Some aromas are unforgettable. The scent of dance class at Three Arts Studio is one of my favorites.
Dance, drama, song was what they touted and it was all taught in a studio on High Street, where the Portland Museum of Art now stands, in a building that also housed, among other things, an underground bowling alley.

Helena R. Jackson and Sadie Holden Nissen ran the establishment. Mrs. Nissen taught elocution and Miss Jackson, later joined by Mr. Linwood Dyer, taught all the dance classes. Harry S. Truman was president and I was almost 11.

Three Arts smelled of wood floors, toe shoes, tap shoes, sizzling radiators and sweaty kids with a dash of cigarette smoke from Miss Jackson’s Camels thrown in. Like most kids, I took the bus to get to class. In those days not every family had a car and certainly not two.

It was my mother’s idea that I take ballet in order to develop something she called “poise.”  This was a new word to me and I didn’t care for it.  Maybe she thought I was going to remain goofy and gangly forever, so she’d better start fixing me up while I was still young and fixable. Was it a compliment when daddy said I reminded him of Fanny Brice?  I think not.

I started with ballet. The next term, my mother upped the ante and enrolled me in tap and toe as well.
Toe dancing was quite a challenge. I suspected this was where I’d get a heavy dose of “poise.”  Being a toe dancer was labor-intensive and required maintenance. First, you had to find a shoe store that carried the correct brand. That would be Slade’s in the Chapman Arcade and the shoe would be Capezio or, more likely Selva, which was easier to break in. We bought pink satin ribbons, lamb’s wool and bunny fur caps for delicate toes that would, in no time at all, become deformed – for life.

I had to sew the ribbons to my hand-made pink satin toe shoes so they would lace up properly, place the lamb’s wool in the toe box and cover my then perfect toes with bunny fur caps. If I did everything right, toe dancing was bearable.

Tap and toe students were often called upon to dance at Minstrel Shows or other adult soirees. Miss Jackson did the choosing and she frequently picked my friend Dallas and me for such events.

I once danced at a bean supper in a packed community hall in Broadview Park. I was en pointe, wearing my exquisite purple tutu and looking ever so poised. Mid-dance my toe shoe landed on a spilled baked bean. I hit the floor, got up, finished the dance and left the building.

I don’t know if I ever acquired poise and I don’t dare ask.

But I wouldn’t trade those few years at Three Arts, and parfum de dance class for anything. Not even pretty feet.

— Special to the Telegram