By John Blankenship and Jessica Farrish
For the past five decades, Jerry Rose has been teaching students at Beckley Dance Theatre School that their minds can take them anywhere.
“You don’t have to live in L.A. or Chicago or New York in order to make a success of your life,” Rose said. “All you have to do is open the door to your mind, your soul and your creativity.”
The world-renowned Rose has been sharing his mind, his soul and his creativity with dance students and instructors for an astonishing 50 years — in person and through instructional videos and ballet CDs.
“I’m blessed with being able to do what I love to do every day, and share it with people all over the world,” Rose explained of his craft. “It’s also a process that allows me to share a little bit of the rest of the world with my students in Beckley and a little bit of southern West Virginia with the rest of the world.”
For the 72-year-old ballet master and veteran choreographer life is a celebration, a festival of breath, movement and energy, a craft that captures the beauty of living and expresses the joy of being alive.
“I can’t wait to come to work in the morning,” Rose said, “because I know that I am going to be able to affect someone’s life that day.”
A few years ago, Rose suffered a setback that placed him temporarily in a wheelchair.
He said he is grateful to his wife, author and dance instructor Sherry Rose, for taking care of him during that trial.
“I have so much to be thankful for,” Rose said. “Now I’m well and back at rehearsing and teaching and choreographing and traveling.”
When Rose was growing up in Beckley, his father took him to see Broadway musicals that played in local theaters. At age 12, he heard ballroom dancing at Ms. Emma Beard’s dance school was a good way to get to dance with girls, so he signed up for lessons. His talent was evident, and Beard offered him a scholarship to tap and ballet classes.
“From there, all my life was oriented toward performing,” he said. “I wanted to be on stage.”
Rose’s first professional job was performing in “Honey in the Rock” at Theatre West Virginia at age 19. (His future wife, another Beard student, was also in the show.) “We just celebrated 50 years together,” Rose said. “Everything that I am and all that I’ve done is because of Sherry. I could never have done anything without her guidance and friendship.”
From TWV, Rose went on to dance in shows with prestigious companies all over the world. He directed TWV upon his return to Beckley, choreographing “Hatfields and McCoys,” a local favorite.
He and Sherry also purchased Dance Theatre School from Beard. “Our school has a legacy that goes back 75 years,” the dance instructor said.
Rose toured for 25 years with a national dance company and spent the last 10 years touring major cities, teaching, performing and holding seminars.
His goal is to make sure his students receive world-class instruction, something he’s accomplished by teaching himself, by hiring experienced instructors and by hosting special workshops and performances led by world-renowned dancers — some of whom are his former students.
“Beckley has always been very special for me and still is,” Rose said. “I always wanted the students here to be on the same level as students in metropolitan areas. I wanted them to have the same kind of training and opportunities and vision that students in those cities have.”
Twenty-two of his students have left West Virginia for dancing careers in companies such as the New York City Ballet, Boston Ballet and the Houston Ballet.
Rose believes that some people are able to assume another identity when they are performing on stage, enabling them to live out their fantasies.
“You’re never just yourself,” he said. “You’re always a bigger person on stage than you really are, giving credibility to your own self-esteem.”
Rose has brought the life of dance to the Beckley area for three generations of local performers who have studied at his Dance Theatre School on Raleigh Avenue, sharing the magic he first felt for his craft as an elementary student in the late 1940s and early ’50s.
He recalls giving impromptu performances at local bus stops when he and his mother traveled downtown on city buses. He also used to dial up operators on the telephone and sing to them.
“The best part is that they actually listened,” Rose said. “Those of us who are performers at heart do it because we are drawn to it; it’s just something we have to do.”
The young aspiring performer also directed skits in the neighborhood on washdays when mothers hung their sheets on the clothesline to dry.
“We used the sheets as backdrops, and that was a pretty cool way of improvising. To change the scene, we merely moved from one sheet to another.”
Rose, who boasts a litany of Broadway credits to his artistic repertoire, noted that he once was disappointed in the fourth grade when he didn’t get a part in Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol.”
“I auditioned for a part in the play but was not picked for the show,” Rose offered with a laugh. “I was undaunted, though. It only made me more determined to work harder in the future.”
And that he did.
This month, the annual DTS student production will be “Celebrate!,” a tribute to the school’s 50th anniversary as well as highlighting special days and occasions on life’s journey, according to Rose.
“We’re celebrating not only an anniversary, but celebrating life — all the days we have for special celebrations — there are all kinds of occasions to celebrate. Just being here and being able to enjoy God’s creation, that’s a celebration.”
The annual recital May 21, 22 and 23 will be presented Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday at Woodrow Wilson High School auditorium on Stanaford Road in Beckley. The Tuesday and Wednesday performances will begin at 6 p.m. and Thursday’s at 5:30 p.m. Tickets are $8 and are available at the Dance Theatre office, 112 Raleigh Ave., or at the door. For more information, call 304-255-5684.
Students of all ages will be featured in choreography spanning the dance literature from ballet to hip hop. Attending alumni will also be introduced during each performance.
Following the Thursday evening performance, the audience is invited to attend a gala reception at Tamarack Conference Center on Harper Road.
“Celebrate!” is a culmination of the last 50 years of dance for Rose and his students. “My life is full at 72. I’m ready to go every day,” Rose said. “I have a purpose, and my faith in God takes care of me and leads me on.”