre, opera  and his endless desire to read and be a sponge gives him the chops to be CBT’s Dance Guru.   Like Stanislavski- Jerry Burr treats theatre-making as a serious endeavor, requiring dedication, discipline and integrity, and the work of the actor as an artistic undertaking. Throughout his life, he subjected his own acting to a process of rigorous artistic self-analysis and reflection. His ‘system’ resulted from a persistent struggle to remove the blocks he encountered. His development of a by which a lesson, or skill is enacted or practiced.


Stanislavski’s innovative contribution to modern European and American realistic acting has remained at the core of mainstream western performance training for much of the last century. Building on the directorially-unified aesthetic and ensemble playing of the Meiningen company and the naturalistic staging of Antoine and the independent theatre movement, Stanislavski organized his realistic techniques into a coherent and usable ‘system’

Thanks to its promotion and development by acting teachers who were former students and the many translations of his theoretical writings, Stanislavski’s system acquired an unprecedented ability to cross cultural boundaries and developed an international reach, dominating debates about acting in the West. That many of the precepts of his ‘system’ seem to be common sense and self-evident testifies to its success. Actors frequently employ his basic concepts without knowing they do so.

Karen Ziemba Tony Award winning actress also was trained by Jerry she says

My first experience in the dance department was working with Jerry Burr, the head of the department. He totally changed my technique. Before I met Jerry, I had no idea what turnout or placement really was. I had always danced naturally. He literally took me back to square one. I was learning to do pliés and tendus properly for the first time. I learned all the things that made my pirouettes straighter. I developed my base, my center. It was magnificent. Everything else stemmed from that. For the first time in my life, I had a technique, and I had been dancing for 10 years. He’s the one who told me to take Finis Jungs’s ballet classes.

In my sophomore year at the University, Heinz Poll, the director, saw me and gave me an audition, and it was all downhill from there. My first ballet was Reflections by Arpino, Aureole by Paul Taylor, Cakewalk by Ruthanna Boris, and a ballet by Heinz. I couldn’t keep it together. Heinz would always say “Karen, stop that silly smiling.” I was still in the college, I didn’t have the mindset. I performed well, but I didn’t fit in the company. So they wrote me letter and asked me to leave the company.

Jerry said Your “silly smiling” – it’s not silly because it is real , by the way, it’s joyous – has certainly become a part of what Karen Ziemba is on Broadway. Good for you!  But we will build on it .

And that is what he does everyday he works with the CBT company. 

Carmen would not be the same without him.. Nor next week’s The Great Gatsby”.  


 Photographs of Jerry Burr above include:

Merlin in Camelot

Dr. Coppelius in Coppelia

Doctor in Seven Deadly Sins

Ugly Stepmother in Cinderella.

Karen Ziemba

With Choura my cocker spaniel







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