In Memory of Beverly Donahue
Dance legend, champion competitor, teacher, coach and mentor to a generation of dance teachers
Oh Beverly, we will miss you....
Remembering Beverly Donahue
First printed in Topline Magazine Spring 2011
by Chris Thompson
....My first interview was with Beverly Donahue, coach to champion dancers, adjudicator, invigilator, and long time USISTD fellow. Ms Donahue was a pioneer of International style dancing in the US. She partnered Vernon Brock, Sam Sodano and Al Franz. Many will remember Beverly as the first woman to wear the “Ginger Rogers” style ball gown at USBC in 1978.
I asked Beverly to trace the stages of her successful career.
Beverly began working for an Arthur Murray Studio in Boston, fresh out of high school. While she had been an avid jazz, ballet and tap dancer all her life, ballroom dancing had never been a consideration. Applying to Arthur Murray had begun as a ploy to satisfy her mother’s urgings to “get a job” but ballroom soon became her passion. Beginning, as we all do, as a bronze level social dance teacher, Beverly proved herself to be talented and hard working and when the opportunity came along to partner Vernon Brock in Chicago, she was there! She competed for 10 years between 1970- 1980 and won numerous titles during that time. She was US Latin Champion with Vernon Brock; North American Latin Champ with Vernon Brock, Sam Sodano and Al Franz; North American Ten Dance Champion with Al Franz, and Blackpool Latin Finalist and Third in the Worlds Pro Latin with Vernon Brock.
Having won her titles during the 70’s, and having completed all of her USISTD exams, Beverly was eager to settle down and reap some of the benefits of her work. Establishing a home base in the DC area, she was able to buy a condo. Seldom home, however, she was on the road 42 weekends a year between 1980 and 1997, coaching and judging, teaching the top competing pros in the country, influencing the dance trends for the next two decades.
That amount of travel was exhausting after so many years. Beverly wanted to settle down to a home studio, which she found through her good friend, Nick Short. It was time to cultivate regular students in the DC area, travelling only occasionally. She organized local dance events such as the popular “Black and White Ball”. As Dance Director at her home studio, she taught many of DC’s young professional dancers, and both pro and amateur competitors.
Today, Bev continues to coach, judge and invigilate, preferring to stay close to home whenever possible. She continues to train staff at local studios. “I’m really enjoying this stage of my career,” remarks Beverly. “In your 20’s you constantly have to prove yourself, working for a title, credibility, often doubting yourself….So many years of experience gives you a secure knowledge of the craft, and the confidence to speak with conviction”.
Beverly redefined herself as a dance professional over the decades. She seems to have flowed seamlessly from competitor, to travelling coach, to coach, judge, trainer, and mentor. To “love, learn, and leave a legacy” seems to sum up Beverly’s career so far. She “loved” the dancing and competing during her 20’s. She “learned every aspect of her craft, including taking all of her professional exams, and she “leaves a legacy” through her years of influencing young competitors, training scores of young teachers, judging and sponsoring scholarship events at competitions.
I asked Beverly what advice she had for young dance professionals to help them insure a long, successful career. Her advice was to, “enjoy the process….Learn everything about your craft …And to remember that knowledge is power. “Take all your exams. The process will transform your teaching and open doors”. She reminds the young dancer,”never to turn down an opportunity to learn…. “Learn all aspects of the dance business…. Actively work on your personal skills, run parties, do pro am competitions, do showcases, compete, if you like.” “ The dancer will someday be the teacher; the teacher the judge; the judge the business person”. “Longevity in this industry means keeping an open mind to the possibilities. By learning all aspects of the industry early on, you may discover a new talent and a new passion”.
Lastly, Beverly advises professionalism in all things. “Treat your students with respect. They are trusting you with their heart, their ego, and their passion. Be on time, teach full lessons, keeping an eye towards encouragement and motivation”. “Likewise”, Beverly adds, “treat your professional peers with integrity”. “They are your allies; not your enemies…. We work best when we work together”.
It was a pleasure getting to know Beverly Donahue, and hearing her secrets to a long and successful career in the ballroom dance industry.