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When it comes to adorable photographs, it’s virtually impossible to surpass young dancers in recital costumes. So it was quite thrilling this week to receive a collection of three Kodachrome slides from the recital performed by the Holding School of Dance at the old Forest Theater on South White Street in 1958.
The slides were particularly well-timed because, as parents of young dancers know, another recital season is fast approaching. With so many wonderful studios now operating locally, it seems a good moment to share a brief history of the town’s original dance school for young girls.
The Holding School of Dance was founded soon after Wake Forest native William Holding moved home with his new wife, Betty Hunt Holding, at the end of World War II. William was a cotton broker whose family business occupied the building now known as the Cotton Company. Betty was a former professional ballerina who–through sheer love of dance–started giving classes accompanied by an old record player in the basement of their Wake Forest home.
It was quite a change from her glorious past. Trained by the legendary George Balanchine at the School of American Ballet, Betty had spent the early 1940s dancing with the New York City Ballet. She later joined the kick line as a Radio City Music Hall Rockette, an experience she recalled in a 1979 interview with the News & Observer.
“They were– well, they were the Rockettes! They did not like show types at Radio City Music Hall. The image was one of innocence, the girl-next-door sort of thing. Fresh, wholeseome, talented people…. Lucille Ball used to come backstage and watch us rehearse, and to her we were stars. New York worshiped us. The Broadway theater–that’s another ballgame by the way–looked at us with awe.”
Wake Forest also looked at Betty Holding with awe, primarily because she was a charming, talented, extraordinary woman who mentored generations of young girls. Through her efforts, they developed grace, confidence, and discipline.
For more than 30 years, Betty taught ballet, tap, acrobatics, and ballroom dancing. The elaborate recitals she staged each spring at the Forest Theater, for which she often designed and made the costumes, were a seasonal highlight.
As an artist and businesswoman whose contributions were the building blocks for the explosive growth of dance, music, and the arts in Wake Forest, Betty Hunt holding was awarded a place of honor in the inaugural class of notables inducted into the museum’s Women of Wake Forest exhibit in 2013.
(The Wake Forest Historical Museum is deeply grateful to Janis Underwood, whose generous donation of the color slides has provided a fresh glimpse into the famed Holding Studio recitals at the Forest Theater.)