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Irine Fokine
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Birth: Sep. 20, 1922
Vologda Oblast, Russia
Death: Dec. 5, 2010
Virginia, USA

Irine Fokine, who kept three generations of North Jersey dance students on their toes, died Sunday, three months after shuttering her iconic Ridgewood studio, Irine Fokine School of Ballet.

Miss Fokine, 88, had cancer, her family said.

The Russian-born Miss Fokine, niece of Michel Fokine, one of the most influential ballet choreographers of the 20th century, was a legend in her own right. She began teaching ballet in the basement of the Ridgewood Elks Club in 1950 and opened her Chestnut Street studio after several years.

She instructed thousands of students, many of whom went on to professional careers, and her company's production of "The Nutcracker" was a holiday season tradition in Bergen County. The 2009 production, at the Bergen Academies in Hackensack, was the Fokine School's 52nd annual, and final, "Nutcracker."

"My first year as a child in her 'Nutcracker,' I kept messing up my right foot with left foot during rehearsals," said Amanda Hankes, a member of the New York City Ballet. "Irine marched me over to the lost-and-found box in the corner of the studio, pulled out a leg warmer and tied it to my right ankle so I'd never forget right from left, and we continued on with rehearsal. I was terrified."

Hankes said Miss Fokine was tough and blunt, even scary. "But it toughened you up and gave you a thick skin, which is absolutely necessary in the ballet world," Hankes said.

Miss Fokine's taskmaster reputation was well known. "She got results by intimidation," Leath Nunn, owner of Nunnbetter Dance Studio in Bergenfield, said in an admiring way. And Miss Fokine's daughter Donna Decker, who owns a ballet school in Oneonta, N.Y., said, she was tough on everybody but we have so many life lessons from her.

"She taught us how to live," Decker said. "She taught us how to stand on our own two feet."

The energetic Miss Fokine was the first to admit her school was no walk in the park.

"I'm bringing up people. A part of ballet is learning to listen, and I'm teaching communication," she said in a 1970 interview with The Record.

"I don't think everyone should study ballet. The awkward kids, yes; it helps them. But parents have asked me to talk children into studying, and sometimes when they hear what I say they hate my guts. If a graceful little one doesn't like ballet but does like to ride horses, why should she squat?"

Irine Fokine was born Sept. 20, 1922, in the Russian town of Vologda, where her father was a political prisoner. At age 2, she fled with her mother, the prima ballerina Alexandra Fedorova, to Latvia. Miss Fokine began studying ballet under her mother's tutelage at age 8.

After immigrating to New York in 1938, Miss Fokine danced in nightclubs and opera companies, among other venues. She married Don Decker at 18. The couple moved to Ridgewood after their third child was born, and Miss Fokine launched her teaching career. She also was a choreographer with many works to her credit.

"I'm thoroughly dedicated to my work, I hate to call it art," she told The Record in 1982. "I'm here every day in leotard and tights working out with my students. I can still out dance most of them, and I'm physically stronger than any of them."

Miss Fokine kept teaching after learning she had cancer. "She'd go through chemo and radiation at Sloan-Kettering, then go to the studio to lead her class," said daughter Nina Marlow.

The Irine Fokine School of Ballet closed Aug. 31, an event noted in Dance magazine.

Miss Fokine, who died while visiting family in Virginia, is survived by her children, Nina Marlow of Phoenix, Jon Decker of Buckingham, Va., Donna Decker of Oneonta, N.Y., and Michael Decker of Fort Bragg, Calif.; eight grandchildren, eight great-grandchildren and one great-great-grandchild. Don Decker, from whom Miss Fokine was divorced, died in 1987.

Services are today at 11 a.m. at C.C. Van Emburgh Funeral Home, Ridgewood.

Donna Decker said closing the school was difficult for her mother, as was the reality there would be no more "Nutcracker."

"Several people said that's why she died now," Decker said. "She didn't want to go through the season without 'The Nutcracker.' "

Bio from The (Bergen) Record, NJ
Family links: 
  Alexandra Fedorova Fokine (1884 - 1972)
  Don Quinton Decker (1913 - 1987)*
  Leon Fokine (1905 - 1973)*
  Irine Fokine (1922 - 2010)
*Calculated relationship
Valleau Cemetery
Bergen County
New Jersey, USA
Created by: John P.
Record added: Dec 08, 2010
Find A Grave Memorial# 62694195
Irine Fokine
Cemetery Photo
Added by: Rich H.
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Вечная Память +
- R.C.
 Added: Feb. 14, 2013

- Carli Drake
 Added: Feb. 7, 2012

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