By George Austin
Jacqueline Burgess, El Cerrito High School’s iconic dance teacher retired last Friday. Miss Burgess, as she is affectionately called by some and Jackie by the rest of us, has decided to call it quits after teaching dance at the school for nearly 37 years. Burgess has adamantly refused all efforts to honor her with any fanfare; she just wants to quietly exit stage right. But many members of the "gaucho nation" were stunned as rumors of her imminent departure leaked out.
A steady procession of colleagues and former students stopped by to say a personal farewell to Jackie. Maya Caspi, a class of 1996 graduate, flew in from New York to say her goodbyes. Maya states, “ I just had to see her in person and give her flowers.” A virtual honor roll of former students have resorted to using the popular social media network site, Facebook, to offer their personal reflections on the impact Burgess has had on their lives.
Mallory Johnson writes:
“After leaving Ms. Burgess’ last dance show at ECHS Saturday night, I spent the rest of the evening reminiscing about my 4 years dancing for her; the laughter, blood, sweat, and tears, dancing in a body bag and wearing more unitards than I’d like to admit. I always relished at the chance to be a “guinea pig” for any of Ms. Burgess’ new choreography. Her dances were unique and imaginative (and sometimes plain weird), and always challenged us to move our bodies in new ways that we never considered possible. I feel honored to say that I danced for Ms. Burgess. She demanded blood from a stone, and she pushed her dancers to be the best we could be. She taught us grace, strength, and poise all in one breath, lessons that have lasted past the dance floor and into our adult lives. Ms. Burgess has greatly impacted my life, and undoubtedly the lives of hundreds of other dancers, and I will never forget”
Mallory’s sentiments were echoed by many of Burgess’ current and former students as they bemoan the fact that she is leaving. Burgess herself is much more positive and upbeat as she passes the baton to another one of her former students, Jessica Kronenberg, a class of 1998 graduate. When asked how she felt about last week being her last on the job, she states, “I feel good and I am not sad at all about leaving. Everything changes and this is a good one. Jessica is going to do a great job.”
Perhaps she is right, but a great many of us in this community are going to Miss Jacqueline Burgess.