An item in a local publication recently told of Betty Mae Harris’ contributions to Perry. While I have name recognition with Betty Mae Harris, it’s Dixie Sheets — the other half of the photo — who was the “teach” I remember providing years of dance classes, mentoring and friendship to generations of kids.
I remember photo days when Dixie would line us up into different formations, ensuring the angles of our arms, legs and feet were perfectly aligned for the photo and the added difficulty if we had a feather on our head.
Mothers sewed leis out of crepe paper, ribbons onto toe shoes and bells onto elastic wrist and ankle bands. In one case, the costume that included bells on each wrist and ankle suddenly became one ankle only when my sister locked her ankle bells together in practice and couldn’t move her feet.
Recital night was the one day of the year when mom rubbed rouge onto my cheeks and lipstick onto my lips so I wouldn’t look like a ghost under the lights on the stage of the of the Junior High School.
I can remember Dixie in one of her beautiful gowns and a corsage, standing off to the side of the stage and hiking her dress up so the first-year kids could watch her feet and follow along in the steps — their eyes focused on her instead of their audience.
You wanted to be a part of one of those show-stopping dances that caused such enthusiastic applause that you’d get to do an encore performance. I remember hoping this would happen for our toe-tapping polka number, and I’m going to remember it as happening whether it did or not!
And since I spent years sitting on the metal chairs at the American Legion while watching my sister in her dance class, when it was time for me to put on my dance shoes, I was started in a class of girls who were older than me.
We were lined up by height, with the tallest girls in the center and the shorter girls off to either side. Being younger, this meant I was on the end for a lot of years and, therefore, the one getting to perform the final applause-encouraging bow as we danced off stage.
What fun to see Dixie every Saturday and learn new steps — especially when you got to make such noise in those tap shoes with “double taps” and heels if you were a grown-up girl. No more flat taps and double bows!
And at the end of every class, a piece of candy from the basket. A perfect way to end a Saturday session with Dixie.
Students of the beautiful, graceful, fit, patient, ever-cheerful Dixie, please put on your tiaras — I know you still have them — and share some of your dance memories.