City Lights Q&A series — 'Swan Lake: An Evening of Ballet'

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — The Penn State Alumni Association will speak with each of the City Lights speakers and share a Q&A for each event in the six-part series that takes place in major metro areas.

Our first conversation is with Barbara Weisberger, a 1945 Penn State graduate who founded the Wilkes-Barre Theatre and the Pennsylvania Ballet. Weisberger began dancing when she was 3 years old, saying she grew up in the vanguard period of ballet, when a proliferation of companies began forming.

Weisberger gave a presentation before attendees enjoyed a performance of “Swan Lake: An Evening of Ballet,” at Philadelphia’s Academy of Music. More information on the remaining five City Lights events can be found on the Penn State Alumni Association’s website.

Penn State Alumni Association: You have a rich background in ballet and a strong connection to Penn State, having been named a Distinguished Alumna in 1973. What was your message to those who attended your City Lights event?
Barbara Weisberger: I wanted to tie it together, starting with my background, and then a little bit about the Pennsylvania Ballet and how it started and what it is. Then, I segued to what they were going to see. I wanted to show them things that they wouldn't ordinarily find out, and give good background and tie it into my happy years at Penn State, which was nice, too.

Penn State Alumni Association: How did your path lead you to Penn State?
Weisberger: When I got to the University of Delaware my first year, I wanted to dance. They didn’t have a theater major, but most people there took speech and someone there mentioned to me the speech therapy major. I was told the two best speech departments were Penn State and the University of Iowa, so I thought maybe I'd go to Penn State. Then lo and behold, my father got a job in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, so we moved from Wilmington, Delaware.

Penn State Alumni Association: Even though unforeseen circumstances led you to Penn State, it sounds like everything worked out for you.
Weisberger: Penn State was a detour. That sounds as if that’s not very pleasant, but the detour was a happy part of my life and I didn't know how happy it was at the time. I started high school after my family moved to Delaware, I graduated at 16, and the December before I graduated in 1942 was Pearl Harbor, so it changed my whole life. My parents, very smartly, encouraged me and wanted me to go to college, and I did. It wasn't what I thought I was going to do; I thought I would be a dancer.

Penn State Alumni Association: What type of impact were you hoping to make with Penn Staters you meet, and what's the significance of having had this opportunity to connect with them and share your personal and professional background? 
Weisberger: The significance was all tied in since we were in the vanguard era of the tremendous proliferation of professional ballet companies in the early 1960s. The Pennsylvania Ballet was one of the first and strongest and one of the most busiest ballet companies, and we toured across the country. Now, the interest and awareness and attitudes about ballet are far different when they were when I was little. Then, we were an inch away from burlesque and physical comedy. I was at the start of indigenous American ballet and it has grown.

Penn State Alumni Association: What got you initially interested in ballet? It sounds like it’s been a life-long passion.
Weisberger: My mother said I was born dancing. She said that she was very lucky because she loved it, and if she had a daughter, she would take dancing lessons. She took me to creative dance classes when I was 3 years old.

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Last Updated March 17, 2015