Elizabeth McPherson talks about her career in dance and education while sharing some great Hell’s Kitchen favorite places — including her home at Manhattan Plaza — in her West Side Story.
So, what’s your New York story? Born here, or just arrived?
I was born and raised in Nashville, TN. I came to New York City in September of 1986 to begin a BFA Dance major at Juilliard. After graduation, I stayed in the city to pursue my dance career. I immediately got a couple of part-time performing jobs with various dance companies and also began teaching dance. In addition, I was waiting tables at a restaurant on the UWS which is where I met my husband, Joel Cadman, who was also a waiter there. The restaurant burned down about a year later, and I never went back to waiting tables!
What was your first job? What do you do now?
One of my first part-time jobs after college was working with Ernesta Corvino’s Dance Circle Company which was based in Hell’s Kitchen on 8th Avenue between 46th and 47th Streets. While working my various part-time jobs, I was also accruing advanced degrees in dance. First an MA in Dance Research and Reconstruction at City College and then a PhD in Dance Education and Administration in Higher Education at NYU. My first full-time job was as the dance teacher at Convent of the Sacred Heart on the UES. It was while working there that Joel and I moved to Manhattan Plaza on West 43rd Street. My second full-time job was at Montclair State University in NJ where I am currently a full professor and the director of the Dance Division. I have also written or co-written four books, and I edit the scholarly journal Dance Education in Practice. I am currently working on a biography of the dancer/choreographer Helen Tamiris.
What’s your favorite New York minute (or moment) so far?
It’s hard to come up with just one moment… I remember losing my wallet in a cab when my younger daughter was a baby. We had taken a cab back from the doctor to Manhattan Plaza. The person who got in after me, found my wallet and address, and came back to the building to find me and return it. It was a sign of the humanity and kindness of New Yorkers — something we are not always so known for. Another moment was in our building lobby by the elevators where two dogs were barking and their owners were arguing loudly. The elevator doors opened, and a man in a monk-like brown tunic walked out and the dogs and owners went silent. Now because it is Manhattan Plaza, where many actors live, I do not know if this person was actually a monk, or in the costume of a monk, but he certainly calmed the whole situation with his presence!
Share with us why you love Hell’s Kitchen
First, I love Manhattan Plaza. It is a community within the larger NYC chaos. I have long-time friends and colleagues in the building, and my two daughters attended the preschool in the building as well as the summer camp run by the building. Manhattan Plaza is home. I also love being close to many theaters as I enjoy attending dance and theater performances. I particularly like seeing my former students perform. I love that some of the grittiness and long-ago feel of the city remains in Hell’s Kitchen while it has been largely erased in some other neighborhoods. Lastly, as a practical matter, I like having access to so many train lines and being close to the Lincoln Tunnel since I commute to New Jersey four days a week.
What’s your superpower or hidden talent?
My tenacity is my superpower. Dance careers are hard. I have spent the last 33 years working in the dance field — performing, teaching, and writing. Although I love this field, my career has taken a lot of grit — hanging on by my teeth with sheer will. It has all been worth it.
What else should we know about you?
I love that our whole family is involved in the arts. I direct a college dance program and Joel works in graphics at the Wall Street Journal. My older daughter majored in art at Cooper Union, and now teaches art and has a vital art practice. My younger daughter is majoring in drama at NYU. We have loved raising our children in Manhattan Plaza, a building full of artists.
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Elizabeth’s Favorite Hell’s Kitchen Places
Mémé Mediterranean — 607 10th Avenue (bw W43/44th St)
The food is always fantastic! I love the scallops and the warm halloumi cheese salad. The service is great as well. My family has celebrated many special occasions at Meme. One of the owners is also married to a classmate of mine from Juilliard, so I love that connection too.
Manhattan Plaza Health Club — 482 W43rd Street (bw 9th/10th Ave)
I have really enjoyed taking various classes, like Alexander Technique, Yoga, and T’ai Chi at the health club. It is super convenient being in my building. I also spent many hours in the pool with my kids as they were growing up. In the summer, the pool roof is open, so it feels like a little staycation in the city.
Westway Diner — 614 9th Avenue (bw W43/44th St)
Westway is such a classic diner! The fairly curt and harried wait staff, fast service, the diner standards like burgers and omelettes… It is a go-to meeting place for me with friends, especially ones from out-of-town.
Alvin Ailey American Dance Center — 405 W55th Street (bw 9th/10th)
I go to performances here fairly frequently, and I also used to substitute for one of their children’s classes. It is a place bustling with the energy of dancers and dance students. They offer classes in a variety of dance genres to students of all ages and levels of experience.
Domus — 413 W44th Street (bw 9th/10th Ave)
Domus has a wonderful variety of gifts from around the world and at a variety of prices. The owners are super welcoming. They also sell some of Joel’s artwork.
Big Apple Market — 577 9th Avenue (bw W41/42nd St)
I like that it has a kind of old-NY feel. The aisles are narrow and ceilings high with items stacked all the way up the tall shelves. Prices are good. Their prepared salads are delicious.
Little Pie Company — 424 W43rd Street (bw 9th/10th Ave)
Delicious pies!! My favorite is key lime. I love that the owner began the business out of his Manhattan Plaza apartment.
Red Poke — 600 9th Avenue (corner of W43rd St)
Fast and yummy rice bowls. My favorite is the Ray Loves Grilled Salmon bowl. You can order online and pick up or order when you arrive. Food is fresh and prepared to order. The staff are always welcoming.
Sea Breeze Fish Market — 541 9th Avenue (bw W40/41st St)
If you like seafood, this is a great place to purchase it. The fish is super fresh. It feels like stepping back in time when people generally bought their food items from shops that specialized in specific types of food like this fish market. I enjoy their crab cakes, seafood salad, and salmon steaks.
West Bank Cafe — 407 W42nd Street (bw 9th/10th Ave)
West Bank has a lively atmosphere and excellent food. I like their Caesar salad and salmon a lot. It is right around the corner, so very convenient for me.
Anything else you’d like to tell us?
You have probably noticed by my food preferences that I am pescatarian. A few years ago, my husband and children stopped eating meat, and I followed along with them. It has been a good choice for me.
You can follow Elizabeth on Instagram @emm2072000. If you know someone who would make a great West Side Story (or you would like to nominate yourself) please fill in this form — w42st.info/WSSnominations
You can check out more West Side Stories and reader recommendations on W42ST’s Hell’s Kitchen Local App.