Local ballet teacher reflects on a lifetime of dance, recent pandemic adaptations

Lynne Bolitho, who has been teaching at the Marquette Center For Dance for the past 40 years, is pictured. (Photo courtesy of Lynne Bolitho via 8-18 Media)

MARQUETTE –Some people are born to be football players, and others are born to be musicians.

Lynne Bolitho, on the other hand, was born to be a dancer. She started when she was 3 years old in Sacramento, California, at the Crockett School of Ballet with Barbara Crockett, who became a very well-known teacher.

But it wasn’t Crockett who inspired her to originally start dancing, it was a famous child star.

“Shirley Temple was a big star and like all other little girls in the world then I wanted to be like Shirley Temple, so there was a summer program with tap and ballet,” Bolitho said. “And I really wanted to do tap, but a couple of weeks into the class I only wanted to do ballet.

“I was enthralled with it and I was also enthralled with the teacher. She was from Europe and had married an officer in my father’s squadron and so when summer got over she had taken a special interest in me, probably because she knew my family, and she taught me at her home until she started a studio and I studied with her for a very long time.”

Bolitho lived in California until she was 13, and during that time she was accepted into the Royal Ballet of England. Unfortunately, her parents wouldn’t let her go because it was too far away for such a young child. Her family later moved to Oklahoma because her father was a career officer in the Air Force and unfortunately there was not a suitable ballet studio near the base.

“The nearest studio was 60 miles one way, so my mother drove me 60 miles each way for my ballet classes,” Bolitho explained. “There was a studio in the town, but when I went over there and met the teacher and she had me do a class she told my mother I was more advanced than she was and referred to this teacher in Lotan, so I practiced at her studio on my own.”

Bolitho danced on scholarship all through high school, and after she graduated she set her sights on going to New York to dance, but her father said that he would pay for her education but not if she postponed college to dance.

She intended to go to Lousiana State University for two years before transferring to the University of California-Berkeley, but the summer after graduation brought unexpected changes.

Her father had been assigned orders for North Carolina, then they were changed to Germany. They were excited to be going to Germany but then ended up being transferred again, this time to K.I. Sawyer near Marquette and all she knew about Marquette was it was very cold.

Bolitho attended Northern Michigan University, graduated, and fell in love along the way. Bolitho received her master’s degree in business education and settled in Marquette with her husband Tom. She started teaching at Ishpeming High School, but soon her true destiny came calling.

“I hadn’t intended to start a dance studio. I was a full-time teacher at Ishpeming High School, which was keeping me quite busy, but a friend contacted me because she had a friend whose daughter wanted to find a new teacher for ballet,” Bolitho said. ” I met with these two families and after a lot of talk they convinced me to teach and I started teaching them and the word spread and I taught at Northern in their outreach program and I did that for two or three years and then I started Marquette Center For Dance.”

Bolitho has been teaching at the Marquette Center For Dance for the past 40 years now, but the last two years have been more challenging than all of the others. The studio had to be shut down for several months due to the COVID-19 pandemic, making it a huge economic hardship for Bolitho.

But once she was able to open her doors again when restrictions were dropped, students came back with more dedication than ever.

“I think the students adapted quite well because they were used to wearing masks in school. There were students that didn’t return because of the pandemic because their parents were worried about them being here in class,” Bolitho said. “Our classes are small and we can spread out. And that’s why we switched classrooms so that disinfectant could be put on and dry in between classes. I think there were changes in enrollment but the students that came, they were very, very conscientious about keeping their masks on.”

Despite the difficulties, the show must go on, and so go on it did.

The studio always has its recital in June, after school gets out, and when they lifted the restrictions it was possible to have the recital at Kaufman Auditorium. Last year, the recital was an original ballet that Bolitho choreographed herself. She has written and choreographed seven ballets.

How does she come up with the ideas for her original ballets?

“I don’t really have a process for doing it. I just start trying to come up with some ideas and when I would write the ballets, sometimes it would depend on how many students I would have in the advanced class that needed to have solos,” she said. “For instance, last year we did one that I had written because the year before we were shut down, we were planning to do “Sleeping Beauty” and the girls in the advanced class had these gorgeous professional tutus, platter tutus, so I picked a ballet that I could make their role fit the color of their costume. I just try to come up with an idea. I like to have something that has a moral to it and the girls all like to have stories and I like something that has a happy ending. “

Although Bolitho loves all parts of teaching ballet, she says that her favorite part is her students.

“I used to love to dance. Before I had back surgery I danced full-out with every class,” Bolitho said. “I would come from school and sometimes I’d be tired and stressed, but by the time I did a few steps at the bar, I would start relaxing and enjoying myself. I did bar and center with them. To watch the girls grow and how much they improve, and how creative they become, it’s a real joy.”

Bolitho sometimes has students who are hesitant or scared about taking ballet, and she has some words of encouragement for anyone interested in joining but nervous to start.

“My advice is to come and take classes for a month and see if you enjoy it. I was hesitant. I was shy as a child and to go into a big studio,” Bolitho said. “It’s very different for a young child to walk into a room that basically has no furniture in it and some of them have a hard time separating from their parents and sometimes the mother has to come in for a little bit, but I encourage them just to wait in the waiting room so that we can form a relationship. You really need to try it and see if you like it.”

Bolitho teaches students 3 years old and up. Fall registration is currently underway. If you are interested in signing up, call the studio at 906-249-3441 or email lyneeb.mcd@gmail.com to find out more information.

Esme Ulland-Joy, 8-18 Media reporter, is 12 years old and in the 8th grade.


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