Monday, October 6, 2014

No Dancing Allowed

When I toured the Orpheum Theatre, there was a photo of a dance teacher who had regularly supplied the theatre with dancers. I started doing more research on June Roper and found this book entitled June Roper Ballet Starmaker written by Leland Windreich. Today I am starting my series on Ms. Roper.

Her mother, Elizabeth Woodhead, had been raised in a strict fundamentalist family in Bury, England. This family had no books other than the Bible and the young Elizabeth  was in trouble whenever she was caught dancing. The young girl believed in fairies and loved to dance in her stocking feet in the attic.

At the age of eighteen, Elizabeth left England and went to Rosebud, Texas to visit an older brother who had settled there. While visiting, Elizabeth met George Roper, a widower from Alabama who was gaining a fortune in the cottonseed oil industry. He was also a principal force in the Baptist community.

Roper had two young daughters and was the owner and manager of the local telephone exchange. When he proposed to Elizabeth, he made her a promise. For every child she produced she could have either a diamond or a holiday in Europe. Over the next thirty years, Elizabeth gave birth to four boys and four girls, the last child was Elizabeth June Roper, born on December 4, 1906. The elder Elizabeth was forty-seven at the time.

During the early years of the marriage, Elizabeth shocked and outraged some of her more religiously strict neighbours when they peered into a barn while a square dance was in progress and saw the young Mrs. Roper dancing. The indignant neighbours insisted on her excommunication but George threatened to remove his financial support from the church so that discouraged any action.

Among the fundamentalist Christians of the American South, dancing was loathed. It was thought to be the principal trigger for immoral and criminal behaviour. Dancing was said to lead to insanity and incarceration for life in a mental hospital.

Rosebud, Texas is one hundred miles west of Palestine and forty miles south of Waco so it should have been totally isolated from any contradictory influences. The Roper children lived in a big house with a staff of servants and were encouraged to participate in less sensual arts. The girls studied piano, singing, and painting while the boys were trained on various musical instruments. As soon as the children were hold enough to hold the reins, they were given ponies.

June's enthusiasm for riding was encouraged when she saw the "little girls in big tutus, riding on ponies in the circuses"  Travelling acts would set up the tents for shows in remote towns in the Southwest and it appears that the community allowed it even though they were against most forms of theatrical entertainment.

When June was five, her sister Madelyn was sent to a sanatorium in California for galloping consumption - tuberculosis. Elizabeth Roper moved with her young children to the west coast and stayed for a little while with her older brother, David Woodhead. The Ropers liked Los Angeles and within a year had moved into their own apartment. George travelled between L.A. and the south but the family's spiritual guidance was continued under the strictly Baptist Uncle David.

However, in 1916, June's oldest sister, Anne, took the young girl to an event that would change her life forever. Ann and June went to a performance by the Russian prima ballerina, Anna Pavlova. June was transformed by what she saw.

Can you imagine what an uproar young June wanting to be a dancer would have made in her strict Baptist household? I will tell you more about that on Wednesday.

I hope you find the beauty around you.


  1. Great beginning. Have a glorious day. Religion and it's taboo's have always interested me because singing and dancing is all around int the Bible and the Word is the Word. So it makes no sense to me why people were so against it.

    1. Thanks Lee. Celebrating life, moving like our bodies were meant to, being happy - I can't see why that's wrong either.

  2. What a lovely post! Intriguing story of the Ropers. I see a book there. Religion is a curious thing. Faith holds many families together and helps people navigate the hard times in life, but it can also be soul destroying in certain religions. Sometimes the power of those who lead goes to their heads.

    1. It is from a book Diana. This one is full of photos of June Roper throughout her life.

      The problem with religion is that it is man made and anytime a human creates something, it can go awry.

      Thanks for reading and posting. This is going to be a long series on June Roper.