Virginia Robinson, (Faculty 1942-1954) deceased
Physical Education and Dance
Virginia grew up in Davis City, Iowa, but earned her degrees in physical education and dance at UCLA, a bachelor’s in 1942 and a master’s in 1948. It was fall semester, 1945, Tucson High School– the new dance club was holding auditions and the P.E. Teacher was coaxing all of Miss Schwab’s and Mrs. Tuke’s students to please take off their ballet slippers. This shocking request began a legacy of modern dance which has continued for over fifty years.
Virginia Robinson was one of the true pioneers of modern dance education for Arizona. From her first Tucson High School’s dance group, Terpsichores, to her Catalina High School Dardinaires, hundreds of young aspiring dancers learned the ins and outs of choreography, performance and costume and set construction. Although most of the choreography as created by the dancers, sometimes Virginia would make specific assignments for her twice-a-year performances. For the Rhapsody in Blue Suite all the dancers appeared from hind cardboard perfume bottles, wearing with great costumes in different shades of blue– costumes designed and made by Virginia. Frances Smith Cohen, ’49, recalls dancing as Santa Claus in the presentations of ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas – “no body padding was needed.” This little known fact became a great source of amusement for Virginia for years.
Although Virginia did not perform herself, she attended dance workshops throughout her career to keep up on the newest trends. Virginia and Frances participated in a three week Lucas Hoving Workshop in Salt Lake City in 1955, serving as chaperons for a young dancer on a scholarship from the newly formed Tucson Contemporary Dancers. This organization, which Virginia helped to found, was responsible for placing dance teachers in every new Tucson high that was being built throughout the 60’s and 70’s. Frances says, “The workshop was six hours a day of wonderful training and Virginia always remembered it with great fondness. She also remembered we only ate eggs for dinner for three weeks because that was all we could afford.”
Virginia demanded respect for the art of dance and because of her dedication, her career had many different facets. From 1961-63 she was one of the first movement teachers to go into the elementary school classrooms to teach. The children were fascinated by her use of props and loved being filmed. Through distribution of the films throughout the school district and creative movement was made accessible to hundreds of children. Her interest in children’s dance in the 1960’s took her to Idylwild for two summers and she also coordinated the summer dance programs for Tucson School District.
When the Tucson Contemporary Dancers accomplished its goals, it was dismantled. By 1972 all the high schools (Tucson, Catalina, Palo Verde, Rincon, Pueblo) had full time dance teachers teaching in their physical education programs. A new statewide organization was created, the Arizona Dance Arts Alliance with Virginia one of its founders and president in 1978. Dance lovers from all over the state gathered at her charming home with the white picket fence on East Helen near University– to eat Ginny’s great brownies and plan conferences, workshops and scholarship programs. In 1991, this organization honored Virginia for her many years of dedicated work by naming her an “Arizona Dance Treasure.”
Virginia had another love, photography, producing thousands of extraordinary photos– pictures of dancers in every conceivable situation and also pictures of the mysteries of the desert. She did her own developing in the dark room she built adjacent to her back porch. These photographs became gifts for her many students and friends. She also created special slides that were used in awards ceremonies for ADAA.
She was recuperating from a hip replacement and planning a trip to China for the summer of 1993. Still vibrant at 73 and always curious, she looked forward to travel, new photos to take, new adventures. It was not to be– Virginia died suddenly of a heart attack on April 1, 1993.
Physical education teacher, modern dance teacher, children’s movement teacher, Dance Supervisor for Tucson School District #1, photographer, docent at Saguaro National Forest– Virginia’s roles have touched thousands of people. We will never forget her.