By Wendy Holdren
“I am a product of this community,” Jerry Rose, director of the Beckley Dance Theatre, said Sunday at the Raleigh County Historical Society’s first-quarter meeting.
Rose joined a room full of history and dance enthusiasts at the Beckley Woman’s Club to talk about how the town has impacted him and how his dance school and theater have flourished over the years.
He recalled restaurants and stores in Beckley many years ago, such as Franklin’s on Neville Street, that he said contributed to the attitudes he has about life.
He also acknowledged the people who had gathered at the Historical Society meeting, many of whom he said had been a great part of his life.
“It seems only yesterday I started classes in a small studio on Earway Street.”
After a few moves around town, he said he and his wife, Sherry, found a place for sale on Raleigh Avenue where they set up shop in 1978.
“Good choices are the act of God. He helps us to make the right decisions.”
He said he was glad to be born into a family who found importance in performance.
From a very young age, Rose said he admired dancers like Fred Astaire and Gene Nelson. One of his friends invited him to a ballroom dance class, both of them being young boys with ulterior motives of being close to female dance partners, but it sparked a true passion in Rose.
He excelled in the class and his teacher asked him to come back on a tap and ballet scholarship.
There he found a lifelong friend, Sherry Evans, who would one day become his wife.
The two were in the original cast of “Honey in the Rock” together, and lived in New Jersey for a time while working for a ballet company.
In 1960, the company decided to relocate to Hong Kong, which was a move Sherry did not want to make.
The two came back to West Virginia to find that their old dance teacher was selling her school after 35 years.
“We wanted to come back and make a family,” Rose said, so they took over the school, teaching, working and creating choreography. “We knew we had made the right choice when people were so encouraging.”
He said thousands have passed through the Beckley Dance Theatre School, some going on to dance for New York City Ballet and the American Ballet Theatre. Some of them have danced in Vegas and Broadway, as well as movies and productions.
“They are still in my heart as young people,” he said.
Rose started the West Virginia Ballet Festival, which is now held at the Culture Center in Char-leston. In addition to hosting the festival, that stage holds another significant event in Rose’s life; he recalled falling off the stage there, which he described as something he will never forget, but also an experience of patience and a new-found thankfulness for being able to walk today.
He also brought to the meeting a letter from one of his students, Chelsea, whose life was touched by dancing.
She said dance helped her become a part of something bigger than herself. “The performance is great-er than the individual, but the tradition is great-er than the performance.”
She described the feeling of mothers watching their daughters do something they had once been a part of, or never getting to experience, as well as the tears of pride falling down the coal mining fathers’ cheeks.
“West Virginians are among the poorest citizens in the country,” Chelsea wrote. “And although dance does not put food on our tables, when we dance, we are not poor.”
Rose said it has been a privilege for him to have touched so many lives and to be touched by their journeys.
And just as an audience does after an outstanding performance, they gave Rose a standing ovation at the conclusion of his speech.
— E-mail: wholdren@ register-herald.com