COLUMBIA – Halcyone Ewalt Perlman’s dancing and teaching skills have been on point for over 50 years.
She grew up dancing in her parents' ballet studio in Columbia. After her parents died in 1967, she took ownership of the studio, now named the Perlman-Stoy School of Ballet. The studio, previously located on Providence Road, now sits on the third floor of an office suite on Corona Drive.
A small sitting area with coat hooks and a few chairs leads to a shining, light hardwood dance floor. Mirrors on one side of the room parallel windows on the the other, all framed by soft yellow walls.
The Missouri Arts Council recognized Perlman on Feb. 10 for her work in arts education. She was one of five honorees presented with an award in the Capitol rotunda in Jefferson City.
The event included lunch at the Governor’s Mansion to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the awards program. Several of Perlman’s friends came to support her. This is the first award she has won as a dancer and instructor.
Susan Fields nominated Perlman for the Missouri Arts award. She gathered letters from friends, students and community members to support the nomination. Fields was a student in Perlman's class starting around age 6 or 7 and has come back to take lessons for 50 years since.
"She has been so giving to this community of her creative genius," Fields said. "It's remarkable to me that I've had someone of her caliber in my life."
One of Perlman's long-time friends, Chris Marshall, initiated the idea of having a reception at the studio Sunday to commemorate Perlman's achievements. The senior dance class agreed that they wanted to do something fun for Perlman.
About 40 friends, colleagues and students attended the event, held Sunday evening. A long buffet table was set up with fruit, desserts and hors d'oeuvres, as well as a table of wine, fruit punch and tea. Strings of colored lights decorated the walls behind the refreshments. Two student violinists played pieces that reminded them of dance. Their performance was followed by a champagne toast in Perlman's honor.
Marshall said the reception was a group effort, and she was very happy to be a part of it. She took lessons from Perlman's mother while Perlman was dancing professionally.
She said Perlman would come visit the studio in her pink tutu and ballet slippers, and all the little girls, including her, would be in awe.
"Everyone who took (lessons) with Halcyone's mother wanted to be Halcyone," Marshall said.
Perlman said she didn’t care much about ballet when she was young and simply accepted that it was her family’s work.
But when she was 14, Perlman saw a performance by the great classical ballerina, Margot Fonteyn.
“I was terrifically impressed with the depth of interpretation in her roles, and the musicality,” Perlman said. “I had not realized that there was so much there to be uncovered.”
Perlman mainly studied ballet, but also learned modern, character, Spanish and tap dance. For a short time, she danced professionally in Kansas City. She said she wanted to dance in a company but did not have the ideal physique.
Perlman danced under the instruction of multiple world-famous ballerinas. One of her teachers had studied with Anna Pavlova.
"This is the history of ballet," Fields said at the reception on Sunday. "You'd be lucky to find another teacher with this pedigree."
Perlman didn’t have any professional training to be a teacher when she began in her 20s, so teaching was a learning experience for her as well as her students. Looking back, she said, she thinks she expected too much from the younger students at first.
“You have to take into consideration both their physical and mental capabilities,” she said. “It’s important not to push them too hard.”
Several of Perlman’s students have gone on to dance professionally. New York, Kentucky and California are just a few of the places they now work. Perlman said that many of her former students are now dance instructors themselves, and she keeps in touch with a few of them.
Perlman works with Nancy Stoy, her co-teacher at the studio. Perlman enjoys choreographing dances and watching the students develop their skills.
Marshall said Perlman is very focused on her artistry. Perlman doesn't simply put on recitals, as they are only a demonstration of skills — she choreographs an artistic performance, Marshall said.
"Halcyone does full-blown dance concerts," she said.
Now 80 years old, Perlman's age does not stop her from being actively involved in her dance instruction. After watching her students perform part of a routine in class, she joins in to demonstrate the form and motion she is looking for.
“It’s a wonderful feeling to move freely and yet be able to control your movement, and it’s a great challenge because perfection is always beyond reach,” Perlman said.
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