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Modern Dance Club 1948

Modern Dance Club 1948

Moving Company 1997

Moving Company 1998

HISTORY OF THE DANCE PROGRAM AT HATHWAY BROWN SCHOOL

Gleaned from an interview with Jessica Nixon in 2001

From its humble beginnings of folk dance offerings in a small gymnasium back in the early thirties, to its current status, which includes sophisticated class offerings in a spacious studio, the dance program at Hathaway Brown School has never stopped growing.  Through the dedicated efforts of one woman, Jessica Nixon, who had the vision to recognize the need for a more clearly defined movement education, this program has continued to inspire and educate young women about the art form of dance. PE teacher Jessica Nixon, who once said that working with small children, and coaching field hockey were the loves of her life, was also a modern dance enthusiast, and she began what was to become one of the oldest, high school modern dance programs in the state of Ohio. Who would have thought that over seventy years later, the seeds of her efforts would have blossomed into a collegiate model dance program with course offerings in ballet, contemporary and dance composition.

Jessica started out by conducting occasional folk dance classes until she was able to offer a more structured course offering in modern dance. Once given the green light by head mistress Miss Coburn, whose support she fondly recalled, the girls quickly shed the traditional PE garb of the day, (bloomers and blouses), for less restrictive leotards and skirts. Ms. Nixon vividly remembers students waving their skirts over their heads as they raced down the hall changing for their next class. Dance classes were originally taught in the gymnasium (which is now the current dance studio) and the windows were as hard to open then as they are now.  Along with her accompanist, Mrs. Gisella Kader, Jessica guided her students through a series of movement exercises struggling to get her accompanist to play with dynamics so that the students could respond to them.  In the early years, students primarily worked on dances for their May Day Pageant in the spring and created works to be performed on grass surfaces for every skill level. “Dances were created for at least 50 girls whether they were graceful or not, from kindergarten on up,” recalls Jessica. “It was a very exciting time to be dancing.” Jessica fondly recalled an early performance where the seniors, suddenly feeling uncomfortable about appearing in front of the student body in leotards, demanded to be able to wear pearls with their costume. It would be several more years before they were allowed to wear different colored leotards in performance.

During the war years, Jessica Nixon and colleague Betty Daniels, would either take the train to study with Hanya Holm in Colorado Springs, or with some of the early modern dance pioneers at Bennington College in Vermont in order to give their students the best possible modern dance education. In 1946, the students formed The Modern Dance Club, (renamed The Dance Club in 1969). It wasn’t until 1979, however, that the club came to be known by its current name, Moving Company. The mission statement of the club has changed only slightly over the years. Yearbook references as far back as 1948 reveal “…The Modern Dance Club was proof of a fast growing form of expression at Hathaway Brown. Black clad figures and “strange music” became a regular adornment to HB’s halls.” Other yearbooks also refer to the importance of this student organization. “The Modern Dance Club offers a great deal to its members. It gives those who love to dance a new way to express themselves and a greater appreciation for this new field of art. Most important of all, the club gives its members the experience of working as one in harmony with many.” 

Although the mission statements have changed their wording over the years to reflect changing needs, the sentiments remain. Moving Company is devoted to educating, elevating, and illuminating the art form of dance within the Hathaway Brown community.  Jessica understood implicitly the importance of a movement education and, upon leaving Hathaway Brown School in 1955, went on to do her doctoral dissertation on Creative Activities for children; helping children become creative through movement and working with elementary school teachers at San Jose State University. When I spoke with Jessica in 2001, she was 94, living in California, and continuing to support the art form of dance whenever and wherever she could. The legacy of love she possessed for this art form has lived on in all of the teachers and students who followed in her footsteps. Jessica brought dance to Hathaway Brown School 78 years ago and we will be forever grateful to her for having the vision to do so. One of her former students captured it beautifully in the 1951 yearbook when she wrote, “When the curtain comes down at the close of this performance, each knows that through her work and co-operation she has brought before the school a moment’s glimpse of the beauty the body can express.”

Miscellaneous Facts about dance at HB

Modern Dance Club formed around 1946

Specularia 1948
“Although the Modern Dance Club has been in progress at H.B. for only three years, school interest in this extra-curricular activity has greatly increased. This year, for the first time, we held a meeting of modern dance clubs from several schools in Cleveland in order to practice dance technique under Miss Sauthoff, who came form Madison, Wisconsin, especially for the occasion. During April we gave our annual school performance of compositions originated during the year. These included a polka by Shostakovich, May Night, accompanied by the Glee Club, and a Gershwin prelude.”

Specularia 1949
“While 1949 was only the third year of the Modern Dance Club, it was proof of a fast growing form of expression at Hathaway Brown. Black clad figures and “strange music” became a regular adornment to HB’s halls. Groans due to aching muscles became obsolete; lost pounds, a pleasure. The result of all our lunges and leaps was a program at the end of the year, in which we presented our interpretations of various ideas.”

Specularia 1951
“The modern dance club offers a great deal to its members. It gives those who love to dance a new way to express themselves and a greater appreciation for this new field of art. For novices, an opportunity is offered to cultivate their ability. Most important of all, the club gives its members the experience of working as one in harmony with many. During the club meetings, the members work on dance routines for the performance in April. When the curtain comes down at the close of this performance, each knows that through her work and co-operation she has brought before the school a moment’s glimpse of the beauty the body can express.”

Specularia 1952
“The Modern Dance Club, among other things, gives to its members a chance to work in harmony with others. The characteristic brand, which distinguishes a Modern Dance Club member from all others, is her form-fitting blue and black leotard, which usually covers an aching mass of sore muscles and bruises. Even though at times the latter two caused us many trials and tribulations, our persistence was rewarded in the achievement of two programs. The first, given at Christmas, consisted of our interpretations of various carols. The second, which we presented in April, was a representation of the history of the dance.”


Specularia 1956

Quotes:
“Foot it Featly.”
“Your skirts must be returned.”
“Please dress right after lunch.”

Renamed Dance Club in 1969

Renamed Moving Company in 1979

Illustrious alumnae
Rasheryl McCreary
Linda Steele
Rashmi Sawhny

Teachers

Jessica Nixon taught over 20 years. Last year was 1955
Mrs. Mosen
Mr.Lucas
Ms. Millen
Ms. Olsen
Lucinda Lavelli taught for 14 years
Marlene Leber taught for 20 years
Jenny Burnett 14 years
Falon Baltzell

Shaker Heights, Ohio Girls K-12 Coed Early Childhood

19600 North Park Boulevard Shaker Heights, Ohio 44122 P: 216.932.4214
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