Performing Arts

How Margo Dean became a Fort Worth ballet legend as Ballet Concerto turns 50

Inside of a small building along the red bricks of Camp Bowie is an abundance of the color purple. Shades of purple adorn each room. There are purple sofas with mismatching decorative pillows, purple walls down to purple curtains and purple flooring. If there’s a purple piece of decor that exists in this world, it exists in the Margo Dean School of Ballet.

Nearly camouflaged within the decor is Margo Dean herself, dressed from head to toe in purple. Except, of course, her ever-present ballet flats. Thanks to the never-ending sea of purple, Margo’s presence can be felt all around you, even without noticing the collection of her ballet posters and photos from decades past.

However, the origin story of her love affair with purple is a rather simple one.

“I think I bought a pair of purple shoes in Venice,” Dean said. “And they were these beautiful shoes and I thought, ‘I don’t have anything to wear with them.’ So every time I bought something I bought it in purple.”

For over 70 years, Dean has been an influential figure at the forefront of the Fort Worth dance community. She founded the Margo Dean School of Ballet, which has taught generations to dance, and Ballet Concerto, a non-profit dance company that turns 50 this year. Her efforts to extend ballet’s reach are still going today.

Dean’s passion for ballet ignited at age 8 when she first saw a ballerina dance on-pointe. From then on, she knew that’s what she wanted to do as a career. Though she briefly considered becoming a missionary, her dreams never deviated from ballet.

“I guess ballet won out,” she said.

Teaching generations of ballet students

Dean was born in Fort Worth and grew up in Breckenridge.

As a teenager during World War II, Dean was part of a group of four dancers who would entertain soldiers at major military bases in Texas. This was the first of many times that she’s been able to bring the art of ballet to people who normally may not be exposed to it.

In 1950, she first began teaching ballet at her home and taught there for about three years. She then moved the school to a building for about 25 years, until they got kicked out when the landlord wanted to convert the building to a townhouse. With the help of her husband, Margo found the building that has housed the school for the past 37 years.

Today, the Margo Dean School of Ballet is the longest standing ballet school in Dallas-Fort Worth. Dean attributes this to the fact that other ballet schools don’t have outreach programs.

“They just lived and died a normal life,” Dean said of other schools.

Over its nearly 70-year history, the Margo Dean School has taught generations of students who have gone on to do professional ballet for well-known companies. Much of her teaching and outreach occurred during a time when, in her words, “everybody just got married and did what your husband said.”

During this time, Margo didn’t let societal expectations put a stop to exploring her passion. She once wanted to study ballet in Havana, Cuba, where she said one of the best schools in the world is located. Her husband wouldn’t allow her to go, but she took off anyway. In another instance, Margo wanted to travel to India. One day, she got up and left, only leaving her husband a note about her departure.

“She was a trailblazer because most women back then stayed home and raised their kids and washed the dishes,” Jan Simus Curry said. “She was way before (her time).”

Curry is a member of the board of directors at the School. She took classes there when she was younger, as did her granddaughter.

“She has been such a mentor to so many young people (and) young dancers she has really helped and brought on to where they have gone on to careers,” Curry said.

Dean credits her successes to her late husband and children for their support.

Ballet Concerto’s 50th anniversary

Dean founded what is now known as the Texas Ballet Theatre, which was the first ballet school established in Fort Worth. In 1969, she met with the Fort Worth school district and presented a program to bring ballet demonstrations to selected schools.

“My passion was to bring ballet into the public schools,” Dean said. “Believe it or not, I was the first one to go into the schools with Ballet Concerto in 1969.”

Ballet Concerto is a non-profit dance company that rehearses at the Margo Dean School. Its 2019 Summer Dance Concert will be a celebration of their 50th anniversary as well as Margo’s impact on the DFW community.

And, on June 18, Dean will be receiving a proclamation from the Fort Worth City Council honoring her 50 years of work with Ballet Concerto.

Ballet Concerto’s Summer Dance Concert is June 21-23 at The Shops at Clearfork lawn on Ozona Avenue. Performances will begin at 8:30 p.m. each night. Lawn seating will be open to everyone free of admission and reserved seating is available with prices ranging from $50-$500. Several retailers and restaurants at Clearfork will sponsor the concert and cater to patrons.

Today, Ballet Concerto takes ballet demos to schools, gives ballet classes and supplies students with tights and leotards. They focus their outreach to schools that don’t have dance programs or adequate funding for the arts.

“The importance is exposing all people to the art form of ballet and dance,” Suzie Jary, a member of the Ballet Concerto advisory board, said. “Just presenting the arts as relief, pleasure and beauty and opportunities to show people who want to pursue that art form.”

The Margo Dean School also established the FIND program, or Finding and Inspiring New Dancers. In collaboration with Ballet Concerto, the program gives scholarships to dancers that excel in ballet.

“Margo herself was always offering scholarships,” Jary said. “I was someone who came to Margo and said we can’t afford to take (classes) anymore.”

Jary was a FIND student, and went on to become a Ballet Concerto dancer, choreographer and teacher. In addition to her role on the advisory board, she currently acts a substitute teacher for adult ballet classes at the School.

Dean allowed Jary to assist younger students in ballet classes as a way to help pay for classes. She said that Dean never lets someone’s financial situation get in the way of participating in ballet.

“It’s all about access and opportunities (for) people,” she said.

‘100 years of dance’

Dean’s age remains a mystery to most. When asked about it: “Oh, I forgot. That’s your answer.”

Although her teaching days have passed, she still frequents the ballet studio. She often pokes her head in during rehearsals and points out the things she sees that could be fixed.

“At the moment, I have wonderful ballet teachers and I just correct and advise,” Dean joked.

Today, the 90-something year-old ballerina still participates in warm-up exercises and bar exercises with ballet classes when she’s able. The years of dance have begun wearing down on her body, and she has arthritis in her ankles. But just like the plenty of other obstacles she’s faced, it won’t stop her from doing ballet.

“That’s a result of 100 years of dance,” she laughed.

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