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Jack Greenan: Dancer, Choreographer, Teacher

Jack Greenan (center) with dancers from Chita Rivera: The Dancer's Life.

July 31, 1940-January 26, 2014

John J. (Jack) Greenan, beloved teacher, dancer, and theater fan, died on January 26 after a long illness. Jack was a beloved figure in the theater community, and connected that community to Michael Bennett, the legendary Broadway director-choreographer and Buffalo native who created A Chorus Line and Dreamgirls. As boys, Greenan and Bennett had performed with “Mrs. Dunn’s ‘Stars of Tomorrow,’” becoming lifelong friends.

Jack will probably be best remembered as a caring teacher and mentor. He enjoyed a 40-year career teaching math in the Orchard Park School System, and of course, he taught dance.

A tribute written by his family observes that “Jack touched the lives of thousands. A truly respected role model, his students lovingly dubbed him ‘Sir G.’ Math was merely the vehicle, life was the lesson. A graduate of Buffalo State Teachers College and a member of Delta Kappa Alpha Mr. Greenan was appointed by the New York State Board of Regents to the committee for creating and evaluating state examinations. He was also actively involved in curriculum development for the Orchard Park School District where he was honored in 1967 and 1979 as a NY State Teacher of the Year. Interested in fostering generations of outstanding educators, ‘Sir G’ established and served as advisor to the first Future Teachers Association (FTA) at Orchard Park High School.”

Among his former students is Broadway and Hollywood costume designer Suzy Benzinger, whose credits include Miss Saigon, the 2006 revival of A Chorus Line, and five Woody Allen films, including the widely admired costumes for Blue Jasmine.

“I have incredibly fond memories of Jack as a teacher,” says Benzinger. “He was my dance teacher, but I also learned algebra from him! I remember how dedicated he was and how he really helped us with his great love of theater and his dedication to the art of dance. He was very honest with us. He instilled in us the idea that if we wanted to go into the business, it wasn’t going to be easy, and we were going to have to be ready to give some things up. Jack knew this, because he had given things up himself; he could have had a different sort of career, but instead he was our teacher. Jack was truly wonderful to me when I was a kid, and I’ll never forget him.”

Jack’s family relates that he began his dance career at the age of three, studying with The Parker Sisters and Geraldine Hoffman, and would eventually open his own dance academy. In 2002 he was inducted into the WNY Dancers Hall of Fame. “Hundreds of students flocked to both the Orchard Park and Cheektowaga locations of the ‘Jack Greenan School of Dance’ for 20 years,” they recall. “Numerous Area Schools and Community Organizations benefitted from his skillful and imaginative choreography. His creative work was seen in over 100 musicals. Always interested in sharing current styles and trends, Jack took frequent trips to New York City for classes and research. After retirement, took great pride in being an active member of ‘Dancers Over 40.’ The most recent embodiment of his love of choreographing for all ages was That’s Tap and That’s Tap, Too, bringing both professionals and students to the dance stage.”

For all the lives he touched, of course, his family was most important to Jack, where he was known as “Papa, Dad, Jackie or ‘Mr. Wonderful.’” They would like us to recall, in words from A Chorus Line, that we have lost “One Singular Sensation.”

Jack is survived by his wife Virginia; sons, Patrick and Sean; daughter, Mary Elizabeth; brother, James; sister, Carol Witt; and four grandchildren. A wake will take place on Friday, February 14 from 2-4pm, and 7-9pm at the Dietrich Funeral Home (2480 Kensington Avenue, Amherst). A Mass of Christian Burial will be offered at 10am on February 15 at Infant of Prague Catholic Church, (921 Cleveland Drive, Cheektowaga) with a reception to follow. (For details see http://thedietrichfuneralhome.com/cms/index.php/John-J.-Greenan-Jack.html.) Memorials can be offered to Sisters of Charity Hospital Palliative Care Unit and the Infant of Prague Church.

Artvoice wishes to thank Ann Mosner, longtime friend of the Greenan family, for helping assemble this tribute to a great guy.