Mae Magee Holmes
Mae Magee Holmes was interviewed by Mary Giles on November 8, 1976. She spoke about her career as a dance instructor.
I was born in Plymouth, Massachusetts on November 9, 1889. I’ll be 87 years old tomorrow (1976), and I’ve been teaching (dancing) for 60 years. I started teaching in Brockton. At first, I had a class in Boston with another girl, and then I started in Brockton for myself. I’ve taught young people and older people – up to 70. I came to Westport in 1921; I married Dr. Holmes. He owned this place here and that was the first time I ever came to Westport – to vacation. I came down to live for good in 1948 – I’ve been teaching here since.
I was always interested in dancing and performing. I had an aunt who was a dramatics teacher, so she always had me performing around everywhere, and I graduated from Plymouth High School, and my first job was in Brockton at the Brockton Public Market, and it was during that time that I took up teaching. I worked at the market in the office. I had charge of all the cashiers and getting all the deposits ready for the bank.
In the meantime, I was studying and doing a lot of dancing myself. I studied in Chicago, New York and Boston. I’ve been teaching ever since 1917.
In Chicago, I studied with different teachers – in Chicago, they had Russian teachers come there for the Normal School, and I studied the Russian ballet in New York, and then I used to go to the Normal Schools that they’d have for the teachers in New York and Boston.
Later in life, I’ve been taking care of elderly people a lot, doing what I could for the elderly. I took care of Thelma McK….’s mother for almost six years and Cecil Wing, who was ill in Westport, and his wife, for three years, and then I took care of Miss Wordell over in New Bedford, and I just finished last March. I was with her for three years. So, I teach the young and take care of the old, and I love it.
In my teaching, I begin with all ballet foundation work. My pupils do all the ballet exercises, and it’s wonderful for them. I had to take up tap dancing when that was in vogue – acrobatics and all those things – but my main work is ballet. Yes, that’s what I studied, and I gave all ballet foundation work based on the Russian ballet.
My work is all ballet, but if they want the other – modern dance – I work into it and give it to them, but ballet is my foundation. I’ve done a lot of teaching in Westport.
At the school, of course, on Saturday I have just one class because I’m gradually giving up. In ’77, I plan on retiring. I don’t believe in retiring though, so I did in 1967, and I had a recital in the High School auditorium, and I announced that night that I was all through teaching after 50 years – golden anniversary.
It was beautiful – the finale was beautiful – it was all gold, with gold horseshoes on the floor. I used the floor and the stage, and the dancers were all in gold costumes. The groups came out doing different things, and there was one group with jackets, hats and whips, all gold – and I’d dance in all the recitals with them. It was beautiful with all those gold horseshoes on the floor. Fifteen years I was up there putting on recitals – it was lovely, and then I carried out numbers during an ordinary program. Mr. Wood’s daughters took lessons with me, he was principal of the high school at that time. Oh! I really loved it. So I was there for fifteen years and had recitals each year, and I’d dance in all the recitals. It was after 1967 that I began to taper off and not have so many classes – it was just then.
I’d have, like a group of children that weren’t going to school, then the junior high and high school social, and then at the Friends Community Center up here in Central Village. I taught there quite a while. Mrs. Babbitt (Frank, Sr.) and Eleanor (Tripp) got up classes for me, all social work, ballroom and etiquette, at night. We had chaperones for different classes, it was lovely. I had many classes a week here, of course, when I was in Brockton, I had three studios. I worked there 38 years and then, I had a studio there for six years at the hotel with about three recitals a year. Teaching dancing has been my life, really it has, so when I announced at the high school, that I was through teaching, the next year Mrs. Lees up here, Carlton Lee’s wife, came in and wanted to know if I wouldn’t take just a small group, don’t you know, well, I said, ‘Oh dear! I don’t know,’ but I did, and I’ve been doing it every year since then. I have three classes, ten in each class, and now I’m down to just one class, and I’m thinking of dropping it. I don’t want to—it keeps you in – you know, there’s nothing better than keeping in with the young. It’s good for you.
I would never be able to count the hundreds and thousands of children I have taught over the years.
And then, of course, when they had the big party at the Fair Grounds in Brockton, that was, I think it was the 100th anniversary they had up there, and took in all the schools, the teachers and everything – it was just lovely. I directed the dancing up there on the stage at the Fair Grounds, and I’d been teaching only six years then.
Everyone says that all of your pupils adore you, love their classes.
Down here now, the classes are reduced to about 10, but in Brockton, I use to have 50 – probably 100, don’t you know. I had a big studio, I rented a big place there for years and then I would sublet some of my rooms to other teachers, like piano, and it was nice. I had a little business, don’t you know.
My husband and I were only married 16 years when he passed away. My husband wasn’t living when I had my largest classes. He was an invalid for 10 years, five years down here in a wheel chair and he’s buried here, so I kept my home in Brockton, and… but he always loved my work and used to go to all – never missed the recitals, yes, he loved it.
My view is so beautiful. The Stevens hope to have it some day.
I love the teaching in Westport, love the pupils and everything, but in Brockton there was a future, they did a lot of entertainment for different parties and so on, down here I’ve put on programs for all the Granges up here in Central Village, and Little Compton for two years for the P.T.A.
You say that in Brockton, you had more pupils who went into it (dancing) professionally, more than they do down here.
Sometimes you feel as though the kids down here come because they’ve got to come, but the others up there just wanted to, in Brockton I had three girls in the ‘Rockettes.’ And, even now, from Brockton, I have a former student from Quincy teaching at the University. There the girls were looking forward to being a teacher, or they wanted to do professional work, but down here, you don’t have that. They have good physical training and everything, you know.
You’ve lived here almost 30 years, and you love it?
I am friendly with everybody. Well, I belong to the Art Group here, Mrs. Wilkinson (Helen) wrote me a nice little note the other nights. Well, I’ve had a broken cartilage in my right leg and nothing can be done except an operation, but they don’t give me much encouragement about that, so I thought I’d just keep up with the exercises and the dancing as long as I can get around. I always go to the Art Group shows, I love them, but dancing is my line of work.
There’s nothing I would have different here, no, I love it here. The only thing, time marches on, you know.