Santa Rosa dancer paying it forward

Some people find success through hard work, others get lucky breaks, but Victor Temple, dancer, teacher and director of Santa Rosa's New World Ballet school, has done both.|

Some people rise in their chosen professions through hard work, and others get some lucky breaks, but Victor Temple, dancer, teacher and director of Santa Rosa’s New World Ballet school, has done both.

From a humble start, he became a professional dancer with the famed Dance Theatre of Harlem and a later a choreographer, traveling throughout China. He now hopes to pass on the passion for dance to his students in Sonoma County.

Temple, 44, was born in rural Alabama in 1970 and brought up in Chicago, discovering his love of dancing on the city streets while still a young boy. And that’s when he had his first remarkable stroke of good fortune.

“While I was break dancing, there was a famous ballerina who saw me. Her name was Sonia Arova,” Temple recalled.

The young Temple couldn’t have known it then, but Dame Sonia Arova was a legend in the dance world. Born in Bulgaria and trained in Paris, she became an international star and an early partner of Rudolf Nureyev, then went on to become artistic director of several ballet companies.

“She saw me dancing and told me that I should continue dancing, and that I should start in classical ballet,” Temple said. “She was the first one who urged me to do it. When I first started ballet, I was 11, and I really started to get into it around 12 or 13.”

With a touch of humor and humility, Temple added that his early motives weren’t purely artistic. At a junior high school track team practice, a couple of young female dancers urged him to study dance.

“They told me I’d be a better athlete if I studied ballet, because of my legs trailing over the hurdles,” he said.

“These girls were gorgeous. They could have told me anything, and I would have done it.”

But as soon as he entered the dance world, the young Temple’s priorities began to change.

“I fell in love with classical ballet and saw that the discipline was a real challenge. The girls were no longer my main focus. I saw my grades go up,” he said.

Temple worked hard to get himself accepted into the Chicago City Ballet School, and then his famous fan gave him another boost.

“That’s when I saw Sonia Arova again, and she said, ‘This young man is going to go places,’” Temple remembered. “So I stuck with it, and later she urged me to audition for the Dance Theatre of Harlem summer program.”

Accepted in his early teens, Temple attended the program several summers before he was asked to attend the company’s ballet school full-time. After two years of studying, he joined the company and was with the Dance Theatre of Harlem for four years.

“Then I went out and danced for other companies, and I had a chance to choreograph a section of a ballet,” Temple said. Once again, a door opened.

“Someone from the Central Ballet of China saw that ballet and asked me to come to China to choreograph and teach contemporary ballet and hip hop,” he said.

“What was supposed to be three weeks ended up being four years.”

During that time, Temple won a gold medal in an Asian choreography competition and later choreographed part of the opening ceremony for the unification of Hong Kong and China.

Finally, homesick for America, he returned and connected with a former Dance Theatre of Harlem dancer who had become artistic director of the Oakland Ballet. He performed there for the next three years.

About the same time, Dame Arova came into his life one last time. Learning of her death in 2001, Temple phoned her husband, Thor Sutowski, to express sorrow over her death and gratitude for Arova’s faith in him.

“Her husband asked me to just pay it forward,” Temple said. “No one wanted anything from me. They wanted to do the same thing for others, so that has been my mission since then.”

While with the Oakland Ballet, Temple made a guest appearance with the New World Ballet in Arcata, and when the director there retired in 2005, Temple took over the company. In 2012, he moved it to northwest Santa Rosa.

“Now established in Santa Rosa, the New World Ballet company is a high-caliber, professional dance studio that has raised the bar for the entire region,” said Tara Thompson, arts coordinator for the City of Santa Rosa.

For Temple, the ballet school - with 75 students ages 3 and older - is a chance to keep passing along the mentoring and training that fostered his career.

“Our whole foundation is classical. Everything is Russian-based. We do a lot of contemporary dance and hip hop, and some jazz, but everything has a ballet basis,” he said.

Several of Temple’s students have been accepted into the same Dance Theatre of Harlem summer training program he once attended, but Temple views the pursuit of a professional career in dance as secondary.

“If a child can make it through one full year of ballet class, with all of the discipline that’s required,” he said, “grades definitely will go up.”

New World Ballet students will dance to Camille Saint-Saëns’ “Carnival of the Animals” and other works at 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday, June 19-20, at the Kids Street Theater, 709 Davis St., Santa Rosa. Admission: $10-$20. For more information:,

You can reach staff writer Dan Taylor at 521-5243 or

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