Carol Paumgarten, ‘Den Mother’ to a Dance Scene, Dies at 76

Her sprawling studio, Steps on Broadway, has been a mecca for professionals, celebrities, children and just everyday people who want to dance.

By Alex Vadukul

Carol Paumgarten, the co-founder and longtime artistic director of Steps on Broadway, a dance studio that became a sweaty New York institution that indiscriminately welcomes elite ballerinas, children in leotards and everyday New Yorkers with “Flashdance” fantasies, died on Sept. 24 at a hospital in Glen Cove, N.Y. She was 76.

Her son, Nicholas Paumgarten Jr., said the cause was complications of neurological sarcoidosis, an inflammatory disease.

In 1979, in a darker and harsher New York, Ms. Paumgarten opened Steps as a dingy one-room studio and as something of a one-woman show: She handled everything from cleaning its bathrooms to managing its payroll.

She went on to nurture three generations of New York dancers, becoming an instantly recognizable presence with her long silver hair and stylish black outfits as she presided over roomfuls of bodies in motion.

Today, with 11 studios and a revered faculty in a three-story space on Manhattan’s Upper West Side, Steps is an internationally renowned mecca in the dance world, drawing — until the pandemic lockdown started in the spring — more than 3,000 dancers through its doors every week.

Stars of the dance world like Misty Copeland, Mikhail Baryshnikov and Julie Kent have all trained in front of the mirrors and barres at Steps. So has Madonna. But Ms. Paumgarten strove to make sure that it was equally a haven for everyday New Yorkers who just wanted to dance.

“I think there is a huge misconception that there’s not a place for everyone at a dance school of this nature,” she said in an interview with the website 6sqft in 2015. “Everyone has a place here.”

In another interview, she said, “We have dancers over 40, over 50, over 60, and I do believe over 70, and they do a damn good job.”

Nancy Bielski, who has taught ballet at Steps for 25 years, said it was Ms. Paumgarten who “started the idea of a studio that is open to professional dancers as well as people who love to dance.”

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