My Dancing Life: The Early Years

My dancing teacher was a student of Ted Shawn, the illustrious co-founder, with his wife, Ruth St. Denis, of the Denishawn School of Dance.  While still in high school, this connection earned me a summer as a scholarship student at Jacob’s Pillow. My mother knew this experience could go either way. She knew I would either have my fill and be done with dancing, or there would be no way to keep me from it. The latter became the case.

Growing up in Louisville, Kentucky turned out to be an unexpected gift for a family like mine with such a strong interest in the arts. The Louisville Fund, begun with money left over from a bond to build a bridge, had been established as a kind of community chest supporting varied arts programs just in time for us. My brother and I took improvisational acting classes from Doug Ramey, whose Carriage House Players eventually led to the founding of the now famous, Actors Theatre of Louisville. My sister acted with us in a community theater play supported by the fund, when the script called for a younger child and none had shown up for the audition. “What age do you need?” my brother asked the director. “We have lots more kids at home.”

Even my engineer father got talked into accepting a part in a community theater play. Rummaging through his college yearbook, we kids learned of his former life as a member of a theater club while a student at Purdue University. (His story was he joined the club to increase his confidence for the tough depression-era job hunt he knew he would face after graduation.)  One of my best high school girl friends and I were members of the Louisville Ballet when the Fund made the cover of Life magazine, including pictures of us inside.

If you want to dance professionally you go to New York, and it helps if, before you arrive, you get a union card which gets you into the auditions held several times a week. Knowing this, I auditioned and secured a job and my Actor’s Equity union card in a season of outdoor summer stock near Louisville. Before relocating to the Big Apple, I also danced professionally in an industrial show for General Electric. In those days, companies introduced their new products to salesmen and potential buyers in elaborate theatrical productions at their yearly conventions. My job, along with the other dancers, involved executing the dance steps and patterns while carrying a new-model portable T.V. Maybe that was the beginning of my realization that we can, and probably need to, learn to dance with everything.