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Exiting Stage Right – El Cerrito High Dance Teacher Departs

George Austin, athletic director and a social science teacher at El Cerrito High, kindly agreed to write a guest column in honor of the school's veteran dance teacher, Jacqueline Burgess, who retired Jan. 13.

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.

Valerie Matthews January 24, 2012 at 06:07 AM
Ms Burgess it is because of you that I have remained physically active all these years running marathons and taking regular intense bootcamp classes at the age of 45!! Your classes way back in 1981-1984 not only gave me confidence, but also taught me to work through the pain and soreness and to keep it moving. Your creative spirit will be sorely missed at EC. Enjoy your retirement Lady! You are THE BEST! (class of 84')
Dorothy Coakley January 25, 2012 at 03:01 AM
I am a George Austin fan. If Mr. Austin says Ms. Burgess is the Cat's Pajamas, you had better sit up and take notice! In fact, you had better do it promptly, deferentially, and "once more with feeling." Its not just because he's a coach. (And note how well the Gauchos play ball.) Its also because he sets the bar high for his social studies classes, and because he's done yeoman's duty as the school's assistant principal whenever he's been called up to do that thankless task. SO..Ms. Burgess, I know you are going to be missed. Enjoy your retirement. Or whatever you do next. You've got my vote. Even though I don't know if we've ever met. If Mr. Austin has stepped up to the plate for you, well, that's good enough for me.
Todd Groves January 25, 2012 at 05:10 PM
Enjoy retirement, Ms. Burgess. Thank you for your gift to this family and countless others. As the towering figures of El Cerrito education take their well earned reward, let's do everything we can to attract, retain and develop the best young teachers. As a first step, this community should strive to lower secondary class size to within the range of human decency.
ROBIN AURIA March 08, 2012 at 02:01 AM
Wish you nothing but the best Ms. Burgess.I was blessed to be in your class 1983-1985.Peace and blessings and losing you will truly be sad for the future gauchos. Robin Auria CLASS OF 1985
Yvette Knighten March 18, 2012 at 06:32 PM
Miss Burgess...I wish you the very best...I was lucky enough to be in your class for 2 yrs. (79) (80)...and at our dance show in "79" you suggested I do a solo...you knew I was the shy girl that absolutely loved to dance...well because of your faith in me...when I performed on stage that night...my whole changed for the good. God Bless You!!!!!!! Yvette Knighten...CLASS OF 1980!!!!!!!!!!!!

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