Carol Paumgarten, ‘Den Mother’ to a Dance Scene, Dies at 76

Carol Paumgarten, the co-founder and longtime artistic director of Steps on Broadway, a dance studio that became a sweaty New York institution that indiscriminately welcomes elite ballerinas, children in leotards and everyday New Yorkers with “Flashdance” fantasies, died on Sept. 24 at a hospital in Glen Cove, N.Y. She was 76.

Her son, Nicholas Paumgarten Jr., said the cause was complications of neurological sarcoidosis, an inflammatory disease.

In 1979, in a darker and harsher New York, Ms. Paumgarten opened Steps as a dingy one-room studio and as something of a one-woman show: She handled everything from cleaning its bathrooms to managing its payroll.

She went on to nurture three generations of New York dancers, becoming an instantly recognizable presence with her long silver hair and stylish black outfits as she presided over roomfuls of bodies in motion.

Today, with 11 studios and a revered faculty in a three-story space on Manhattan’s Upper West Side, Steps is an internationally renowned mecca in the dance world, drawing — until the pandemic lockdown started in the spring — more than 3,000 dancers through its doors every week.

Stars of the dance world like Misty Copeland, Mikhail Baryshnikov and Julie Kent have all trained in front of the mirrors and barres at Steps. So has Madonna. But Ms. Paumgarten strove to make sure that it was equally a haven for everyday New Yorkers who just wanted to dance.

Nancy Bielski, who has taught ballet at Steps for 25 years, said it was Ms. Paumgarten who “started the idea of a studio that is open to professional dancers as well as people who love to dance.”

“This approach is looked down upon by some professional schools,” she added, “but Carol never cared about what they thought. They’d call it a generic approach, in an insulting way, but here you can see the greatest ballerina in the world dancing next to your mailman.”

Carol Marshall was born on June 11, 1944, just outside Philadelphia, in Bryn Mawr Hospital, and grew up in nearby Wayne, Pa. She was the middle child of Frederick and Pauline (Foraker) Marshall. Her father owned a factory that produced the vinyl bricks used to make phonograph records; her mother was a homemaker.

Ms. Paumgarten attended Westover, an all-girls boarding school in Middlebury, Conn., and graduated in 1968 from the University of Pennsylvania with a B.A. in art history.

She loved movement, and what the human body is capable of, from the start. As a teenager she was a competitive figure skater, and she played in the junior tennis nationals, representing Philadelphia, when she was 13. When her aunt Julie took her to see Broadway musicals, she was dazzled.

In 1966, she married Nicholas Biddle Paumgarten, who became an investment banker and later a managing director of J.P. Morgan & Company, and they moved to Manhattan. There, at 27, Ms. Paumgarten took a class at the Alvin Ailey dance school and became smitten with dance.

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