in the spotlight Natalie Skelton: A Legacy in Dance by JerryBywaters Cochran S
hewas never seen in publicwithout hermake-up on. She never stopped learning, about dance of course, but also about everything.
Shewas always full of energy. She had charisma. Shewrote lovely, handwritten notes in a timewhen those are rare. She looked beautiful in a tutu and preferred danceswith lots of them. She had a beautiful arch on pointe. She had an innate gift for getting people together and getting things done. Shewould ask you to do something and you couldn’t say no. Shewas a force of nature.
Nataliewas born onHard Times Plantation inAlexandria, Louisiana, on June 25, 1917. To put that in context, itwas just a little over two weeks after theUnited States entered WorldWar I.
On the dayNataliewas born, it is said that the doctor came out to the plantation in a horse and buggy, stayed all day and ate a fried chicken dinnerwith the family. Thosewere different times.Ca
n anyone today imagine a doctormaking a house call and staying all day?
Family lore has it thatwhenNataliewas six, hermother took her to a dance studio inAlexandria directed by awoman namedGrace Fenn. ButNataliewould have none of it; she started to cry andwouldn’t par- ticipate in the class, so shewas taken home. Thiswas probably the only time inNatalie’s long life that she showed no enthusiasmfor dance.
As an uncanny coincidence, itwas recently learned that some of Natalie’s distant relatives nowown the very house inAlexandriawhere Miss Fenn’s studiowas located, in the basement.
WhenNataliewas eight her familymoved toDallas and by then she was ready to study dance in earnest.By
age twelve she hadmastered enough technique to be selected as her teacher’s demonstrator.
When shewas 17 shemanaged to take some private classes fromthe not-yet-famousGeneKelly,whowas then four years away fromhis first part onBroadway.Ke
lly choreographed two numbers for her— Mood Indigo and Sophisticated Lady—and she performed themboth for years.
The next fewyears sawNatalie graduating fromNorthDallasHigh School and performing in theaters, hotels and country clubs, both as a soloist andwith other dancers. The TexasCentennial in 1936 also pro- vided performing opportunities and after that for a fewyears she touredwith two dance groups.
Natalie hadmet a youngman namedDoug Skelton. They shared the same group of friends andNatalie noticed that at partiesDoug,who was also a fine dancer, frequently dancedwith her and not his date. She figured that somethingwas up and sure enough, in 1943 she and Dougweremarried.WorldWar IIwas then underway andDougwas soon shipped overseas as a glider pilotwith theArmyAirCorps and he
DANCE!NORTHTEXAS a publication of the dance council of north texas
sawservice inEngland, France and theNetherlands, picking up three medals for valor in combat and a promotion to First Lieutenant.While Dougwas overseas their daughter Tishwas born; Tish andDoug didn’t meet until he came back fromoverseas.When Tishwas about 8, Natalie started teaching and a fewyears later bought her own studio, theNatalie School ofDance,which she operated for 37 years.
During the 1950s,Natalie started on an endeavor thatwould consume much of her boundless energy for the rest of her life. She beganwork- ing tirelesslywith dance organizations to help fulfill her vision—to improve the dance experience for both teachers and young dancers.
She joined TATD, the TexasAssociation of Teachers ofDancing, and over the years held every office they had, including president. Shewas responsible formany innovations, including the firstmodern dance classes offered by TATD. She also brought in notable dance figures to teach at their conventions; onewas thewell-knownRobert Joffrey. It causedmuch consternationwhen she told the teachers,whowere used to 45-minute classes, that Joffrey’swould last an hour and a half.But apparently they all survived and I’msure they profited fromit.
vol. 20 • no. 2 www.thedancecouncil.org
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