Memorial Service for Joe Gifford

The Phonetics Center on the campus of Boston University 8 St. Mary's Street, Room 206 , Boston

“Life is the eternal spring.”  Joseph Gifford

May 14, 1920 – September 12, 2017

Dancer, Teacher, World Traveler, Author and Spiritualist Joseph Gornbein Gifford passed away at age 97 of natural causes in September.

Born May 14, 1920 in Niagara Falls, New York and raised in Michigan, Joe lived most of his life in New York City and Boston with his life-partner Talbot Waterman and African Gray Parrot, Hero.

Following graduation from the University of Michigan, Joe began his performing career in New York City as a member of the Doris Humphrey and Charles Weidman Dance Company.  He later formed his own company, the Joseph Gifford Dance Theater, which performed throughout the United States.  Additionally, he danced in several Broadway musicals and taught at the New Dance Group Studio.

Joe later joined the faculty of the School of Theatre Arts at Boston University and established a curriculum in movement training for actors.  And, after ‘retiring’ 25 years later, developed movement workshops for conductors through the League of American Orchestras.  Until he passed, Joe was still teaching musicians and conductors on using their body to master their art.

Joe was a spiritual man and attained the 7th degree in Authentic Reiki®, studied transcendental meditation, and meditated every morning.

A world traveler, he and Waterman visited nearly every continent and regularly attended symphonies, operas, and dance performances.

Joe was the subject of a documentary on his life and teachings, “The Legacy of Joseph Gifford” (2015) and a recently completed video series, “Music of Life” (2017).

His passion for life and boundless energy continued until his death, and he leaves behind a legacy of love, spirit and teaching.

His family would like to thank Joe’s friends for the love and support that was constantly present in his final days.

Joe is survived by his brother Carl (Myra) Gornbein, sister-in-law Reva Gornbein, and several great and great-great nieces and nephews. He is preceded in death by his partner Talbot Waterman, parents Sam and Esther Gornbein, and siblings Sophie (Marcus) Fordon, Bernard (Ida) Gornbein, and Abe Gornbein.


Joe Gifford cared about health and wellness – physical, mental, emotional – and lived every day to its fullest.

In his memory, Boston Dance Alliance has established The Joe Gifford Fund in support of BDA’s Annual Dancer Health Day and other dancer wellness initiatives. BDA Dancer Health Day is a collaboration between the dance community (BDA and Dance/USA) and the Actors Fund of New York. The clinical data will contribute to national dancer health protocols. For more information, check the page on this website .

We have received our first donation from a loving friend and are very happy to keep Joe’s memory alive in this way as we strengthen the bodies and improve the dance experiences of the next generation of dancers.

Joe’s students, friends and admirers can donate online or by check at Boston Dance Alliance, 19 Clarendon St., Boston 02116. Please write “Joe Gifford Fund” in the memo line.

Other charities Joe supported include Doctors Without Borders USA, Inc., Oxfam America, Inc., Amnesty International of the U.S.A., Inc., and WGBH Educational Foundation.

Note: The 3pm event will take place in Room 206. The reception will begin at 4pm on the 9th floor, the Colloquium Room.