Sunday, January 31, 2016

Remembering Passion

While walking the dog in the bitter cold winds, there in the dark recesses of my mind I spied a time and a person where I first experienced passion from the heart.  I saw myself, age eight, wearing a black leotard in the winter and climbing the steps to the second story dance studio where the heater didn't begin to warm the rooms. I shivered, but only for a moment.  Once she placed the
Virginia Lee Wilson. 
needle on the record, our bodies began to stretch and glide.  













Where did you first learn or see passion?

There she stood, not much taller than I stood in fourth grade,
Tom, Virginia, Tom Pat, Bobby Wilson.
clicking, tapping, shouting, demanding, and then guiding, repeating, and teaching us dance steps. We learned how to tap dance, glide pose, bend like a ballerina,  follow the footsteps of a partner in ballroom dancing, and move our bodies in rhythmic physical steps to the different beats of jazzy tunes. Every step she walked modeled passion; her passionate love of dance, of music, and most certainly of life.  Her passion may have shown itself in her feet, her moves, but truly it radiated from her heart. 

She also spent hours outside of her studio coaching, training, and
Norse Stars, NEO Drill Team 1953 
drilling a group of young ladies known as the Norse Stars.  During the 1950's and 1960's, we competed against the Kilgore Rangerettes ( History of Kilgore Rangerettes, Tyler Texas  Apache Belles (History of the Belles) for the best drill team in the nation.  Our performances placed us on center stage of the NEO football games, basketball games, NJCAA National Basketball tournament in Hutchinson, Ks., and parades. Through it all she pressed upon us the importance of drill, repetition, practice, and "smiling."  (Mrs. Sandmire was always there to add lipstick.) There were no goodies, rewards, or trinkets given for performances. She simply expected and demanded our best, and we willinging followed her lead, like trained dancers. I can't speak for others, but I most certainly dreamed of being a Rockette and performing in the Macy's Parade in NYC. 


I didn't grow up to be a professional dancer like some of her students, but I learned what Virginia Lee Wilson taught, that passion is powerful, and when we lead with passion from the heart we can make a difference.  

That dream and passion instilled from Virginia Lee made a difference throughout my life.  Most recently, on a family trip to New York City we spent an evening enjoying the Rockettes Christmas Spectacular at Radio City Music Hall. 


How has passion made a difference in your life?






18 comments:

  1. I think I might be in a couple of those group photos behind her. Those were the costumes my mother sewed every year x2!! I thought Virginia Lee and Tom were just it!!!! cwt

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  2. I took dance (tap, jazz, ballet) from Virginia Lee Wilson beginning in the mid 1970s. She helped me choreograph some tumbling routines when I was doing competitive tumbling during the 80s. She was the absolute best. She made us all believe we could dance (I lack coordination!) She made us believe in ourselves and that each of us were beautiful. Her and Tom's love for each other and for the studio is never to be matched. He was as much a part of the annual recital as anyone. Performing at the stage at NEO was the highlight of my year as a elementary and junior high student. She never allowed "helicopter parents". Still to this day I will break out in a shuffle ball change at any given moment. It is instilled in my brain for a lifetime. Monica Cox

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    1. Thank you Monica for sharing. Your thoughts and memories are a tribute to Tom and Virginia Lee. They truly made a positive impact on the lives of so many young people and their parents in the Miami area.

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  3. My mother made recital costumes for them for several years, especially when my sisters were taking lessons. Each year she looked forward to the report from Tom and Virginia Lee after their annual trip to New York City to report on the musicals they saw, workshops, etc. and how their experience found its way into the next year's recital. When I took ballroom, I was impressed by how they kept on learning -- that grownups felt that they had more to learn -- no small part of their amazing vitality.s.e.melrose

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  4. Started taking dance lessons at age 4. I continued until I graduated from HS, taking ballet, tap, and jazz. I taught practices classes for younger students two days a week, too. Loved the smell of the studio as you climbed that narrow flight of stairs up to the studio! R.C. Rupart

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  5. "Up a steep and very narrow stairway... to the voice like a metronome ...." How happy this makes me , I can not begin to say. In the fourth grade , I was a tap dancing postman in the year end recital; there were two of us; but, I cannot remember who my fellow tapper was.....I remember waiting ( seems like in an alley) behind the Coleman ( was/ is there such an alley?) ; and, clearly remember my first case of crazy , insane stage fright...it remained with me in varying intensity throughout my performing career. Remember , too, being ecstatic afterwards as if I had been shot into outer space discovering a new world.... I had; but, I was led there by two very caring , bright spirits . Both Virginia Lee and Tom tried to fan the flames as it were. I don't now clearly have it all in the proper time frame, but my family moved away for a couple of years. Coming back to Miami , I was into the band and drum scene ; and , whatever dance spark there may have been was to lie dormant for awhile or find it's relief in a march at half time or an improv at a Miami High Madcaps.
    The Wilsons had given me my first "real taste". I had a recurring dream for many years of me walking up those stairs and trying to get into the studio.... unsuccessfully. Like the name of my tapping dance partner , the sights, sounds , and smells all accompanied by those sweet Wilson smiles had left me. However , thanks to this pic and the article , I once again stepped through the door at the top of the stairs. Thank you.
    I looked up to the Wilsons and to their talented students. My jogged memory sees Janie Sandmire and Roger Smith, and earlier, Ron Young from Grove , who went on to hold Broadway in his hands.... Perhaps too late to say thank you to all ; but not, I hope , to remember.
    B. Hastings

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  6. I took tap and tumbling from Tom and Virginia from about third grade up through freshman year with two years of ballroom . Really had a lot of fun, Andy Smith from Commerce and I were together for most of those years . Years later I bought the old building for my business, The small room and office were still in pretty good shape but the big room had a lot of water damage from a leaking roof. The stairs were so worn I'm surprised one of us didn't get hurt in a fall . It was really strange to go up there and just remember the good old days!! J. Highland

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  7. Love the memories of dancing on the Coleman theater stage. My mom made my costumes, as well. S. Stoner

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  8. Loved her...danced under her direction for 7 years. J. Hatfield

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  9. I also took classes from her when I was about 5 or 6 yrs. old. What little I can remember of it! LOL! K. Stansell

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  10. My mom sewed many costumes for my sister and me. We were in different classes and were 3 years apart. That was 4 costumes for each recital, working with satin, lace, netting, sequins, spangles, you name it. The costumes also often included hats! R.C. Rupard

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  11. Letty, what wonderful memories you brought back to me today. I was one of Virginia's students in the late 40's. I could not wait until the following week for our next lesson. I would practice at home daily. I probably would l have stayed as a students if we had not moved from Miami during my school years 4-9th grade. My mom and dad could not afford them when we moved back. She told my mom that I was a natural born dancer. Thanks for sharing your passion. It was my passion, too, one of many. Jr

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  12. Good memories, Letty! I took one year of ballroom dancing in 5th grade. James Wendelken and I were often dance partners because we were the same height back then. (He grew much taller; I stalled out at 5'2"!) Classes were such fun. I think they were on Thursday night. Thanks for the memories! COB

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  13. I started taking lessons when I was 3 years old and took until I was 16. I loved Virginia Lee and Tom. They were such a great couple and oh, all of those recitals! KR

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  14. I loved being in dance all those years! My siblings did, too: Nancy, David, Rick Adams, and me! She always told us not to go barefoot in the summers before a performance because we might step on a bee or glass! JAW

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  15. hank you, Letty, for bringing to mind some sweet memories. I took dance lessons when I was young and ballroom dancing while in junior high. I was in her first drill team at NEO. Salt of the earth people in influencing so many lives. CTT

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  16. What a wonderful blog for some of our best memories of Norse Stars. She was really great. Thank you for sharing this. cr

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  17. Letty, your father was my example of passion. acb

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