Even when he was serving in the Army Reserves during the Vietnam War, Frank Ohman refused to ignore his art, sneaking off the base at Fort Ord in Marina, California, whenever he could to practice ballet at a nearby dance studio.
Ohman, who danced with the San Francisco Ballet and the New York City Ballet before starting a company and a school on Long Island, died of natural causes on July 22 at his home in Centerport. He was 80.
"He was the most genuine man you could ever meet," said his son, Johan Ohman, of Raleigh, North Carolina. "He had such a positive attitude. If I was ever being negative or down on myself, he could bring me up...he'd always put a little more spirit in me."
At New York City Ballet, Ohman studied under George Balanchine, eventually becoming a soloist and partnering many leading ballerinas including Maria Tallchief, Suzanne Farrell, Allegra Kent, Patricia McBride and Gelsey Kirkland. He performed in works by Balanchine, as well as Jerome Robbins, Frederick Ashton and Jacques d'Amboise. Accomplished in the classics, Ohman was especially excellent in character roles, notably Balanchine's "Western Symphony."
With Balanchine's blessing, Ohman founded the New York Dance Theatre on Long Island in 1974 and five years later the Frank Ohman School of Ballet, which opened in Greenlawn before moving to Huntington. The school is now in Commack and Ohman was still teaching at the time of his death. "People would always ask if he was going to retire," said company manger Argere Loizides, adding that he responded by saying "I'm going to jeté right out of this world." Loizides said the nonprofit school would continue to operate "to carry on Ohman's legacy," and donations in his memory will be used to support the school.
Ohman choreographed more than 200 ballets for his company, along with those in Boston, Edmonton and Syracuse, among others. His annual "Nutcracker," with professional dancers joining students from his school, is one of the few granted permission to use Balanchine's original choreography for the Sugar Plum Fairy pas de deux.
"I was to forge a close relationship with Mr. Balanchine that was to guide my life for decades," Ohman wrote in the 2014 biography "Balanchine's Dancing Cowboy," which he co-wrote with Emily Berkowitz. "Now, years after his death, (he) still guides my life and helps me make difficult choices," he wrote. Ohman encouraged his students to take a broad view of the arts and set a high standard with his work as a fine artist. His paintings were shown all over Long Island.
Four decades of alumni from all over the country attended a private funeral on Saturday, said Johan Ohman. "There were so many students he loved and touched, you could see his impact." Along with his son, Ohman is survived by his grandson, Luke. A public memorial is to be scheduled at a future date.