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Suzie Harrison Being a major influence in the...

October 18, 2002

Suzie Harrison

Being a major influence in the competitive world of art is

difficult, but longtime Laguna Beach resident Lila Zali, 84, has been

able to make her mark in the world of ballet.

On Saturday, as part of the California Choreographers Dance

Festival's Dance Day, a day celebrating the art of dance in many

forms, Zali taught a ballet class that was quickly packed body to

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body.

"She's still teaching at 84 and I am personally grateful -- she's

a positive role model," said Kathy Kahn, who has taken over the

reigns of what was once Zali's own ballet studio.

After her last words of instruction, Zali received several intense

rounds of applause, some bouquets of flowers and fans lined up to

talk with her or take a picture with their mentor.

All this adulation wasn't just a result of her teaching talents

for the day. Her roots in ballet had been firmly planted even before

she opened her ballet studio in Laguna Beach in 1959 and started the

well-known Ballet Pacifica.

Kahn gave Zali many kudos.

"Lila has been an inspiration to so many dancers for so many

years," Kahn said. "She is a legend in Laguna Beach and has trained

many professional dancers who come back to her classes and still find

her classes harder than anywhere.

Born in Russia, Zali came to the U.S. when she was three and soon

discovered that she wanted to dance.

"I think I was very little -- how I ever got the idea, I don't

know," Zali said.

"I think a friend taught me a Russian dance, and studying violin

and piano is something that pushed me into it somehow. I always

wanted to dance."

Her official training started at age 7 in Washington, D.C. Later

she would graduate from the Kirov Ballet School, become a soloist

with the Imperial Russian Ballet and be accepted into what is now

known as the American Ballet Theatre.

Along with teaching and performing, Zali loved choreography.

"I organized a little group called the three Debs," Zali said. "We

performed mostly around the West and in the USO."

She started choreographing on a more serious level when she opened

the Laguna Beach Ballet Studio in 1959 and when she founded Laguna

Beach Civic Ballet -- now Ballet Pacifica -- in 1962.

"My pupils were not very advanced," Zali said. "A lot of my

friends came from Hollywood and did the leading parts to supplement."

Her husband, cellist Kolia Levienne, had already bought property

in Laguna before they were married.

"I fell in love with Laguna and I told my husband I want to live

here someday," Zali said.

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