The Way It Was – Toe dancers


Editor’s note: This is another column in Bill Boyd’s new series, “The Way It Was,” about growing up in Marysville. Bill continues to work with the Union County Historical Society to obtain information for his stories. With Marysville and Union County celebrating Bicentennial anniversaries in 2019 and 2020, respectively, these articles help depict what life was like in those early years.

When I was about five years old, my mother had a friend in Columbus who gave ballet lessons. So one day my parents took my sisters and me to Columbus to see what she called a “recital.” She said all the “ballerinas” would dance for us.
I had trouble saying the word “ballerinas,” so my sisters taught me to say “toe dancers” instead. I don’t think my dad had trouble saying that word, but he also called them “toe dancers.” I’m not sure where that recital was held, but the memories I have lead me to believe it was in a gymnasium.
I just remember that there were girls of all ages doing dances. First were the little girls, and then gradually the older ones. The girls were all dressed alike. They wore a very short, frilly skirt. My sisters called it a “tutu” or a “ballerina skirt,” but my dad and I called it a “toe dancer skirt.” My mother said that the short ballerina skirts make it easier for the girls to jump in the air, and spin, and whirl, and other stuff like that.
They also wore soft, delicate shoes, but some of the shoes, mostly for older girls, were tapered at the toe and the ends were flat. Some of the girls could actually walk on their tiptoes in those shoes. I tried to do that when we got home that night, but I just couldn’t do it. I bet I could have done it, if I had a pair of those special shoes.
Now fast forward to the mid to late ‘40s when I was in high school. I started hearing girls talk about “ballerina skirts” and how they would be perfect to wear to the next school dance. I couldn’t visualize that. I mean, if the boys were wearing a coat and tie, it just didn’t seem right to have the girls wearing those little tutus.
It didn’t take long, however, until I learned these new “ballerina skirts” were a lot different than those things the toe dancers wore. Instead of being short and frilly, they were very long, almost down to the girls’ ankles. And you wouldn’t believe how full they were. If a girl spun around, that long, full skirt would flare out, and I think the girls liked that.
What I never understood was why they called those things ballerina skirts. They weren’t anything at all like the short little tutus. And they would make it really hard to do the jumping and acrobatic things that the toe dancers did.
Nevertheless, they became so popular you wouldn’t believe it. I think almost every girl in town was wearing them. Then about the same time, you not only saw ballerina skirts, you also heard about them. Probably the most popular song in the country was a song called “Dance Ballerina Dance.”
Just about all the popular vocalists made a recording of that song. But one singer, Nat King Cole, outsold all the rest. If you went to a school dance, you would hear that song played four or five times during the evening. That’s how popular the whole “ballerina” thing became.
Last night I tried to remember those dances in the basement of the high school on West 6th Street. The first thing that popped in my mind was the Wurlitzer jukebox that sat on a raised platform in the southwest corner of the room. Then there was one wall lined with seats, where the teachers sat to watch over the whole affair. Next came the large photos of MHS graduating classes, which hung on the basement walls.
But most of all, I remembered all the girls in their ballerina skirts. Then suddenly those skirts started to look a little different. They were just as long, but they weren’t quite as full. And they all had a dog appliquéd on them. It was the birth of the “poodle skirt.” But that is another story.
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