In the summer of 2008, Patricia Dickinson fell into a backyard fire pit, leaving 60 percent of her body covered in serious burns (the severity was caused by the incinerated rayon tunic she was wearing). Many worried that the highly debilitating accident might sideline the devoted teacher and dancer for good, but Dickinson persevered through the pain and went back to teaching nine months later at Dance Theatre Southwest, her studio in Albuquerque. “Many thought that was the end, but not Pat,” says Bill Evans, a longtime collaborator and colleague. “She’s so strong and has such a positive outlook that she was able to return to what she does best.”
One look at Dickinson’s resumé and it’s easy to see why living without dance wasn’t an option. The artform has always been an integral part of her life—starting in the seventh grade when she began giving dance classes to neighborhood kids at her childhood home in Atlanta, Georgia. “We used the backs of kitchen chairs in lieu of a proper barre,” says Dickinson.
Along with founding Dance Theatre Southwest in 1994, the former ballerina has also taught master classes around the country and abroad and developed a successful “History of Dance” workshop that has been incorporated into school programs in New Mexico and Texas. She’s also been a driving force for New Mexico Ballet Company, Dallas Ballet, Southwest Civic Ballet (which she founded and ran for three years until it disbanded in 1997) and Festival Ballet, Albuquerque (which she founded in 2009).
One of the dance experiences that influenced Dickinson the most was helping to create Dancers Unlimited in the early ’80s. She acted as co-artistic director of the Dallas-based modern dance company for close to a decade. The group’s repertory included works by Evans, Bill T. Jones and Moses Pendleton. It was also Dickinson’s first professional exposure to the world outside classical ballet: “I’d always been a bit of a bunhead, thinking modern dance was ‘bug dancing’ because so much of the movement happened on the floor,” she says. “I even insisted on wearing my ballet skirt in modern class. But I eventually realized, thank goodness, that modern was both a passion and a viable style for me.”
Dickinson soon displayed proficiency across both classical and contemporary styles. “Her personal movement vocabulary is very extensive,” says Evans, who has known Dickinson for 30 years. “She’s not a small and delicate mover; she is expansive and exciting.”
Today Dickinson brings that wealth of experience to her work at Dance Theatre Southwest, where she advances what she calls “Vaganova-based movement infused with an American style—a conglomeration of my many different schools of ballet training.” Students receive highly personalized attention, with classes for younger dancers adhering to a 12:1 student/teacher ratio. There are 14 regular teachers at the studio, and Dickinson teaches six classes a week and acts as the “official sub” for all classes.
Though she has spent her career teaching and choreographing for dancers of all ages, it’s working with young dancers that gratifies her most today. “I’ve discovered how much I enjoy having an impact on their careers and life choices,” says Dickinson. “Every dancer in your studio won’t grow up to become a tutu-toting ballerina, but the discipline and teamwork they learn are skills that will enhance their lives.”
Photo by Pat Berrett, courtesy of Patricia Dickinson
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