Pat Brown knew at the age of 5 she wanted to grow up to become a dance teacher.
Now 76 years later and a few days after her death, her five children were able to look back on a lifetime of memories with joy and pride at the effect their mother had on generations of dance students in Jackson.
The granddaughter of a member of the Barnum & Bailey Circus, Brown grew up performing in public, often with her father doing acrobatic tricks in Vaudeville circuits or in bars where she’d be kept away from things children didn’t need to be around but still able to perform.
Brown learned quickly she enjoyed teaching, doing so as a teenager by carrying a record player with her as she’d teach younger children in her neighborhood I their homes when she was as young as 14.
She was born in Connecticut and grew up in New York before getting married and moving to Jackson with her husband.
The couple had five children – Scott, Todd, Kim, Tami and Kevin. When those children were young, ranging in ages from 3 to 11, their father left them in Jackson, leaving Pat to raise them by herself with no income except the dance school she’d helped start with Jackie Ralls when Pat and family moved here.
“Mom started in dance school when she was 3 years old, and her teacher was Jane Hart, and she immediately thought Jane Hart was the best person ever,” said Tami, whose last name is now Stanfield. “So she grew up wanting to be Jane Hart, and she was never not going to teach dance no matter where she lived.”
The dance school started in the New Southern Hotel in 1964 and would move around to different places through the year before landing at its permanent home on Commerce Center Circle off the Highway 45 Bypass near Hollywood Drive 20 years ago.
During that time, Brown helped establish Ballet Arts of Jackson, the company through which local ballet dancers could continue to perform while also training to get better with the hopes of making it as a collegiate and professional dancer.
Some have as former students at the Pat Brown School of Dancing are dancing professionally in different cities across the country, and one is performing in Europe. Many former students are teaching the art where they live now.
“I didn’t know the impact mom had until later on in life when I was helping at the studio, and former dancers would come in and talk about all the lessons they’d learned dancing that help them outside of dancing – just in life in general,” said Scott. “The professional dancers tell us about how mom’s teaching them was a great foundation for their career, and those who aren’t dancing will tell us about how the lessons they learned while dancing here help them in their lives now.”
And a lot of the stories her children told about Pat as she raised them show that she apparently learned similar lessons when she was coming up as a student.
“I’ve got two children of my own now and a wife, and I can’t figure out how mom was able to raise all five of us and run a school by herself without any child support or anything like that to help her out,” Todd said.
According to the siblings, money was tight all the time, but Pat did her best making her dollar stretch.
“We’d get home and thought we were getting dessert for supper because she’d get two boxes of cereal, a half-gallon of milk and some ice milk and pour it all together and told us it was ice cream,” said daughter Kim Turner, who has run the Pat Brown School of Dance for the past year with her brother, Scott, since Pat retired as her health began to decline.
Pat got help in raising the children. When her husband was still in Jackson and Pat was teaching at the school, they had a house cleaner named Essie Golden, who’d come in a few times a week and keep the place tidy. Once her husband left town, Pat no longer had money to pay Essie, but she kept coming to the house and helping with the children.
“She became a second mother to us,” Kim said. “In fact there were times when mom might have us at the dance studio with her and she’d call Essie and ask her to come get one or two of us if we were being too much while she was trying to teach.”
Essie is 98 years old and still living in Jackson. She remained good friends with Pat, even talking to her on the phone in the hospital in the last few days before Pat died on Friday, Dec. 2.
But Pat was dedicated to teaching dance, teaching at her own school throughout the school year and then traveling during the summer teaching at different college or youth camps throughout the country and sending the money to her parents in New York, who were watching the children.
When the family was in Jackson, they were all involved at the school together, even if they were no longer dancing.
“We all had to take dance lessons for some time, and even after we stopped taking them, we were still involved,” Kevin said. “Whether we were helping backstage or in production, she made sure we were all involved.”
The siblings credited their closeness as a family despite living in different areas to how much time they spent working together on productions.
“Our yearly calendar growing up depended on either a production or rehearsal or auditions or registrations,” Kim said. “So it’s only fitting that mom’s funeral arrangements are based around a production.”
The centerpiece annual production of Ballet Arts of Jackson every year is “The Nutcracker,” and that production is this weekend. That played a role in the family deciding to hold off on their mother’s visitation and funeral until Dec. 15 and 16.
“She loved teaching dancing and loved being around the students,” said Tami, who was the child that stayed with dancing the longest. “I can tell you from going all the way through Ballet Arts that being a part of that taught me to be a time manager and to prioritize things I had to do and how to hustle to get things done.
“Because the dancers that are performing in ‘The Nutcracker’ this weekend are juggling school with rehearsals with dance classes and getting homework done between classes, wearing their tights to school to save them a few minutes of changing clothes. That’s how packed their schedules are right now because mom made sure that being a part of a Ballet Arts production was like working as a professional dancer. She didn’t talk to parents of a dancer once that dancer reached 10 years old and was in Ballet Arts.”
Now as the family begins life without their mother, they get to see her legacy continue with the school named after her and Ballet Arts.
“One thing that mom would tell her dance students is that the show must go on,” Scott said. “And I guess we can say that mom’s shows are still going on.
“She’s gone on, but she’ll have the best seat in the house this weekend to watch ‘The Nutcracker.’”
Brandon Shields, firstname.lastname@example.org