Working: Michele Cox

By Patrisha McLean | Feb 27, 2011
Photo by: Patrisha McLean Michele Cox

Growing up in Laramie, Wyo., the highlight of the day for Michele Cox was mimicking the ballroom dancers on the Lawrence Welk TV show.

Now in Camden, because of Michele, hundreds of girls know how to execute jetes, battements tendus and rond de jambes. And some can even do 32 continous fouettes.

Of her former students, she says: “I see them everywhere. They come up to me and they’re 30 and 40 years old.” Certain names stand out: Roxanne, Desiree, and from the earliest days, “Megan Green and Karyn Gottshalk. They were like little bookends. Megan lives in Hope now and has three little ones.”

Michele teaches the Russian Vaganova technique of classical ballet at People to People and the Atlantic Ballet Company, and for the past 13 years or so joined by her daughter Heather Cox-Griffin.

Teaching ages three to adult in five different towns, including Damariscotta, and on one island, she travels in a minivan often packed with “dancers, costumes, posters and a whole lot of bookkeeping.” This is her Saturday schedule: 9 a.m., junior ballet in the Camden studio on Knowlton Street; 11:40 a.m., junior ballet; jazz, hip-hop and tap, then ballet 1 at the Belfast dance studio, followed by junior ballet at the Belfast “Y.” Back in Camden, she and Heather alternate teaching from 3:45 p.m. until 7:45 p.m., when, she says, “I’m done.”

Her year peaks with the Nutcracker performances at the Camden Opera House during the Christmas by the Sea weekend. She starts rehearsing the 60 dancers in August. Michele, helped by Heather, assigns, choreographs and rehearses the roles (“mice, toy soldiers, nutcracker cavaliers, snow swirls, snowflakes, party girls, sugar plum fairy, Clara….”); sews new costumes and refurbishes old ones; designs the sets; designs and distributes the posters and sells tickets.

And, “I’m in every show,” she says, “sometimes on point. I perform along with the 12 year-olds.”

In order to do this, “when I’m not teaching, I’m taking.” She and Heather take each other’s classes and also travel to ballet schools in Boston or Bangor. “You need to keep your flexibility and keep improving.”

Michele studied child psychology in college, fitting dance in around her studies. When she started the dance school in Camden 32 years ago, “one of my main reasons was, I wanted to dance. I knew that if I didn’t design the costumes, do the choreography, there wouldn’t be any dances.”

In "The Nutcracker," her roles have included the Arabian princess, mother in the party scene, Snow Queen and, in the corps, one of the snowflakes, and she says she loved every role, adding, “If I got more sleep I’d enjoy it even more.”

 


Patrisha McLean is a nationally-exhibited photographer specializing in black and white portraits of children, and the author of "Maine Street," published by Down East Books in 2009. Her website is www.patrishamclean.com and she can be reached at patrishamclean@aol.com

 

 

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