Caruso lived most of her early life in
Caruso says her parents had a turbulent relationship and that it was about the time they split for the third and final time that she encountered her first really important teacher.
"In sixth grade, I met
"I danced 12 hours a week. It was like therapy for me," she says. "I loved the academic perspective, too. She gave me a work book from which I learned all the French ballet words. That's when I gained great respect for the art form and its history. I modeled my dance school after that experience because I felt it was incredibly valuable."
Caruso's second important teacher before college has remained a friend.
"Maria did everything a little bit faster than most kids," says
"From what I can see, she's always been a very passionate person. She wanted to learn it all, do it all, be the best. We've kept in touch. We've danced together a few times. We've always had a special bond."
In high school, Caruso took part in an experimental program which allowed her to take college courses. She had a strong interest in medicine, and wanted for a while to be a doctor. But, when it was time to enroll in college, dance was her objective. She checked out various schools and picked
Caruso got off to a fast start at
"I was known for my extensions and could take my leg to my ear, but my body was changing," she says. "As I grew as a woman and became more voluptuous, I no longer fit the stereotype of a ballet dancer, even though I weighed 115."
Caruso was helped through this period by another of her teachers,
"She's a very strict, hardcore professor, but also very nurturing," Caruso says. "She knew my body was changing. She suggested I work more in contemporary ballet; but, in my heart, I could never take off my pointe shoes."
"Maria came to college pretty early, at 17," says Austin, who is associate professor at the school of dance at
Austin says Caruso was hard-working. "You never know who is going to make it once they have their degree. Maria had a temperament, a stick-to-it-iveness that made it seem like she would really make it work for herself."
Caruso was a sponge for dance in college, even traveling to
While in college, Caruso was clear with herself that she never wanted to be director of a dance company, never wanted to own a dance school and never wanted to be a choreographer. She just wanted to be a dancer.
But, after college, when she was up in
She admits she had no idea what she was doing when she got her company off the ground. Paying the 13 dancers well and providing good hotel accommodations while on tour, Caruso burned through money she assembled mainly by selling the car she had spent most of college paying for. She was
Caruso returned to
After a year, she decided it was time to start a school and knew she wanted it to serve the needs of dancers who didn't fit the ballerina stereotype.
When she saw a newspaper ad for rental space on
Caruso's academic orientation has been well-served since returning to
Bodiography is a multitiered organization which includes a contemporary dance company, along with dance classes and exercise programs. And it has offered her the opportunity to resurrect her old interest in medicine with a series of ballet inspired by medical research and patient care in
She worked with five researchers for her ballet "108 Minutes" about regenerative medicine, including
"It was quite an experience, because she started (saying), 'Don't worry, you'll be just standing on the corner of the stage.' In three weeks it was, 'I want you to do a few turns as a dancer,' " Lagasse says.
After three training sessions, his role turned out to be a couple of minutes of dancing.
"It's not really my thing. I dance occasionally at parties but am not someone who goes out dancing," he says. "It was very exciting the night we did the show. It's quite amazing when the curtain comes up and a thousand pair of eyes are looking at you and you have to perform. I am a scientist."
Caruso likes the way, even at age 33, that life comes full circle. She now teaches at LaRoche where once she was a student. She likes seeing it, too, in the lives of people she she's nurtured.
"Maria is like a second mother to me in some ways. If it weren't for her, I know I wouldn't be the dancer or person I am today," says
"She was able to see my passion for dance. I don't have the best facility, the best legs or the best feet. I had challenges to overcome," Zimmer says. "When Maria sees passion, she takes you in and does everything she can to bring you to where you want to be. She believes in people. She has a great heart."
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