Evelyn Leary

(Brownsville Recreation Center)

My name is Evelyn Leary. I was born in Richmond, Virginia, but I was raised in New York, in Brooklyn. I went to P.S. 83 and then to John Jay Junior High School. I eventually entered a program where if you passed this test you’d get into the program to acquire your associates degree, so that’s what I did. Only two people other than myself passed it in the entire district. So I completed that in two years and then went to Medgar Evers College. It took me 20 years to finish college; but I got my Bachelors and then I got my Masters in 2001. I was a Paraprofessional for twenty years, and I taught special education for seventeen years. I had three children—two daughters, and my son passed away in 1992. I have six grand children and four great-grand children.

I retired in 2008. I loved working with children. But thank you God, I’m so glad I retired when I did because I couldn’t take the school system now. I started teaching at John J. High School. My principal kept telling me, “go back to college, go back to college.” She said when I got my B.S., that I could have a job there. So when I finished my B.S. I had a job right away, and I went from sitting down to standing in front of the classroom. In 2003 when John J started to phase out, I was the last special ed teacher there. All the teachers were being excessed, so I was the last special ed teacher there for our program. Then I chose to go to Cobble Hill, because my grandson, he went to school on 1st St, the junior high there, so in order to be closer to him I would take him to school on the bus—he’d get off at his stop, I’d get off at mine, and that’s the way we did it, until he got out of school.

Now that I’m retired, I do anything that I want to do. When I first retired, my sister and I, we were out of the house every single day of the week. We volunteered for the international art festival, we volunteered for a dance company, we’d go to the concerts at Windgate and Coney Island, we would go to The Bronx Zoo and the Hall of Science—we’d just go everywhere.

My sister and I used to go to African dance classes. I would do the dances, but I couldn’t retain the steps in my brain all the time. When they’d asked for the beginners to come to the front, every time I was right there in the front! Like the steps Chanon is doing now in our dance class—when I was younger my brain could pick them up faster and I’d be able to do those kinds of steps. I remembered everything better. But as I get older, I see how to do it in my head, but then my feet are a different story!

In our class at Brownsville, we’ve studied Jazz dance and African, but now we’re focusing on Caribbean dance—I suppose because it blends in with the theme of “The Tempest”. I’ve seen things about Shakespeare in the Park on TV, and I’ve seen shows at the Delacorte Theater. About dancing in the Tempest, I was saying to myself, “Well, if anyone doesn’t like it, they don’t have to watch. I guess they can close their eyes.” So I’m just going to get up there and do what I do, and do it my way, because our dance teacher Chanon said, “Keep the same steps, but you can personalize it.”


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Founded by Joseph Papp as the Shakespeare Workshop and now one of the nation’s preeminent cultural institutions, The Public is an American theater in which all of the country’s voices, rhythms, and cultures converge.
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