April 8, 2018, marks the 100th anniversary of Betty Ford’s birth. Today’s post comes from Nikita Buley, a former intern at the National Archives.
Betty Ford was known as a vivacious activist for women’s rights. What many don’t know is that she was also a talented modern dancer.
Born Elizabeth Bloomer, the future First Lady always knew she wanted to be a dancer. At age 8, Betty started taking classical ballet classes in her home town of Grand Rapids, Michigan.
By the time she was 12, she had begun teaching dance classes to younger students and modeling clothes, partially to help support her family during the Depression.
She met modern dance choreographer Martha Graham a few years later, sparking her interest in modern dance. In 1992, she told the Desert Sun newspaper of Palm Springs, California, “I was a young woman, maybe 16 years old. I went to a concert she was doing in Ann Arbor, Michigan; and once I saw Martha in concert with her group in Ann Arbor, my whole idea of dance changed. It had tremendous appeal to me, whether it was the freedom of movement [or] the energy that the group brought.”
The head of Miss Bloomer’s dance company arranged for her to speak with Graham. When Bloomer told Graham she would like to dance with Graham’s company, the choreographer responded, “We’d love to have you.”
After graduating from high school in 1936, Bloomer attended the Bennington School of Dance in Vermont. There, she studied under multiple modern dance choreographers, including Graham, Louis Horst, Doris Humphrey, and Charles Weidman.
Bloomer eventually went on to dance with Graham’s company in New York as an “understudy or in the auxiliary when she needed more people.” In 1938, she performed at Carnegie Hall.
In the White House, Betty Ford was not only a proponent for equal rights but also for the arts. In 1976, she convinced President Ford to honor modern dance by awarding Martha Graham a Medal of Freedom at a large reception and performance.
She continued dancing throughout her life.