JEFFERSONVILLE, Ind. — Bill Weber and Bette Weber Flock had disparate teaching styles, despite their close relationship from children dancing together to young adults opening their own studio.
Bill possessed a booming voice and a high energy, said former student Emily Carter-Essex, while Bette was more nurturing.
“It was very different, but the same passion was there,” Carter-Essex said.
A passion for teaching children and watching them progress.
It was what inspired Bette and Bill to start the Weber School of Dance in 1948, and it’s what still drives Bette to teach part-time as an 85-year-old, 13 years after her brother’s death.
As Bette’s dance school prepares for its 70th year, the children are still what she thinks about the most. She talks about the new ones just learning how to balance and the old ones now choreographing hit Broadway shows. She thinks about what they’re learning and what they have learned from Weber.
She rattles off the benefits of dance as effortlessly as she calls out instructions: Self-esteem, confidence, teamwork, determination. (“Definitely, definitely determination,” Bette said).
Student after student of hers has approached her over the years to say that her lessons played a big part in their successes as an adult.
“It’s very fulfilling,” she said. “And it’s nice to know that you made a difference in a child’s life.”
BECOMING AN ICON
Obscured by the haze of decades, it may seem like Bette has always been a dancer, but she wasn’t until she observed the lessons of a traveling teacher at 7 or 8 years old. It seemed like a fun activity, and she started to take her own classes. Eventually, her brother followed suit and the two studied in New York during the summer.
In 1949, they auditioned and earned spots as soloists at the fledgling Louisville Ballet Company.
But first, the two started offering lessons at the masonic lodge in New Albany. Theirs was the first dance studio on the Indiana side of the river, Bette said.
The venture was mostly Bill’s, but Bette always helped out. The two taught in the mornings and rehearsed with the Louisville Ballet in the evenings.
The siblings’ lessons were so popular that they outgrew their space and had to move. Eventually, Bill settled in near New Albany High School. In 1950, Bette opened the first Weber School in Jeffersonville, which she eventually moved out of for her current spot on Maple Street. Over the years, Bill and Bette also owned schools in Louisville and Charlestown. They are no longer, as is the New Albany school.
Bill and Bette mostly taught ballet together: the foundation of all dance, as Bette refers to it. But in 1969, Bette started choreographing school musicals. Her first production was Providence High School’s iteration of “The Unsinkable Molly Brown.”
From there, she became Floyd Central High School’s choreographer. Her first show with them took them to the International Thespian Festival. Bette retired from that job only two to three years ago.
Currently, the Weber School of Dance serves 300 students. Factor in the 69 years Bette’s taught and the hundreds of productions she’s choreographed and Bette balks at even counting the number of children she’s taught.
The breadth of her work puts her in a category of Southern Indiana resident that’s beyond that of even former mayors and principals.
“Miss Bette’s a legend,” said Caleb Oukrop, a student of hers in his senior year of high school.
Paula Merrill, another former student of Bette’s who now owns the Weber School of Dance, agreed.
“It’s like Miss Bette is an icon in the community,” she said.
Bette now teaches students whose grandparents she schooled.
Carter-Essex, who went on to dance professionally for a spell after aging out of the Weber School of Dance, immediately enrolled her two daughters at the studio after she returned to the area seven years ago.
“.I was so excited to be back there and to have them have that opportunity at Weber,” she said.
Carter-Essex learned a lot as Bette’s student, including good work ethic, kindness and resiliency. Now, she sees her daughters picking up the same lessons.
When her daughter, Catherine, faced a moment of adversity onstage during a production of “Annie,” (the handle of her bucket broke off), she continued on with her performance, not missing a step of her dance or a note in her song.
“I would say it’s been drilled into their psyche,” Carter-Essex said.
A FOREVER LOVE
Bill died in 2004. At the time, he was already retired from the Weber School of Dance, but was still involved.
He’s still remembered at memorial recitals and in the conversations of his former students.
“I talk about him all the time,” Merrill said.
Three years prior to Bill’s death, Bette sold the school to Merrill.
It was time, she said, but the subject is still an emotional one for her.
Merrill, for her part, says she doesn’t do much without Bette’s input.
“We talk daily,” she said.
And Bette still straps on her pink ballet slippers and teaches as much as she can. It’s just what you do when you love what you do.
Bette was always teaching, even when she was also raising children and choreographing multiple musicals
“It was a busy time, but when you love something as much as I loved teaching and loved working with children, it never came to my mind that it was difficult or I did not want to do it,” she said. “I looked forward to it every single day.”
Source: News and Tribune
Information from: News and Tribune, Jeffersonville, Ind., http://www.newsandtribune.com
This is an Indiana Exchange story shared by the News and Tribune.