Thursday, December 22, 2016

Family Memories
of Christmases Long Past

Holidays have a way of displacing the usual pace of genealogical pursuits. After all, what good is remembering family, if one can't be with family during the times that count?

In the Christmas interim, I had thought it a brilliant idea to post a few reports of my ancestors' Christmases past, gleaned from newspaper reports of the time. Alas, that idea didn't work out as well as I had hoped, for while newspaper archives may be wonderful for locating reports of specifically named ancestors, it doesn't provide as easy a mechanism for those simply wishing to browse through the pages of a specific year's December issues. Worse, having ancestors who insist on living in towns which no current aggregator of old newspapers has chosen to include in their collection is a sure way to make zero progress in such a goal.

Nevertheless, I persevered and discovered some insights on my own mother's post-high school adventures, approaching the Christmas just after her graduation.

Thankfully, the Columbus, Ohio, newspapers are now among those in the holdings at, so I could search to my heart's content. That's where I found a number of small insertions including my mother's name. Most of these were announcements of ballet school dance recitals in which she appeared.

My mother had spent a number of years taking lessons—not only in ballet, but in tap and modern dance—from the Norwegian immigrant who had opened Columbus' first ballet school in 1926. Under the direction of Jorg L. Fasting, my mother and several other children of Columbus residents were able to pursue their dreams of dance.

Sometimes, my mother's name was only included in newspaper articles as an "also ran"—barely mentioning her participation at all. One time, for a recital held at a private residence accommodating an audience of two hundred, it was mentioned that she "danced to the 'Song of India' in a costume which she herself had recently received from that country."

While it was tempting to assume this was just the usual children's recitals—those tedious events parents endured on behalf of their offspring—it was interesting to discover just who my mother's dance instructor was. Although some attributed the location of his birth to the United States—while others to Norway—Jorg Fasting apparently served in the U.S. Army during World War I. Some reports indicated he had danced with Ballet Russe, others with a ballet company in Chicago, but at any event, that he was an initiating force in the formation of the dance arts in the capital of Ohio.

I've thumbed through the countless photographs of my mother, holding costumed poses mid-dance routine during her high school years. In many, her younger sister patiently endured participation, as well—though she admittedly was not cut out for such roles, herself. My mother, on the other hand, threw herself into every dance step, wholeheartedly.

It probably came as no surprise to her parents when my mother decided, upon graduation from high school, to pursue a career in dance and acting. Though it was during war years, the arrangements were made, and my mother started out for New York and her dream, just about when most people now would be beginning their Christmas shopping routine.

Quite after the fact, The Columbus Dispatch announced, on January 10, 1944, that my mother had left Columbus, headed to the first stop on her journey the previous December 5,
to visit her aunt, Mrs. L. H. Martin in South Orange, N. J., before entraining for New York city, where she will enter the American Academy of Dramatic Arts on Jan. 17.

The article, appearing on the women's page of that Monday edition of the Dispatch, came with a nice photograph of the young "Miss Patsy Ruth Davis," as well as a mention of her parents. I can't help but wonder what Christmas was like for them, following their oldest daughter's departure on her New York City adventure.

Reviewing that vignette from my mother's younger years now, I can't help but wonder if she ever knew, upon her later-years return to Columbus, that her dance instructor was still quite active in the local arts scene. Billed in later years as a choreographer as well as teacher, Jorg Fasting still operated his dance studio, which he did until the spring before his passing. When I saw his December 7, 1987, obituary had mentioned that he "was still demonstrating dance moves at age 91," I couldn't help but think of the one protégé of his that I knew: she, too, could still dance those routines, long after those high school years when she left home just before Christmas.

Above: Photograph of unidentified New York City dance troupe, circa 1940s, with Patsy Davis in center of front row (wearing toe shoes); photograph in private collection of author.


  1. Very interesting take on family at holiday time. Thanks for sharing and happy holidays to you!

    1. Thanks for stopping by, Marian, and best wishes for your holiday celebrations, as well!

  2. How exciting her life must have been! :)

    1. Well, you know "show biz" has its ups and downs. My mom had some funny stories about what she and her roommates did when they didn't get the parts they wanted...

      Eventually, though, she met my dad and got married. Gave it all up for a home life with family--especially since back then, even in acting and stage work, it was frowned upon to work, once a woman had children of her own.

  3. Lots of glamour and lots of hard work!!!

    I bet your mom met a lot of people along the way!

    1. She sure did, Iggy. Only...for all the autographed photos of friends in her album, I have no idea who they might have been. Once in a while, I'll run across a name in the news and realize, "Hey, that's one of those guys in her album!"

  4. I also studied with Mr. Fastings. He was in the Ruth Paige company in Chicago, and (I think I understood correctly) the Royal Danish Ballet before coming to the US, although that may be incorrect. The best source on his life and history was his student, Duard Farquhar, who co-owned the studio and finally ran it outright with Mr. Fasting still teaching for him, as he got older. His sense of choreographic artistry and Duard's sense of careful physical preparation for dance (especially for those of us without the more flexible backs and legs that Mr. Fastings had) were a good combination in the years before more specific approaches to ballet pedagogy had evolved.

    I still recall a class in which we were assigned a developpe a la seconde, which, for those with good turn-out and extension, can take the leg up past the ear, and higher. A 90-degree lift is considered good--and there was Mr. Fasting, in his mid-80s, I think, demonstrating and saying to us, "Now see, girls, if I can do this, so can you!"

    I've continued to work in dance, writing on dance history, dance iconography, and liturgical dance, although I'm not in Columbus any more. I enjoyed my work with him and with Duard.


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