Former Limón Star and Teacher Betty Jones, 94, Has Died

Betty Jones in The Moor's Pavane, shot for Dance Magazine's "Dancers You Should Know" series in 1955. Zachary Freyman, Courtesy Jacob's Pillow

An anchor of the Humphrey-Limón legacy for more than 70 years, Betty Jones died at her home in Honolulu on November 17, 2020. She remained active well into her 90s, most recently leading a New York workshop with her husband and partner, Fritz Ludin, in October 2019.

Betty May Jones was born on June 11, 1926 in Meadville, Pennsylvania, and moved with her family to the Albany, New York, area, where she began taking dance classes. Just after she turned 15 in 1941, she began serious ballet study at Jacob's Pillow, which was under the direction of Anton Dolin and Alicia Markova for the season. Over the next three summers as a scholarship student, Jones expanded her range and became an integral part of Jacob's Pillow. Among her duties was working in the kitchen, where her speedy efficiency earned her the nickname of "Lightning."

Her work was not confined to the kitchen and the studio, however, and her stage experience began in 1942 with the first season of the Ted Shawn Theatre, where she appeared in two ballets by Bronislava Nijinska. She would later perform at the Pillow in works by Ted Shawn, Angiola Sartorio and others.

Betty Jones and Fritz Ludin in José Limón's There is a Time

Photographed at Jacob's Pillow in 1967 by John Lindquist, © Harvard Theatre Collection, Courtesy Jacob's Pillow

After she finished high school, she headed to New York City where she held a variety of subsistence jobs, working for Dance Magazine and ushering at the Shubert Theater. For eight months there, she had the privilege of observing Uta Hagen and Paul Robeson in Othello, an experience that would later serve her well as she herself took on the role of Desdemona.

She sang and danced in a USO tour of Oklahoma! in 1945 and later performed more choreography by Agnes de Mille in a national tour of Bloomer Girl. It was after returning to the Pillow for the summer of 1946 that her future began to truly unfold. José Limón was engaged as a guest teacher and performer at the end of the season, and Jones later remarked that "I was immediately quite taken with him." They both performed solos on the same program and a connection was made.

In 1947, the José Limón Dance Company was born, and Betty Jones became a charter member of the group. Over the next twenty-three years, she was an essential part of the company's work, originating roles in iconic Limón dances including There is a Time, Missa Brevis, and A Choreographic Offering, as well as Doris Humphrey classics such as Night Spell and Ruins and Visions.

Most famously, she created the role of Desdemona opposite Limón's Moor in The Moor's Pavane, performing this modern dance classic at the White House and on national television as well as on the concert stage. Under the aegis of the U.S. State Department, she toured widely with Limón and represented the U.S. on international tours to Europe, Yugoslavia, Poland, South America, Australia, and the Far East.

It was as an educator that Jones found her true calling. While still in her early 20s, she began teaching under Limón's guidance at the Dance Players Studio and later assisted him at the Juilliard School, continuing on the faculty there for more than two decades. Meanwhile, she launched a 40-year teaching career at the American Dance Festival where she was the recipient of the Balasaraswati/Joy Ann Dewey Beinecke Endowed Chair for Distinguished Teaching in 1993. She summed up her philosophy by saying, "I really love to teach and I really love the students."

In 1964, she and Fritz Ludin co-founded a duet company and school, Dances We Dance, in Hawaii. Dances We Dance performed dances by Martha Wittman, Murray Louis, Dan Wagoner, and others, touring extensively under the NEA's Dance Touring Program, and this entity evolved into Honolulu's Jones-Ludin Dance Center, a presenting organization. In later years, Jones and Ludin traveled the world, teaching throughout Europe, Russia, America and East Asia.

Betty Jones and Fritz Ludin in José Limón's The Winged (1966)

Philip A. Biscuti, Courtesy Jacob's Pillow

Harking back to her earliest Juilliard experiences under the leadership of the Dance Division's founding director, Martha Hill, Jones was last year awarded a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Martha Hill Dance Foundation. Other awards in her long career include an Honorary Doctorate from the Federation Française de Danse in Paris, the Susan E. Brackett Distinguished Visiting Artist Chair from the University of Oklahoma, and the Medal of Chevalier from Prince Sihanouk in Cambodia. She received an Award of Excellence from Honolulu's Commission on Culture and the Arts, while the Hawaii Senate and the House of Representatives honored her for her cultural contributions to the State of Hawaii.

Beginning with her earliest professional experiences, her career was meticulously documented in scrapbooks assembled by her mother, also named Betty Jones. Those scrapbooks, along with a plethora of photographs, programs, films, and videos, are now permanently enshrined as the Betty Jones Collection at the New York Public Library's Jerome Robbins Dance Division. —Norton Owen

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Alwin Courcy, courtesy Ballet des Amériques

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"For three days I would experience relief from the fever—then, boom—it would come back worse than before," Alexis says. "I would go into a room and not know why I was there." Despite the remission of some symptoms, the fatigue and other debilitating side effects have endured to this day. Alexis is part of a tens-of-thousands-member club nobody wants to be part of—she is a COVID-19 long-hauler.

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Annika Abel Photography, courtesy Griffith

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"I had a hard time watching people have these conversations without historical context and knowledge," says Griffith, who now resides in her hometown of Portland, Oregon, after many years in New York City. "It was clear that there was so much information missing."

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Courtesy Tonawanda Dance Arts

If you're considering starting a summer program this year, you're likely not alone. Summer camp and class options are a tried-and-true method for paying your overhead costs past June—and, done well, could be a vehicle for making up for lost 2020 profits.

Plus, they might take on extra appeal for your studio families this year. Those struggling financially due to the pandemic will be in search of an affordable local programming option rather than an expensive, out-of-town intensive. And with summer travel still likely in question this spring as July and August plans are being made, your studio's local summer training option remains a safe bet.

The keys to profitable summer programming? Figuring out what type of structure will appeal most to your studio clientele, keeping start-up costs low—and, ideally, converting new summer students into new year-round students.

Find a formula that works for your studio

For Melanie Boniszewski, owner of Tonawanda Dance Arts in upstate New York, the answer to profitable summer programming lies in drop-in classes.

"We're in a cold-weather climate, so summer is actually really hard to attract people—everyone wants to be outside, and no one wants to commit to a full season," she says.

Tonawanda Dance Arts offers a children's program in which every class is à la carte: 30-minute, $15 drop-in classes are offered approximately two times a week in the evenings, over six weeks, for different age groups. And two years ago, she created her Stay Strong All Summer Long program for older students, which offers 12 classes throughout the summer and a four-day summer camp. Students don't know what type of class they're attending until they show up. "If you say you're going to do a hip-hop class, you could get 30 kids, but if you do ballet, it could be only 10," she says. "We tell them to bring all of their shoes and be ready for anything."

Start-up costs are minimal—just payroll and advertising (which she starts in April). For older age groups, Boniszewski focuses on bringing in her studio clientele, rather than marketing externally. In the 1- to 6-year-old age group, though, around 50 percent of summer students tend to be new ones—98 percent of whom she's been able to convert to year-round classes.

A group of elementary school aged- girls stands in around a dance studio. A teacher, a young black man, stands in front of the studio, talking to them

An East County Performing Arts Center summer class from several years ago. Photo courtesy ECPAC

East County Performing Arts Center owner Nina Koch knows that themed, weeklong camps are the way to go for younger dancers, as her Brentwood, California students are on a modified year-round academic school calendar, and parents are usually looking for short-term daycare solutions to fill their abbreviated summer break.

Koch keeps her weekly camps light on dance: "When we do our advertising for Frozen Friends camp, for example, it's: 'Come dance, tumble, play games, craft and have fun!'"

Though Koch treats her campers as studio-year enrollment leads, she acknowledges that these weeklong camps naturally function as a way for families who aren't ready for a long-term commitment to still participate in dance. "Those who aren't enrolled for the full season will be put into a sales nurture campaign," she says. "We do see a lot of campers come to subsequent camps, including our one-day camps that we hold once a month throughout our regular season."

Serve your serious dancers

One dilemma studio owners may face: what to do about your most serious dancers, who may be juggling outside intensives with any summer programming that you offer.

Consider making their participation flexible. For Boniszweski's summer program, competitive dancers must take six of the 12 classes offered over a six-week period, as well as the four-day summer camp, which takes place in mid-August. "This past summer, because of COVID, they paid for six but were able to take all 12 if they wanted," she says. "Lots of people took advantage of that."

For Koch, it didn't make sense to require her intensive dancers to participate in summer programming, partly because she earned more revenue catering to younger students and partly because her older students often made outside summer-training plans. "That's how you build a well-rounded dancer—you want them to go off and get experience from teachers you might not be able to bring in," she says.

Another option: Offering private lessons. Your more serious dancers can take advantage of flexible one-on-one training, and you can charge higher fees for individualized instruction. Consider including a financial incentive to get this kind of programming up and running. "Five years ago, we saw that some kids were asking for private lessons, so we created packages: If you bought five lessons, you'd get one for free—to get people in the door," says Boniszewksi. "After two years, once that program took off, we got rid of the discount. People will sign up for as many as 12 private lessons."

A large group of students stretch in a convention-style space with large windows. They follow a teacher at the front of the room in leaning over their right leg for a hamstring stretch

Koch's summer convention experience several years ago. Photo courtesy East County Performing Arts Center

Bring the (big) opportunities to your students

If you do decide to target older, more serious dancers for your summer programming, you may need to inject some dance glamour to compete with fancier outside intensives.

Bring dancers opportunities they wouldn't have as often during the school year. For Boniszewski, that means offering virtual master classes with big-name teachers, like Misha Gabriel and Briar Nolet. For Koch, it's bringing the full convention experience to her students—and opening it up to the community at large. In past years, she's rented her local community center for a weekend-long in-house convention and brought in professional ballet, jazz, musical theater and contemporary guest teachers.

In 2019, the convention was "nicely profitable" while still an affordable $180 per student, and attracted 120 dancers, a mix of her dancers and dancers from other studios. "It was less expensive than going to a big national convention, because parents didn't have to worry about lodging or travel," Koch says. "We wanted it to be financially attainable for families to experience something like this in our sleepy little town."

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