My love of dance began when I was just four years old. Betty Hogue was the dance instructor at the time and I remember recitals at the Catholic Club. But, my passion for dance was developed when Pauline Smith (Ms. Pauline to us) came to town. With her English accent and a great sense of humor, she was a strict disciplinarian in the dance room. She became a mentor and teacher to hundreds, but for me she also became a very good friend.
As I sit here writing, I am anticipating the arrival of the Moscow Festival Ballet later in the week. They will be performing as part of the Warfield Concert series one of the most beloved of all ballets, Tchaikovsky’s “Swan Lake.” By the time you read this the company will be on their way to another exquisite performance in another town.
Dance lessons consumed my life when I was growing up. Blessed with a sense of rhythm and a good work ethic, I did quite well in dance class. I was placed in a group with students older than me and I relished the thought that Ms. Pauline had confidence in my ability to dance with the older girls.
Ms. Pauline always told us that ballet was the basis for all dance. All of her students took ballet. You were not allowed to sign up for just tap or jazz – you had to take ballet. And, of course, ballet was a requirement for being selected for pointe. Not everyone got into the pointe class.
I was lucky enough to take everything that she had to offer – ballet, tap, jazz and pointe. I even remember her teaching ballroom dancing in the undercroft of St. John’s Episcopal Church. As I grew older I became an assistant teacher. Dance became a major part of my life. And I loved it!
By this point we had stopped using the Catholic Club for the dance recitals and had moved to the Helena Elementary School auditorium. Although spacious enough, there was no air-conditioning, making it miserable for dancers and audience members alike.
My parents also played a part in enriching my appreciation for dance. I remember them taking my sisters and me to see Edward Villella dance. Make no mistake about it – anyone who thinks that male ballet dancers are “sissies,” never saw Villella dance. He was very masculine and was one of the most celebrated male dancers of his time. I regret that I never got to see Mikhail Baryshnikov dance when he was in his prime.
When I was just a teenager the Warfield Concert series was founded. In the beginning the concerts were all classical in nature. We had wonderful orchestras, operas, singers – and ballet. Over the last fifty years Warfield Concerts has brought wonderful ballet companies from all over the world to perform free for appreciative audiences.
A few years after the founding of the concert series, money was raised to build the Fine Arts Center on the campus of Phillips County Community College (now Phillips Community College of UA). Built as a multi-purpose facility, it was the state-of-the-art auditorium that took center stage. Named after philanthropist Lily Peter, the auditorium became home to the Warfield Concerts.
The Warfield series has also brought other types of dance companies. One of my favorites is the Alvin Ailey Company. They perform primarily jazz, but you can see the ballet training in the arm movements and leg extensions. More recently, the Step Afrika company has brought the art of “stepping” to the stage. The precision and synchronization of the dancers is amazing to watch.
I will forever be grateful to Ms. Pauline in helping me appreciate the art of dance, especially ballet. The art form requires extreme discipline and dedication. But, it is truly one of the most majestic and magical experiences to witness on the stage.
“Swan Lake” is one of the most beautiful of all ballets with its elegant choreography and costumes. And the gorgeous music of Tchaikovsky. I will leave the performance with visions of tutus, pointe shoes, and pirouettes in my head.