Dance at 80

Although I arrived at Bennington holding a cello under one arm, the truth is my first love has always been dance. As a child, I dreamed of becoming a ballerina; at Bennington, I dreamed of modern dance.

In reality, modern dance at Bennington was, for me, a series of frustrated attempts. But still, Bennington’s “dance quarter” is where I learned stagecraft, structure and style, music, and choreography, and had the chance to perform at the famed 92nd Street Y in New York City. I called it quits on my dream when in 1961 I sent a letter home to my parents reporting that the dance faculty said I “looked grim” as I danced, for I carried myself with a stiffness that showed from the stage to the depth of the last audience rows. I studied language and literature instead. After college, I became a freelance writer and raised my two children—one of whom also loved to dance and did so beautifully. At 43, I was single again. Browsing through the “to-do” sections of the local weekly newspaper, I noticed a dance club at the local YMCA. I asked two friends to go with me as I put on high heels and a red dress. I never looked back. It was there I learned the fox trot, waltz, rhumba, tango, and swing. That first night was an introduction to social dancing, and there would be many dances and nights following that first one. I went dancing every night of the week after that. I danced with a variety of partners, and sometimes I danced alone. Soon I gained enough confidence and entered a street fair swing competition and managed to win a few prizes. What seemed impossible in college is now a major part of my personal and professional life. While I had never been a good performing dancer in any of its forms, social dance and I were meant for each other. At almost 80 years old, and for more than 20 years now, I have taught dance to people of all ages and abilities at the Mountain View Los Altos Community Center.

Ellen Bernstein Murray ’62 was a magazine journalist, a freelance writer, and editor of corporate communications publications. For more than 25 years she has taught dance through Mountain View Los Altos Adult Education. She continues her ballroom and Latin dancing at a bi-monthly dance club.