As always, most pictures can be viewed at full size by clicking on them

On Sunday, the Winston-Salem Journal published an excellent article by my friend Lynn Felder about the 70th anniversary of the Academy of Dance Arts. I am in the process of creating a blog post on the city’s oldest public businesses, so can say that the Academy is one of the seven oldest in the city.

Winston-Salem’s oldest public businesses:

Benbow Beck locksmiths c 1910

Pulliam’s Barbecue  c 1915

Aaron Elliot locksmiths c 1918

Camel Pawn Shop  1930

Lefkowitz Tailor Shop  1934

City Beverage  1947

The Academy of Dance Arts  1947

Lighthouse Restaurant  1954

The article mentioned the founders of the Academy in passing…they were extraordinary women, so deserve a bit more attention.


Lavinia “Vinni” Likely, photographed for Life Magazine in 1942 by Alfred Eisenstadt. As Vinni Frederick, she would later found the Academy of Dance Arts.

Lavinia Likely was born in 1921 in New Hampshire to Parker and Eleanor Likely, the first of three daughters. Her father was a stock broker and by 1935 her family had moved to New York. By then she had already been dancing for several years. In the late 1930s, she made it into several broadway shows, where she danced as Vinni Likely with the likes of Jackie Gleason and Fred Astaire. Eventually, even though she was a few millimeters short of the minimum height, she joined the famous Rockettes at Rockefeller Center. On June 21, 1942, she married John Augustus Frederick in Patterson, NJ. John, born in New York, was a student at Davidson College, where he was majoring in psychology and education while playing  varsity football, basketball and baseball. After graduating in 1943, he spent two years in the military, then in 1946, was hired to teach history and coach the football and basketball teams at Hanes High School, so he and Vinni moved to Winston-Salem.


The Rockettes daily workout, c. 1940


Vinni got billed roles in musical productions like “Three After Three”, with music by Hoagy Carmichael.


Helen Leitch, right, was photographed by Alfred Eisenstadt at George Balanchine’s School of American Ballet for a story that appeared in Life magazine in December, 1936

Helen Leitch was born Oct. 18, 1917, in Upper Darby, Pa. As a teenager she studied dance at the prestigious Littlefield sisters’ school in Philadelphia. When George Balanchine arrived in 1934 to begin the School of American Ballet, Helen was one of the six he selected to be the first students. In 1935, she was a featured performer in Balanchine’s first American production, “Serenade”. The following year, she was featured in Balanchines production of Smetana’s “The Bartered Bride.” Part of that show was performed privately as a fund raiser for the Metropolitan Opera. In 1937, under her new stage name Ariel Lang, she danced the role of the Queen of Diamonds in the world premier of Stravinsky’s “The Card Party.”


The playbill for the 1937 production at the Met of three ballets by Igor Stravinsky, including the world premier of “The Card Party”. With his back to the camera is William Dollar, who danced “The Joker”. The three men facing the camera are, l-r, Edward M. Warburg, director of the American Ballet; Stravinsky; and George Balanchine. Second from the right in the rear is Helen Leitch, who under her new stage name Ariel Lang, danced the Queen of Diamonds.

Helen soon married musician Allen Stanley. Vinni Frederick was planning to open a dance academy for young girls. She knew exactly who she wanted to help her. So the Stanleys moved to Winston-Salem, where Allen would begin a career with Sealtest Dairies while Helen would become a partner in the new Academy of Dance.


Helen Leitch, center, in George Balanchine’s “Serenade”, 1935

The academy immediately became an important part of the Winston-Salem cultural scene, as did its two principals. For an account of the role played by Vinni and Helen in Joe King’s greatest prank, the Sultan of Kuwait caper in 1953, see the full story here:

And once again, I could not resist…anyone who thinks that cats cannot be trained needs to take a look at this pic of George Balanchine working with his cat…