The Era of Miss Betty: 1955 to 1975

Betty Conkling grew up taking dance lessons from Evelyn Brough Wheaton, a teacher in Beaverdale near where Betty and her parents lived. Betty studied tap, ballet, pointe, and acrobatics.

Betty continued her interest in dance as an adult
and became a
dancer for the Daughters of the Nile.

Betty also performed in "Carousel"
at the
Des Moines Community Playhouse.

Betty enrolled her daughter Debbie in dance at the age of 5 with Dorothy Jean Myers in Windsor Heights.  They then transferred to Shirley Wilson, who taught in the basement of her home.

Soon Betty shared in the teaching, and within a year, Shirley had turned her business over to Betty.

 

Betty opened her first studio in the basement of Harder's Drug Store at the corner of 66th and University.

She taught ballet, tap, tumbling, and pointe to children and teens.

She also held a weekly "Junior Ballroom Club" for young teenagers who wanted to rock 'n roll, twist, cha cha, and do the hand jive.  (Debbie was a regular participant!)

During these first years of teaching Betty joined the "Teacher's Class" taught by Rose Lorenz, Des Moines master teacher and local dance legend.

Rose became Betty's mentor, with Betty as Rose's devoted protege.  Betty began taking private lessons from Rose twice a week, in addition to the teachers' class, and became totally schooled in the Rose Lorenz method of teaching dance to children.

Rose was known throughout the United States for her dance curriculum, with custom music written by her husband Carl Schwartz, a brilliant pianist.  Betty was fortunate to be trained by "the best."

Within a few years Betty expanded her operation to the south side and began teaching in the home of a student on SW Virginia.

Although this was a humble beginning, it began our fifty-year-plus commitment to the families of south Des Moines.

Over the years, Betty relocated her south location three times before moving to the Wakonda Shopping Center. With each move came a larger classroom, a larger lobby, and more parking.

In 1958, Betty Hill moved her studio (and family) to our current main office and Windsor location on 73rd Street.

Classes were held in the remodeled garage (now Studio 2), and Betty, her mother, and her daughters lived in the attached house.

Moving to this property established a "permanent" location for our West Side families, and enabled Betty to have her home and her business on the same property.

 

Our first recitals also had humble beginnings.

The first few years we performed in the original theater at Drake University.  This theater no longer exists.

We then moved to Hoyt Sherman Place at the Des Moines Women's Club.  This was before the facility was renovated, but even then it was a great place for smaller events.

We finally moved our spring performances to KRNT Theater, which featured one of the largest legitimate stages in the world and seating for an audience of 4,139.

KRNT was an amazing venue, filled with tradition and the frequent performances of legends such as the Beach Boys, Carol Channing, and the Fred Waring Orchestra.

Our dancers enjoyed the huge stage, the multiple dressing rooms, and the big audiences!

 

When Betty's students had difficulty finding dance shoes, she added a small supply of tap and ballet shoes, leotards, and tights.

At first these were stored in a corner of the living room.

In 1968 Betty built a new, larger classroom in back of our Windsor location (now Studio 1).

  Betty also remodeled the original classroom, forming The Theatrical Shop (now Studio 2).

In 1974, Betty joined Dance Masters of America, an international organization that promotes the training of teachers and raising the standards of dance.  Because there was not a local chapter, Betty joined Chapter-at-Large.

A few years later Betty banded together with four other members to form Dance Masters of Mid-America, bringing a local chapter of this prestigious organization to the midwest.

Over the years Betty has served multiple terms as an officer, including President, Secretary, and Treasurer.

By the late 1960's the Theatrical Shop had become too large for its "Studio 2" home, and Betty started looking for a property that would be a good fit.

When she saw the Lyric Building for sale in Valley Junction, it was love at first sight.  What more could she ask for than an authentic Vaudeville theater house, complete with a marquee?

Betty moved the Theatrical Shop to Fifth Street and has been there ever since.

Initially, Betty's dance supplies, fabric, costumes, and novelties occupied the north half of the building.

National interest in gymnastics was high.  Olga Korbut's Olympic success inspired thousands of girls throughout the US who wanted to flip, balance, and spin like Olga.

Responding to local interest, Betty opened a gymnastics club in the south half of the Lyric Building, and another business was born.  For several years Betty's WDM Gym Club served thousands of students from metro Des Moines.

The Theatrical Shop and Gym Club grew, so a few years later Betty purchased a vacated church at 7th and Elm and relocated her gymnastics program in the former sanctuary.  "The Gym Club" featured a complete array of gymnastics equipment, including a trampoline, high bar, uneven bars, balance beams, and a vault for females.  For men she had a pommel horse, parallel bars and rings.

Betty expanded the Theatrical Shop into the southern half of the building, creating "The Fun Room," more than doubling her retail space with high enough ceilings to display costumes and novelties galore.

Betty now had room to add
the largest stock of dance supplies in Iowa,
a complete line of stage makeup,
dozens of styles of hats and wigs,
novelties of all types,
fabrics from basic to the extreme,
 rhinestones, trim,
 and a warehouse of costumes--both for sale and rent.

In 1972 KRNT Theater was closed, much to the disappointment of the greater Des Moines Community.  Extensive repairs were needed, especially to the roof.  The building was torn down.

Des Moines was without a large performing space for theatrical events, and we were without a venue for our spring recitals.

Betty thought out of the box and moved our recitals to Veteran's Auditorium, constructing a "stage effect" with full-width draping across the back and rented "pipe and drape" to create legs at the sides.

We were back in business!

 

Betty was an accomplished seamstress and her knowledge of fabrics, design, and costuming fueled her reputation as a costumer.

Betty joined the National Costumer's Association, and was elected to the Board of Directors.

For several years Betty served as the annual Style Show Director, putting Des Moines, Iowa, on the national map when it comes to costumes.

Betty developed contacts throughout the United States as she grew her retail business, and The Theatrical Shop became known through the nation among costumers as a one-of-a-kind store.

Betty's resources were a tremendous asset to our own students, not just in dance supplies, but also in costuming.

  

Betty continued her love affair with Valley Junction, acquiring property, and opening more
 businesses, including a bridal shop, a custom costume shop, and a discount costume shop.

In addition, Betty added stage lighting supplies, and purchased Owen's Tiara Company.

For over forty years, Betty was
Valley Junction's advocate.

She was President of the Valley Junction Foundation
and on its Board of Directors.

In 2007, the City of West Des Moines presented her with
a proclamation naming her Valley Junction's "Star."

Valley Junction was Betty's "home away from home,"
and she was "The Lady of Valley Junction."

Betty Hill had been a significant figure in dance education for decades.

She had a rare gift for working with children, and her teaching methods for preschoolers and young dancers set the standard for dance education in greater Des Moines.

In recognition of her contribution, Betty was one of seven people in the nation to receive a Lifetime Achievement Award in Dance, presented by the Professional Dance Teachers Association.

 

 Read about The Era of Debbie and Betty: 1975 to 1985

 

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