Arts, Central New York, Community, Education, Feature, Syracuse

Meet Him at the Barre

Larry Crabtree made his mark at the barre and it may not be what you think.

by Nicole DeMentri SYRACUSE, N.Y. (NCC NEWS)–Larry Crabtree faces the future alone–a first for him–except for  little help from a furry fried.  Cue his cat, Sugarbear.

“She has a lovely arabesque line, actually,” Crabtree gushed.

One-way Ticket to Broadway

Before living on Church Street, Crabtree lived in Midtown Manhattan for over 20 years.  He was just 21 when he took the train from Syracuse to pursue a career in dance.

“It started with a lot of small opportunities.  One of my first jobs was working with the NYC jazz company.”

His first week living in Manhattan, though,  almost made him leave for good.

“Just getting off the subway at night, heading back to my apartment and two guys were there.  One guy was in front of me and one guy was behind, put a gun to my neck and pulled me down the staircase,” Crabtree recalls.

The robbers took with them a family heirloom necklace and the seven dollars in his pocket.  Terrified, Crabtree ran to his apartment hoping that they wouldn’t return.

The Next Act

The harder he worked at the barre, the more opportunities he had.  First, it was a scholarship at one of the city’s premiere studios, and then contracts with legendary choreographers, but that came with a price.

“A 60-80-hour work week, all the time.”  Plus, working full-time as a restaurant manager in Times Square.  “Sleep is overrated,” Crabtree said with a laugh.

He switched into teaching after longtime friend Katherine Kingslee convinced him to co-direct Angelo American Ballet.

“And I was like, ‘What am I going to teach?’ And she was like, ‘You’ll figure it out.’ And I basically did,” Crabtree said.  Many would add that he did so successfully for almost 25 years.

Back to the Basics

The New York minute stopped when his family needed him.  “It was time for him to come home,” Crabtree’s mother, Jeanette, said.

Shortly thereafter, Mom got sick.  Crabtree became her prime caregiver, still visiting her daily in rehab.  When he leaves his mother, he then goes to visit his father who has the beginning stages of dementia.

Reflecting on Larry’s dance career, his mother, Jeanette, recalled: “He said he wanted to dance, he said he wanted to take tap so we took his dress shoes and put taps on them.” 

An Unplanned Intermission

Crabtree’s resilience and tireless spirit continued at the Dance Centre North barre.  He was in the midst of teaching aspiring prima ballerinas and choreographing a new production when he found a lump on his neck in 2015.

“He pulled me into another room and said, ‘I think you have cancer,’ “Crabtree remembered when the doctor told him the diagnosis.  He continued, “What? I feel great.”

But it was cancer—and six months of chemotherapy lay ahead.  The doctors advised he take off, but Crabtree said he’d rather die than stop teaching.  “Fortunately, I set up 11 classes in four days and three locations…in my free time, I went for chemo.” 

His students saw him at his worst–at one point dropping 35 pounds.

“Larry, he really kept his chin up during the whole thing, which was really helpful for everyone around him and all of us, too,” longtime student Stephen Huffaker said.

His insurance barely covered the bills, so Crabtree turned to GoFundMe.

“My campaign picture was me doing abs in a class with this big smile on my face.  That was a perfect ‘Lawrence needs your help; Larry needs your help,’ and everybody answered.”

 $10,000 dollars quickly became $20,000.  “Students from NYC, Syracuse all came to the fore and everything, and it was a great blessing,” he shared.

Curtain Call

It’s been two years cancer-free and back full-time at the barre, although he has a daily reminder of what chemo took from him.

Crabtree said, “Dealing with neuropathy in my feet, which is not fun as a dancer because I can’t feel them.”

If his left foot gives, he quickly changes shoes.

“Sometimes they listen to me,” Crabtree added.  And then he’s back on pointe.  “All right easy peasy. Here we go!”

Huffaker shared, “He’s always telling us, ‘You can’t be tired because I just came and taught 10 classes at all these different places with all these different people.’”

Those students learn more from him than just ballet.  They learn what it means to live.

“It kept me alive.  My students kept me alive,” Crabtree said.

Crabtree really isn’t alone in this thing called life.  The barre brought him into dozens of lives and those same people are ultimately what saved his.