Lisa Spalinger Boehm
1914 - 2008  Charter Class of 2002  Performing Arts
Of Swiss parentage, Lisa Spalinger was born in Germany. Little Lisa, as her family called her, always loved to dance. A favorite family story tells of the attention she attracted when, barely beyond the toddler stage, she flitted about charmingly at an outing in the park. Onlookers reproved her parents for teaching ballet to a child of such tender years. Amazed, the Spalingers could only respond that Lisa was doing what came naturally. At the earliest possible age, eight, she won admission to the ballet school of the famed Russian expatriate ballerina Eugienie Edouardova, a dancer trained in the Russian Vaganova ballet technique, and a classmate and frequent dancing partner of the legendary Anna Pavlova. There Lisa spent the next eight years of her life.

Lisa was the oldest of three children. Her brother, Adolph, was a well-known actor in German-speaking theater, i.e., in Germany, Austria and Switzerland. Her sister, Sybille, followed in her footsteps and became a dancer. Their father, a PhD and a journalist, hoped that Lisa would become an academic and at first opposed her ballet training. The turbulent marriage of her parents made home life difficult for this talented child, who did not enjoy school and had few friends. She lived to dance, and was only truly happy in the ballet studio with her adored teacher.

At the age of sixteen she was recruited to dance in operettas by a theater in Hamburg, and rapidly was promoted to principal dancer. She then joined the Deutches Opernhaus in Berlin, where she danced as prima ballerina, the highest rank that can be achieved, and won acclaim in both classical and character roles. Lisa was renowned for her very high leaps and powerful batterie, or beating of the legs in jumps, skills more usually associated with male dancers, and wonderful to see in such a slight young woman. She also danced in several movies and was once asked by a movie director to quit ballet and make movie musicals, since her singing voice was lovely. Lisa became a celebrity in a city renowned for its culture. "I saw the best," she said. "Opera, ballet, theater - Berlin was wonderful."

Lisa also toured Germany and Switzerland with Sybille, presenting full-evening programs of solos and duets, accompanied by a pianist. Looking back on her career, Lisa said "Those are the best times for an artist, when you are young and free. When you are in an opera, you have to please the balletmaster. But when you are independent, ah!" Her eyes shone as she described a lively dance called "Polka" which the two young women performed in colorful striped costumes. "The audiences always wanted that one as an encore. Always! We could never dance anywhere without performing that one twice!"

Trapped in Berlin during the early part of the Second World War, the young artists of the Spalinger family and their mother (her father had recently died of leukemia) decided to flee to Switzerland, where their citizenship might help them pass the borders that were already closed to refugees. They took separate routes to avoid attracting attention. It was on the train heading to Switzerland that Lisa met and captivated a young businessman in the Swiss watch and casing industry. His name was Wilhelm (Frank) Boehm. They married, and after the war his business brought him first to New York and then, permanently, to Elgin, Illinois. As their two children, Janine and Frank, grew and went off to school, Lisa decided to focus her love of dance on teaching ballet, and she founded the Lisa Boehm School of the Ballet, now located at 77 Villa Street in Elgin, in an old wooden church building overlooking a busy avenue. Under the high ceiling and rose window, the mirrored
walls were stippled with elegantly-lighted photos of former students in gorgeous costumes, on pointe or defying gravity in classical poses.

Among her prized possessions were oil paintings of two pretty dancers by the noted Swiss avant-garde artist Graciella Birgnoni, a personal friend. Next to them, on a high cabinet, stands a porcelain figurine of a dancer - it is Lisa, captured in a graceful whirl of costume by the sculptor Lore Gronau. The strong and sinuous lines speak eloquently of the devotion to beauty and the unwavering discipline which defined her life as a ballerina.

Generations of children passed through her studio, some of them going to college on dance scholarships. Some are now successful professional dancers, such as Dominic Walsh, a principal dancer with the Houston Ballet and Karyn Connell, a soloist with the Diablo Ballet, and others dancing with companies as diverse as the Radio City Rockettes, the Hubbard Street Dance Company, the San Francisco Ballet and numerous Broadway productions. A few have even returned to the Lisa Boehm School to teach the newest generations. Lisa's son, Frank, followed in his mother's footsteps and became a dancer. He now lives in California where he choreographs, directs and produces. His children, Eric and Kara both dance, a living legacy of their famous grandmother. Lisa's daughter, Janine, died of cancer in 1992.

For nearly fifty years the precise ballet technique of her own Russian training was Lisa Boehm's gift to the young people of the Fox Valley. Her students have performed with the Elgin Symphony Orchestra, the Elgin Youth Symphony Orchestra, and numerous schools, institutions and groups in the Fox Valley. Her holiday production of The Nutcracker at the Hemmens Cultural Center became synonymous with the holidays.

When she passed away in 2008, the 94-year-old ambassador of ballet was surrounded by her family at the California nursing home, with the music of Luciano Pavarotti playing in the background.
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 Renowned prima ballerina  Especially acclaimed for her l