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News Margo Dean: A legend of ballet in Fort Worth

Margo Dean: A legend of ballet in Fort Worth

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Paul Harral
Paul is a lifelong journalist with experience in wire service, newspaper, magazine, local and network television and digital media. He was vice president and editor of the editorial page of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram and editor of Fort Worth, Texas magazine before joining the Business Press. What he likes best is writing about people in detail and introducing them to others in the community. Specific areas of passion are homelessness, human trafficking, health care and aerospace.

Now in its 48th year, Ballet Concerto Inc.’s Summer Dance Concert moves to The Heart of the Ranch at Clearfork after 12 years at the Trinity Park Pavilion. This year’s program features four short ballets, including two world premieres.

Ballet professionals are fond of taking classes wherever they are in the world, constantly looking for new ideas and techniques.

So it’s no wonder that two summers ago in Paris, Fort Worth’s grande dame of ballet, Margo Dean, decided to take a class. It’s something that she has done regularly – maybe 10 times in Paris alone, but also in the south of France in Cannes, in Rio de Janeiro and Madrid, in London and New York. And even in Cuba. More about that later.

On this particular day, she was fighting her arthritis and walking the streets of Paris with two walking canes. “But I wanted to take a barre,” she said recently, “so I went into the studio where I’d been before, and I put my crutches down on the floor and stood in first position ready to start. And the teacher comes over and says, ‘I think this class is going to be too hard for you.’ And I said, ‘Oh well, I’ll just do what I can.’ ”

The teacher obviously did not know Margo Dean very well. Nothing stops her.

Nothing stopped her when she opened the Margo Dean School of Ballet in her hometown of Fort Worth nearly 60 years ago. Nor when she started the Fort Worth Ballet Association, which is now Texas Ballet Theater, in the 1950s. Nor when she started Ballet Concerto Inc., a nonprofit performing arts and educational organization that is now in its 48th year.

The company is known for its annual Summer Dance Concert, a free, fully staged, professional mixed-repertoire ballet production held in an outdoor venue in Fort Worth for four nights in late June.

This year the concert moves from its home for the past 12 years, the Trinity Park Pavilion just off West 7th Street, to The Heart of the Ranch at Clearfork for its 36th annual presentation. The move was driven in part by the declining public parking along West 7th. There’s parking for 800 cars at Clearfork.

“And I think it doesn’t hurt to have a Neiman Marcus there,” Dean said. “They can go shopping first and then come to the performance.”

Her mission, she says, is to make ballet available to all people, and the idea for the Summer Dance Festival began when Dean was attending a free performance in New York.

“I thought, ‘This is so wonderful. We need to do that in Fort Worth.’ And so that’s sort of how it got started on a shoestring,” she said. “And now it’s just a big shoestring.” Part of that shoestring comes from her personal bank account.

She married Fort Worth attorney Beale Dean in 1948, and they were married 65 years, until his death three years ago. They lived in Breckenridge for a few years, but Fort Worth was always home. She taught at a ballet school in Fort Worth for a while before opening her own school in about 1957.

“I wasn’t the first [school],” she said, but “I’m the only one that’s still alive now.” And she doesn’t just mean still in business.

Normally, this is where we would tell you her age, but we don’t know how old she is and she won’t say. Only the federal government knows that, and no one is leaking that information. “If you find an age on me, I’ll tell you it’s wrong,” she said.

Asked how old her children are, she paused to think. “Well, let’s see. I’ve lied about it so much, I might have trouble,” Dean said.

Turns out that daughter Giselle Dean Miller, named after Dean’s favorite ballet, is in her mid 50s. Dean had expected Giselle to be a ballerina but that was not to be.

Playing the mom card, Dean did manage to keep Giselle in classes until she was 30.

“She lives in New York City,” Dean said. “She’s vice president of an organization that’s called enCourage Kids Foundation that raises money for seriously ill children. And she plans all the galas and all the fundraising events.”

She says that when someone asked her husband about naming their daughter Giselle, he commented: “I’m just glad her favorite ballet wasn’t Swan Lake.”

Son Webster did stay involved in dance and directs daily operations at the Fort Worth ballet school. “My son developed a passion for ballet, and he danced for 12 years with Ballet West, whose director was Bruce Marks, who is here at the moment” for the summer program, Dean said. “[Webster’s] in early 60s. I had him when I was 10,” Dean said.

NO PAIN, NO GAIN

Dean notes that for dancers, constant work is necessary to maintain fitness and form. And she quotes a famed American choreographer: “You know what Agnes de Mille says – that dancers have to work out and do barre every day except on Sunday and during childbirth.”

Which prompts another story. She spent a decade working on choreography with the Fort Worth Opera – “in which I always gave myself a big part” – and that was what she was doing the day Webster was born.

“I was really upset with him,” she says. “He came on dress rehearsal day. I screamed all the way to the hospital. Back then, they gave whatever you wanted to knock you out. So when he was born the nurse said, ‘Well, don’t you want to know what you had?’ And I said, ‘Oh, I already had something?’ And that was his introduction into life. And then I kept saying, ‘I’ve gotta go to the opera. I’ve gotta get out.’ Finally, they said, ‘OK, but you can’t get back in,’ so I stayed [in the hospital?] and complained.”

As we were talking, choreographer Luis Montero was working with dancers in the studio, preparing for the world premier Le Tricorne, inspired by a Spanish ballet originally choreographed by Léonide Massine that premiered in the summer of 1919 in London’s Alhambra Theater by Serge Diaghilev’s Ballet Russe.

Montero’s ballet is a love story set in the 18th century in a small Spanish village where a miller and his wife, although very much in love, flirt with passers-by to test each other’s affection, according to notes from Ballet Concerto’s Summer Dance Concert.

Montero studied Spanish classical, folkloric and flamenco dance with many of Spain’s masters, and Dean has always been interested in flamenco and Spanish dance. “I brought him here the first time in 1988,” Dean said, “and he’s been coming, except for two summers, every summer since then.”

“He’s a real taskmaster, but he gets a lot out of the dancers,” she says.

Three other ballets are on the schedule:

Raymonda, choreography after Marius Petipa, music by Aleksander Glazunov, staging by Webster Dean;

Inscape, choreography by Bruce Marks, music by Bela Bartok, staged by Webster Dean; and

Ebb and Flow, a second world premiere of a ballet choreographed by Ballet Concerto’s own Elise Lavallee, who trained at Margo Dean School of Ballet and danced professionally with Ballet Concerto and the Bruce Wood Dance Co.

DANCE IS LIFE

Dance has always been central in Dean’s life, and she just assumed that it would still be that way after she married. “It’s not I didn’t pay attention to my husband,” she says. “It’s just that dance came first.” Beale Dean was never especially interested in ballet.

In the mid 20th century, Cuba had one of the best ballet schools in the world. “I kept telling Beale that I wanted to go to Cuba that summer, and he kept saying no. So I just left and left him a note and said, ‘I’ve gone to Cuba.’ ”

She visited Cuba for three summers in a row, with the third visit in 1958 at the end of the Cuban revolution led by Fidel Castro. He was a supporter of the Cuban ballet.

“When I came back to Fort Worth, I gave an interview to the newspaper how wonderful Castro was, that he had given $100,000 to the ballet there and taken the orphans off the street. And then I got investigated by the FBI,” Dean said.

“One of the persons they questioned was my husband. They wanted to know why I had to go to Cuba. I don’t think he told them that he’d been trying to find that out. But anyway, I had at least I got off the hook,” she said.

But there’s possibly a legacy in her daughter Giselle. Dean says she’s not sure why Giselle is her favorite ballet, but it might be because she saw the legendary Cuban ballerina Alicia Alonso perform it.

The Encyclopedia Britannica says Alonso, who gave her last public performance in 1995 and received UNESCO’s Pablo Picasso Medal for notable contributions to arts or culture in 1999, is “best known for her lively, precise Giselle and for her sensual, tragic Carmen.”

“The first ballet of Giselle I saw was the first ballet that she danced. Isn’t that interesting?” Dean said.

Dean made a return trip to Cuba earlier this year and saw Alonso again. “I watched her teach a class and conduct a rehearsal.”

Alonso is now blind, Dean said. “She sits like this and she does movements with her hands” – Dean mimics the actions – “and instructs the dancers. Can you imagine? She’s 96.”

Looking at Margo Dean, the woman of untold age, yes, it’s easy to imagine that someone of that age could still be actively teaching. “It was just thrilling to see her,” Dean said.

BENEFITS OF BALLET

Ballet has given – or allowed her to demonstrate – determination, drive and passion

“It’s amazing with my passion for ballet how I got married so young,” Dean said. “I have no regrets. It’s just looking back on my life, I think, ‘Well, how did I do that?’ I’ve had a wonderful, fulfilled life being able to study wherever I wanted to and to choreograph and have wonderful students.”

The underlying passion was to make ballet available in the public schools,” she said. “When I started Ballet Concerto, the first thing we did was have actual demonstrations in high school. We only do elementary schools now.” Later, she started ballet classes in certain schools when she had the funds to offer them them and developed a program called FIND, which stood for Find and Inspire New Dancers. One of those students is now a professional dancer with the Atlanta Ballet.

When she started Ballet Concerto, there were people saying that it couldn’t be done. “We will afford it,” she told them. “I can sell my car. I don’t think I can get too much for it but it might help.”

She still puts personal money into the program. “I’m determined the dancers will get paid. The electrician and the stage hands may have to wait a little while. But the dancers, I make sure they get paid.”

But there’s also this. In Fort Worth, she occasionally encounters a woman who reminds Dean that she took ballet classes from her 40 years ago.

That’s the definition of a living legacy.

More Information: 

To coincide with the move to The Heart of the Ranch at Clearfork, artist Avery Kelly has created a commemorative 2017 Summer Dance Concert poster that ties into the theme, Art of the Dance. The poster will be on sale at the June 22 opening night gala and during other performances if not sold out.

The original for the poster, a 30-by-40-inch oil on canvas painting titled Art of the Dance, will be auctioned at the gala. Proceeds from the painting and poster sales will benefit Ballet Concerto Inc.

Kelly is a contemporary artist whose work centers on the beauty and energy of the natural world. Specializing in oil painting and relief printmaking, she strives to convey a sense of joy and mystery through her work.

averykellyart.com.

Ballet Concerto Summer Dance Concert Gala Opening Night

Ballet, Burgers and Beaujolais

June 22, 6:30 p.m.

The Heart of the Ranch at Clearfork

5000 Clearfork Main St., Fort Worth, TX 76109 Dinner party and performance to raise funds for Art of the Dance, Ballet Concerto’s 2017 Summer Dance Concert.

Invitation-only event but individuals may request invitations by calling (817) 763-5087 or emailing j.simus@jansimusevents.com

Open seating: $100 per person

Table sponsorships are available. Table sponsors also become Summer Dance Concert sponsors through their donations and have reserved table seating.

Each sponsorship level includes a reserved table for 10. Levels:

• Etoile underwriting sponsors (2): $25,000

• Pas de Deux sponsors (6): $10,000

• Corps de Ballet sponsors (4): $ 5,000

• Encore sponsors : $1,500

Silent and live auction

Ballet Concerto’s 2017 Summer Dance Concert

Art of the Dance, a mixed repertoire program. Running time about 120 minutes.

Performances:

Raymonda (choreography after Marius Petipa, music by Aleksander Glazunov, staging by Webster Dean)

Inscape (choreography by Bruce Marks, music by Bela Bartok, staging by Webster Dean)

Le Tricorne (choreography by Luis Montero, music by Manuel de Falla) – world premiere

Ebb and Flow, a second world premiere of a ballet choreographed by Ballet Concerto’s own Elise Lavallee, who trained at Margo Dean School of Ballet and danced professionally with Ballet Concerto and the Bruce Wood Dance Co.

Location: The Heart of the Ranch at Clearfork, 5000 Clearfork Main St., Fort Worth

Dates: June 23, 24, 25

Curtain: 8:30 p.m. June 23-24, 8 p.m. June 25

Gates open an hour before curtain.

Free lawn seating; purchased table seating available: single, $50; four, $200; 10, $500. Buy tickets at balletconcerto.com or phone (817) 763-5087.

Audience members may bring blankets for picnics or bring their own chairs. Concessions for sale on site.

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