Skip to main content
“My career was over. I was not yet aware that I had another waiting, which was writing.”Sybil Shearer, Without Wings the Way Is Steep, Vol III

Later Life

Illustration by Jeff York © Chicago Tribune, Sunday, September 19, 1993.

NORTHBROOK, 1985-2005

After Helen’s death, Sybil reinvented herself. At 72 she became a dance critic, writing for Ballet Review and Dance Magazine. In 1989 she began forming the Morrison-Shearer Foundation to perpetuate Helen’s and her artistic legacy. Under the auspices of the Foundation, she brought SUSANNE LINKE, the German expressionist dancer, to Chicago in 1991 to perform at the Harold Washington Library, and in 1993 she arranged a tour to Germany for the 20th anniversary of the Hamburg Ballet, whose director, JOHN NEUMEIER, had been a member of the Sybil Shearer Company in the 1960s.

In October 1993 she presented a dance/lecture/film program at the Art Institute of Chicago, filling the large Arthur Rubloff Auditorium with an enthusiastic audience and gaining good press. She had hoped this would spark guest appearances in colleges around the country to raise funds for the Foundation. But there were no invitations. She was 81 years old and not widely known to a new generation. The dance world had moved on.

Sybil and her dogs, Star and Jaemon, June, 1993.
Sybil Shearer, 2000

Shortly after that, a friend urged her to write her autobiography. In January 1994 she embraced this task and over the next years completed three volumes in manuscript, several thousand typed pages. Rich in reviews and letters, it reveals a unique artist and gives a thoughtful, personal history of American modern dance in the twentieth century.

In 2001 Sybil participated in the Chicago Dance Legacy Project’s “Dance Attack” series, including four brief dance performances at the Harold Washington Library Theater. She was 89, and the younger dancers on the program loved her.

As she entered her ninetieth decade, her mind was clear, her body sound, and her energy abundant. Each day began with exercise and meditation. She grew luxurious geraniums in pots, tended acres of wooded gardens, and enjoyed the company of her two German Shepherd dogs. Afternoon tea with visitors was a tradition. Chicago cultural events were important, especially The Joffrey Ballet, brought to Chicago by her friend JERRY ARPINO. She became a disciplined adherent of RUDOLPH STEINER and Anthroposophy, although she had always credited the source of her dances and creativity to her connection with the spiritual world.

In February 2005 she danced publicly for the last time, interpreting Matisse in a program called “Artists and Dance” at the Art Institute of Chicago, just nine months before her unexpected death at the age of 93

Sybil Shearer and Carol Doty, 1998. Carol became a MSF Trustee in 2002.