2016-06-24 / Front Page

‘Dance has always been my life’

By Wm. Duke Harrington
Staff Writer


Betsy Melarkey Dunphy takes a moment in her dance studio at 408 Broadway in South Portland, which she is closing after more than 40 years as a dance teacher, to focus on other creative endeavors. The studio will continue under new owners. (Duke Harrington photo) Betsy Melarkey Dunphy takes a moment in her dance studio at 408 Broadway in South Portland, which she is closing after more than 40 years as a dance teacher, to focus on other creative endeavors. The studio will continue under new owners. (Duke Harrington photo) SOUTH PORTLAND — A dance teacher since her high school years, including the last 16 at two different studios of her own in South Portland, Betsy Melarkey Dunphy, 61, has instructed thousands of girls, and even a few boys, in the art of movement. Now, she's closing her studio, and while she stresses it's not a retirement, just a new phase of her life, Dunphy says the time is right to go out on top, with a waiting list of students and a body that can still do cartwheels.

"I don't want to become one of those stereotypical old lady dance teachers," she said with a laugh.

On Tuesday, Dunphy took time out at her studio, located at 408 Broadway, to talk about her life and career.


Betsy Melarkey Dunphy, who has taught young dancers from 4 to 18 for more than 40 years, works through an exercise with some of her younger students in one of the final classes before closing her South Portland studio to concentrate on other creative endeavors. (Duke Harrington photo) Betsy Melarkey Dunphy, who has taught young dancers from 4 to 18 for more than 40 years, works through an exercise with some of her younger students in one of the final classes before closing her South Portland studio to concentrate on other creative endeavors. (Duke Harrington photo) Q: Where are you from originally?

A: Upstate New York, outside of Rochester.

Q: And what brought you to Maine?

A: I moved here after I finished college to work with a children's theater company. The company is gone, but I stayed. I loved Maine and the ocean, and thought Portland was a great city, along with the area around it. I had my degree and was ready to go so I saw no reason to head back. Plus I began work with the Ram Island Dance Company, which was the modern dance company in the area at the time, and that's where I started really teaching kids, although I helped instruct younger students for my teacher when I was younger.

Q: How did that start?

A: None of the other dancers felt like teaching the kids. They were like, hey, can anybody teach these kids, and I was like, sure I can do that. So, that program just grew and I danced with Ram Island and taught kids for over 20 years, until Portland Stage bought their building, and I had to fly.

Q: What happened then?

A: Well, I had all these kids with me, and I didn't really know what would happen without the Ram Island umbrella over my head, but I came over here to South Portland and started my own studio in the Elm Street church. That was a buildup space and I was there for 10 years, when this space became available. And in the early time, I got involved with the local theaters, either choreographing of performing in shows, mostly with the Good Theater, but I've also done a bunch of stuff with the Portland Stage Company, and others. My whole life has been dance, theater, dance, theater. And that's not changing. That's all going to continue. It's just the studio that I'm leaving.

Q: So, why leave?

A: It was part of a promise I made to myself and not to become that proverbial but beloved old lady dance teacher. I always felt like I should get out while I was ahead and had lots of students, and had a waiting list for my classes, and that seems like right now. But it's been a very difficult decision, and I've waffled about it for a couple of years now, because I love all of my students and all of the families that I've gotten to know over the years. I'm now teaching the second generation of some of them. When former students come back with their babies it's like, oh my God, I'm so old! [laughs]

Q: What attracted you to dancing when you were young?

A: I just always loved it. I always wanted to be a dancer, or an actress. I grew up on a big dairy farm and we always used to put on shows in the turkey barn during the summer. We had a stage and my cousins and I would make all of our aunts and uncles suffer through it. It was just fun. I was very shy and I think dance is a great vehicle for shy children.

Q: What do you like most about reaching young dancers.

A: They challenge me how to think creatively and teach each one of them individually. Plus, they laugh at my jokes. But I also love my senior citizens that I teach, I find I learned so much from them, just about life and history and everything. But in either case, well I do teach technique, I really enjoy modern dance and teaching movement rather than just following steps.

Celebrate

Current and former dance students of Betsy Melarkey Dunphy are invited to an informal reception to toast her career and the closure of her South Portland dance hall, Studio 408 (which will continue under new owners). The party will be held 3 to 5 p.m. Sunday, June 26, at Fort Williams Park.

Return to top