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Flash Tribute, 5-1: In Memorium
Muriel Topaz, Teacher

By Rebecca Stenn
Copyright 2003 Rebecca Stenn

Mickey Topaz was a warm, kind and giving person. She was straightforward and had a terrific sense of humor. When I first arrived at Juilliard as an 18-year-old dance student from a small town in Canada, Mickey Topaz was, I think looking back on it now, one of the only reasons I was able to survive at first and then later, flourish. Ms. Topaz, as we called her, received us openly, was clear and concise and quite simply, made it all seem not quite so scary.

Ms. Topaz was unflinchingly supportive. Once, I went to her office with a suggestion about something, an idea I had. She listened carefully. She was thoughtful and helpful. And then, she did something amazing. She took me seriously. She found a way to implement my idea. For this I will always be so thankful, because what she was doing was bigger than helping me see my idea come to fruition, she was giving me the confidence in myself I would need for a career of making ideas happen.

When I was still at Juilliard, and still under Ms. Topaz's tutelage, my mother passed away. I was 20 years old and quite lost. Ms. Topaz opened her heart to me. She told me to come to her office at anytime I needed to talk. She made herself completely available to me. And when I was silent and just wanted comfort, she would regale me with wonderful stories of her youth, her work with Antony Tudor, her experience as a young mother.

I liked to think of her as a bit of a "fairy godmother" and I'm sure I'm not alone. Ms. Topaz had a way of watching out for her students, for subtlety guiding us, finding opportunities for us, encouraging us. When I was interested in branching out and writing about dance, Ms. Topaz was unfailingly supportive, reading my fledgling articles, offering advice and sending them where they needed to be sent. She would go out of her way to attend performances. Her smile was wide and sparkling. I loved the laugh lines around her eyes. And it seemed that she would break into laughter so easily, so freely. We were all blessed to have her as a director, a mentor and a friend. She will be dearly missed.

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