If you are not familiar with the world of ballet, Jacques d’Amboise may very well be the most famous person from Maine you know little about.

If you are a fan of dance, then you know d’Amboise as a superstar.

As a principal dancer with the New York City Ballet, d’Amboise, now 76, was a protege of the world’s most famous choreographer, George Balanchine, who created ballets especially with the athletic d’Amboise in mind.

As a young man, d’Amboise could fly, and he handled ballerinas as though they were precious and fragile.

“Balanchine realized that I am basically a woman worshipper,” d’Amboise said by phone from New York. “I believe in the aesthetic of good manners and chivalry. Stand when a woman is around. Always serve her first and always listen to her, and always respect her. My mother inculcated that. Balanchine was the same way.

“When I danced in those ballets with his ballerinas, he was out in front watching vicariously through me. I was him. Every performance, he would come back and talk about what we had done. He’d be on a high, because he had just danced with them through me.”

D’Amboise has never strayed far from his Maine roots. He’ll be back this week to promote his new biography, “I Was A Dancer.” Although he was born in Massachusetts, he spent his early years in and around Lewiston. He gets back to Maine as often as possible, though not as much as he would like.

D’Amboise will talk about his life in dance at noon Tuesday at Rines Auditorium in the Portland Public Library. He will also speak at 4:15 p.m. Wednesday at the Muskie Archives in Bates College in Lewiston, and at 7 p.m. Wednesday at the Lewiston Public Library.

“I’m going to be back in Maine shortly, and I can’t wait,” he said, his voice rising with anticipation. “I have relatives all over the bloody place. I am calling my brother and say, ‘Tell all the relatives.’ I am so excited.”

D’Amboise’s superstar credentials are far too many to list here. The short list includes a MacArthur Fellowship, a Kennedy Center Honors Award and a National Medal of the Arts. He’s danced in and been the subject of movies.

He left the New York City Ballet in the 1970s to establish the National Dance Institute. Over the years, he and his institute have educated untold numbers of youngsters about dance.

D’Amboise is a humble man. As we spoke on the phone, he was seated in a chair at a local book retailer, right by the shelf that housed copies of his book. “I’m doing what every new author does — look for their book,” he said, laughing.

The kicker is, he bought three copies of the book himself, at the premium price. “I could have called Knopf and gotten a discount, but I am about to meet some people. I am going to the ballet tonight, and the woman I am going with is going to want me to give her a book. I don’t have one with me, so I bought one and will autograph it for her.”

To hear d’Amboise tell it, his success had everything to do with his size and strength, and because of the love of his mother. She taught him all the important lessons that he has retained. They were lessons about humility and respect, about deferring to others, about selflessness.

Most important, she taught him the importance of giving back and supporting the community that supports you.

Balanchine liked him because he was strong.

“There were very few male dancers in the early days,” he said. “There were only a few at the American School of Ballet in the 1940s. He started putting me, because I was tall, with all his favorite ballerinas.”

D’Amboise had an easy relationship with Balanchine, and never felt intimated by the master. As a young man, he was supremely confident in himself, and his self-confidence rubbed off on others. It made everyone around him better.

He never balked at a bad review, and never gave his performance a second thought.

“You can only live in the moment. The past is gone, the future is unknown,” he said. “Every performance was my opening night as well as my closing night. I took nothing for granted. You have to do your best all the time, every moment. Consequently, there is no one who can say you were wrong. You did your best. That is all you can do.”

Linda MacArthur Miele, artistic director at Maine State Ballet, danced with d’Amboise in the New York City Ballet. She was a girl of 14 when she met him, and he was an established star. They never became close friends, although they danced together for six or seven years.

She credits him for changing the perception of principal male ballet dancers. He established an American aesthetic among male leads that was largely defined by his physicality and personality. He exuded both.

“I would say my impression of Jacques, No. 1, was charm,” she said. “He has energy and optimism. You couldn’t be in the room with Jacques without saying, ‘This is a fun place to be.’ “

Staff Writer Bob Keyes can be contacted at 791-6457 or at:

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