Former students of longtime Grand Forks dance teacher honor her at recital
As the notes of “Lady in Red” floated over the stage at UND’s Chester Fritz Auditorium Friday night, a line of women clad in red marched toward the audience at a stately pace.
Some were in their mid-30s, some in their mid-60s.
As they exited to the side another line marched out and back, and another, and another while the singer crooned “I’ve never seen you looking so gorgeous as you did tonight; I’ve never seen you shine so bright, you were amazing.”
In the finale, all 60 women appeared again, joined by the woman that brought them all together: Judy Rae Rossow Smith, the founder of Judy Rae School of Dance and their teacher once upon a time.
She smiled and gestured to the roaring crowd there to attend a dance recital by youngsters from the school she founded, now known as Dance, etc!
Later that evening, the Judy Rae dancers would perform one more routine, a song from the film “All That Jazz” called “Everything Old is New Again.”
For many of the ladies in red, the rehearsal Thursday night was the first time they had seen one another in years — up to 30 in some cases.
During the practice runs, Smith, a youthful 74-year-old, matched every step and didn’t miss a beat as she accepted hugs from students she hadn’t seen in quite some time.
“It’s so natural,” Smith said of the women coming together again. “You can see it. They’re dancing like they’re 14 again.”
At 66, Grand Forks resident Gail Forseide proclaimed herself the oldest of “Judy’s girls,” as they are called. She started dancing with Smith as an 8-year-old in 1957 and stayed with her as a student and later an instructor until 30.
“And here I am again,” Forseide said as she took a quick break on a sofa.
The idea for a dancers reunion blossomed out of a Facebook conversation.
Smith’s students created a group to reconnect with one another and their teacher. A reunion was pitched and Smith agreed to come to North Dakota from Arizona if 60 women committed to dancing.
When the goal was reached, Smith flew to Minneapolis in January and held a rehearsal. A blizzard prevented many from attending so the group had to get creative.
Some passed on the choreography in person when traveling from city to city while others watched a video uploaded to YouTube.
When it came time for the performance, some made trips cross-country to dance for Smith again.
Lori Doss, a professor of physiology at the University of California, was one of them. She was first enrolled in the dance school as a 3-year-old in 1962 and danced until 1977.
While Doss enjoyed seeing her former classmates and dancing with them again, she said she made the trip to honor Smith.
“I don’t know where I would be if I didn’t dance,” Doss said. “Dancing was family”
Another student and now professional dancer with the Ballet of the Dolls in Minneapolis, Lisa Rubin agreed Smith was a huge part of her life. She began dancing with Smith as a 4-year-old in 1969, sticking around 20 years to learn and then teach other students.
“She’s done so much,” Rubin said. “She’s been like a second mom to me and a grandmother figure to my daughter.”
For Hovi Straus, another student of Smith, the dancers reunion was an unusual experience. Straus is the third owner of the school Smith founded.
“It’s different,” Straus said. “This weekend, I’m a director, a teacher and a student.”