Hello, and welcome to our performance of 100 Years. Thank you for joining us on this special occasion as we commemorate the one hundredth anniversary of Fairgrieve School of Dance. To celebrate our history and legacy, we’ve created this special digital archive. Here, you’ll discover our story, told through historical artifacts from the earliest days of our studio and recollections from our dancers and alumni. We hope you’ll enjoy reflecting with us on these special memories with us as we gather tonight to add the 100th ring to our family tree.

Our History.

Fairgrieve School of Dance was founded in 1919 by Ruth Fairgrieve (b. 1893). Historical documents tell us that the studio was initially located on South Highland Avenue in Pittsburgh's East End. There, Miss Ruth instructed approximately 150 students in the art of ballet, tap, pointe and ballroom dance.

These newspaper clippings come from a profile of Fairgrieve School of Dance in a 1940s-era issue of "The Bulletin Index".

From the Fairgrieve Archives

Sunnie O'Dea

Born Martha Bonini, Sunnie O'Dea studied at Fairgrieve School of Dance, performing with the Kelly family in the 1928 Fairgrieve Frolic. Sunnie later toured on the Orpheum Vaudeville circuit, then went on to star in Hollywood film musicals such as Show Boat (1936), Sing Another Chorus (1941) and Moonlight in Hawaii (1941).

Fairgrieve Dancer and Alumni Reflections

Dancers and Alumni reflect on learning to dance at Fairgrieve.

"I learned so much from Fairgrieve. It was a second home to me and taught me to be confident in front of a crowd - a skill I used in my job later in life."

"[It was]...mostly fun, but it was hard too! Miss Margie was one tough teacher! I remember when she used to stretch our legs or push us down on splits...I thought my legs would break off! She and Nancy did not put up with those who were not willing to work! In tap, we had a lady play the piano for us to dance to during class. Went to records then cassette tapes! Nancy was always teaching us a new step! Today I appreciate their tough nature. (Maybe not as much as a teenager!) When I tap today, those time steps just happen without me even thinking about it! Thanks Nancy!"

"My experience at Fairgrieve School of Dance is truly the reason why I am still dancing today! My teachers at Fairgrieve nurtured me through every step (literally), inspiring a passion for telling stories through movement, whether that means performing or choreographing. My teachers were patient, compassionate, creative, and exciting from the first class I took until the day I graduated. They encouraged me to explore my own ideas, and still cheer me on when exciting opportunities come my way!"

"These were life lessons as well as dance lessons. Nancy & Margie were a large part of my growing up. My family referenced their teaching & got to know them well."

"I really enjoy learning at Fairgrieve because every week was a new experience. The choreography was altogether fun and beautiful while pushing each student out of their comfort zone."

"So much fun! Every week was full of jokes and laughing, while the teachers constantly pushed us to try new things and do our best in the class."

"Fairgrieve was the best artistic education I could have ever asked for! At Fairgrieve, it was (and still is) paramount that we learn, understand and respect the art of dance. Each and every teacher gave us the tools we needed to shape our bodies and our minds."

"Learning to dance is such a natural desire and natural state for the dancer that when it starts to happen your whole body rejoices. Music started and I just remember my body starting too. I am so grateful to all of the teachers who traveled with me on my dance journey, and embraced my hunger for rhythm and movement."

"I loved all my teachers and loved my daughter enjoying her dancing years!"

From the Fairgrieve Archives

Lillian "Gail" Crnolata

Also known as the "Rockin Grandma", Gail Crnolatas studied at Fairgrieve in the early 1920s, before later moving to Cleveland and beginning a career as a dancer. Gail performed with her husband as a member of the duo "Young and Lucky", entertaining audiences nationwide throughout the 1930s and 1940s alongside Tommy and Jimmy Dorsey, Cab Calloway and Bob Hope.

Fairgrieve Dancer and Alumni Reflections

Dancers and Alumni reflect on their favorite style of dance.

"I enjoyed pointe, ballet, acro and tap. Ballet was a favorite because of all the jumps! I liked everything though! Today tap is probably my favorite to watch...and do! Maybe because it's like riding a bike, it just comes back to you! I liked helping Nancy teach acro to the younger kids also!"

"My sister is a beautiful ballerina, but I love to tap dance. Miss Nancy used the same warm up music for years. As soon as the music started, you knew it was time for class. I think everyone in the room would start tapping their toes and heels when they heard the music."

"My favorite style of dance is lyrical. It is the perfect blend of ballet, modern, and telling a story. Miss Jenny was the first teacher to introduce me to lyrical, and also the first to say 'you have an 8-count to do whatever you’d like across the floor.' You have no idea how those little chances to improvise changed my life!"

"Tap was my favorite but I loved it all. The teachers had expectations & demands, but were teaching us so much about skill & life & discipline."

"Ballet: my favorite dance was either Holst’s Planets: Jupiter or Carmina Burana. I currently perform in an orchestra outside of school and plan to study music in college and I loved being able to develop my knowledge of dance along with my knowledge of classical pieces I have played."

"I always looked forward to both hip hop and modern class. Hip hop was always a blast. We danced to such fun songs, and laughed a lot in that class! Modern was more challenging, and always pushed me and helped me grow as a dancer!"

"My favorite styles of dance are Jazz and Hip Hop! Both genres are deeply rooted in rich history. They are versatile mediums that can portray any situation, convey any emotion and tell any story. Fairgrieve helped me discover my love for these styles!"

"Ballet, lyrical, jazz, modern. I loved ballet because the challenge is so rigorous and exacting. Lyrical and jazz always felt like play—'how much can we expand this horizon?' Or 'how can we move in a totally new way?' I loved opening myself up to that physical challenge."

"Modern feels like art. You’re building a piece of art with your body, and that process is organic and mind expanding and joyful. I also liked it because of the inversions, and the variety of techniques. Ballet I always felt like I was behind on learning, but modern came naturally, turning upside-down and floorwork in particular just clicked."

"My favorite part of class were the combinations. Barre is so total body that I can’t omit it....I still wish I could start every day with barre. But the combinations were so fun to pick up quickly and settle into your body, and then dance your heart out to—plus the teachers were always so good at coming up with new and challenging material!"

From the Fairgrieve Archives

Fairgrieve Frolic

These images come from the program for the 1928 Fairgrieve Frolic. The program is said to have been designed by Gene Kelly's mother and Fairgrieve's Stage Manager, Harriet Kelly.

Fairgrieve Dancer and Alumni Reflections

Dancers and Alumni reflect on favorite moments from previous shows.

"Ok, so the California Raisins were AWESOME! I liked a ballet number we did my senior year to Rodeo. My first year of dance, we danced to Animal Crackers in my Soup and we were all different animals! I was a poodle! I had a lot of favorites each year and to this day (at 47!) when I hear certain songs, I am remembering those dances and dancers!"

"So many numbers are still in my mind. A few stick out though, like Jailhouse Rock, where we tied our ankles together - Miss Margie even tapped in that one. Another tap dance - I Want to Be Happy - turned into an alumni dance for the recital one year. I don’t think we even had to practice. It was one of those numbers that everyone knew. Finally, the epic Gypsy dance ballet number still brings a smile to my face."

"Some large group pieces I loved are Band of Brothers, Heads Will Roll, and all of Tall Erin’s hip hop numbers. And I will never forget how proud I was, watching backstage during my sister’s solo to Ain’t No Sunshine."

"Gypsy Ballet in the 1980’s and Sing Sing Sing!"

"Wow, there’s so many from years ago that to this day I still dance the choreography because I loved them so much. Some of my favorites include Don’t Stop Me Now, Mr. Pinstripe Suit, Jupiter, Carmina Burana, Nicest Kids in Town, Word Up, Centerfield...the list could go on! I really have enjoyed learning multiple dances every year because we spend so much time on them and everyone is so dedicated and we’re all there working as a team to accomplish a goal."

"Some of my favorite numbers include 'Bang Bang' (Jazz), 'Heads Will Roll' (Jazz), 'American Horror Story' (Modern), and 'The Powers Within' (Hip Hop)! All these numbers were so fun to dance and to practice. I remember always looking forward to dance these ones at certain recitals! Oh, and how can I forget “Country Boy”...the tap number we took everywhere! It was so fun and I still remember some of it!"

"Some of my all time favorite include...'Wisdom Justice Love', 'The Wall', 'Black Dog', 'Keeping Secrets of Silent Earth', 'Fortunate Son', 'Bohemian Rhapsody', 'Band of Brothers', 'Letters From The Front Line', 'Game of Thrones', 'Ladies and Gentlemen', 'Killer Queen', 'Missy', 'POP'... The list goes on and on!"

"I remember unwrapping the 'space tutu' and being in disbelief that Margie would really have us dancing such outrageous costumes. But then they’ve become almost legendary because they were SO “big,” attitude-wise. And I got to walk off the stage on my hands. So that was a highlight. And my senior year for lyrical, Jenny just choreographed a whole section for me to improv. That was a lot of fun because I tried to have something in my body but to not remember too much so that it would be genuine improvisation the day of the show. I still can’t believe she trusted me to do that!"

"[During the show] we had wheel to wheel music...there was malfunction. Miss Margie and I were laughing and panicking, as I took care of re-winding the tape off the floor!"

From the Fairgrieve Archives

Gene Kelly

In the 1920s, the entire Kelly family was involved with dancing and performing at Fairgrieve. Gene, along with his siblings Louise and Frederic, performed numbers in the Fairgrieve Frolic such as "The Rolling Acrobat" and "Musical Comedy". Harriet Kelly, Gene's mother, is said to have served as Fairgrieve's Stage Manager, helping to produce the studio's performances. Later, Gene found fame and fortune as a Broadway performer and Hollywood actor, dancer, choreographer and director. His work significantly influenced the direction of American dance and filmmaking. Gene's legacy can be observed throughout the world of arts and entertainment today.

Fairgrieve Dancer and Alumni Reflections

Dancers and Alumni Reflect on favorite Fairgrieve Memories.

"I just remember it feeling like a big extended family and it was so much fun! That is why I chose to bring my daughter to Fairgrieve 10 years ago! I feel like we have some of the most talented, fun, energetic teachers around! They are such wonderful people! It will always be my favorite place to run away to...even just for a few hours a week! We forget about the rest of the world just long enough to concentrate on our flaps, time steps, shuffles and whatever new step Jenny tweaks to try to get our brains working too! I love you all ladies!"

"I loved doing a duet nearly every year with my talented sister (Ms Jenny). We danced to so many show tunes and popular rock songs. But I will always love the dance we did to Fabulous Feet."

"Some of my favorite memories come from the sense of community within our group at Fairgrieve - shamrock shake nights, decorating t-shirts, hanging out at recitals and rehearsals, performing at community days, and even just the camaraderie of running into classmates/teachers at Starbucks! Fairgrieve is a family that I’ll always feel welcome coming back to."

""Dance Conventions, The Waverly Church Basement, smoking teachers were accepted & felt New York-like, records that they could slow for us to get the timing, live piano music from Sedell"

"After 13 years of dance at Fairgrieve there’s too many to name! I would say Idlewild back in second grade was one of my favorites. I remember panicking that I was the only dancer and would have to perform my ballet dance as a solo but I finally saw there was one other girl there. That was the day my years-long friendship with my (still current) best friend Kelli began. If it wasn’t for dance, my closest friends in the world now would not have come into my life and that’s really scary to think about."

"Going to Disney World with all my dance friends and family! We had a blast each year, and I love being able to say I danced in the Magic Kingdom!"

"The memories I cherish the most are what remains when the lights are off, the sequins are brushed away and the stage is empty; the connections. The connections made to people, music, and the art form of dance itself. They were never just girls in my class, but other artists. They were never just teachers, but mentors and friends. It was never just another song for another show, but a chance to grow as an artist. Dance is an ever evolving art form and Fairgrieve's gives it the respect and recognition it deserves. In turn, to share this passion for art and dance with my students is my dream come true."

"The friends! Standing in the corner all together and waiting for the music to come on...I always felt like we were all in it no matter what. And it was especially fun if the combination was hard, because then you had to hurry up and reverse it on the other side, and everyone all working together to get it put together before the teacher counted you in was a race against time. I remember laughing at that. Learning lifts was another hilarious part of class and learning numbers. All of it was wonderful. I still wish I had class two nights a week. I would be a better and more grounded person if I got to dance like that again more often. I’m so grateful for everything I learned!"

From the Fairgrieve Archives

Miss Nancy

The daughter of Ruth Fairgrieve, Nancy Jayne Heriot managed and taught dance at Fairgrieve School of Dance for decades prior to her retirement in 1998. As a student of Peter Genaro, Jack Stanley, Carlos, and Al Gilbert, Nancy was skilled in all forms of dance and specialized in tap, jazz and Scottish Highland dancing. Nancy was a graduate of Winchester Thurston and Carnegie Mellon University, and worked for U.S. Steel for over two decades. Fairgrieve alumni fondly remember Nancy for her guidance and mastery of the art of tap dance.

Program cover from "Life is Your Dance", dedicated to the memory of Nancy Fairgrieve Heriot.

Miss Jenny's tribute to Nancy, from the 2003 performance of "Life is Your Dance".

To read, tap image and zoom.

From the Fairgrieve Archives

Miss Margie

Marjorie Gribben held a lifelong love of dance, studying ballet and other styles from early childhood. Later, Margie went to study ballet in New York City under Vitale Fokine, Vilzak & Swoboda, Yrek Shabeletski and Leonide Massine. After returning to Pittsburgh, Margie choreographed for local theaters, which led her to meet Nancy Heriot and join Fairgrieve School of Dance as a ballet master. Margie is remembered by her students for her mentorship and innovative ballet and jazz choreography.

Program cover from "Dancing In Time", dedicated to the memory of Marjorie Gribben.

Miss Jenny's tribute to Margie, from the 2008 performance of "Dancing In Time".

To view, tap image and zoom.

From the Fairgrieve Archives

Reflections from Miss Nancy and Miss Margie

In 1998, Nancy Fairgrieve Heriot retired, transferring Fairgrieve School of Dance to Jenny McGrath. The following photographs and excerpts come from a newspaper interview conducted with Nancy and Margie just before Nancy's retirement.

In her own words: Nancy Heriot

My mother was born in Pittsburgh in 1893. She graduated from Fifth Avenue High School and went on to become a teacher and a principal…At that time, teachers weren’t allowed to be married, so when my mother got married on Christmas Day in 1926, she had to retire. It didn’t matter, though, because she already had started a part-time dancing school in her home. When she wasn’t allowed to teach school any longer, she devoted her efforts full-time to her dancing school. Eventually she moved it out of the house to the Penn Shady Ballroom in East Liberty. There, she taught Gene Kelly and his siblings.

There were five Kelly children - James, John, Gene, Fred and Louise - and each was enrolled that day. I don’t remember much beyond my recollections of Gene Kelly - he was a big boy, and I was a little girl. I remember seeing him at the cap and gown shows at Pitt because he would come down to talk to my mother. Gene’s mother, Harriet Kelly, and my mother became very good friends.

I’ve been dancing since I was 3, but I guess I started while I was still in the womb. When my mother was pregnant with me, she was directing a big Christmas show in 1927 at the North Side Grotto. Harriet Kelly came over and said, “Ruth, you’re going to drop that baby.” She put my mother in a taxi bound for the hospital, and I was born the next day.

Although she was married, my mother always used her maiden name, and was called Miss Fairgrieve. My dad used to get mad because students called him Mr. Fairgrieve. My mother was 83 when she died, and she was directing in her four dancing schools up to the end. She had me to help her, of course. I started as a teen-ager, and then for 21 years I helped my mother run her schools in the evening while I worked full time. I worked with the Mellon Institute for four years, and for 17 years, I worked for U.S. Steel in its research lab in Monroeville. In all these years, I’ve never missed a recital. It seems strange to think that this is my last one coming up on Friday.

During the 1970s and the era of Lynn Swann, it became popular for boys to take ballet. The Steelers wide receiver had taken ballet classes to improve his agility. I’ll never forget the day the McGrath boys came in. I couldn’t believe these big galoots had come into dancing school. They were big bruisers, more than 6 feet tall, and they had brought their house slippers because they didn’t know what they were supposed to wear. I decided to pair each of them up with one of my female students, so I paired Kevin McGrath with Susan Carr and Mike McGrath with Jenny Huling. Eventually, Kevin married Susan and Mike married Jenny, and now their daughters attend classes here. Jenny will be taking over my school, so it’s almost as if it is being passed down to my children.

In her own words: Marjorie Gribben

I started taking dance at age 3; I don’t remember a time I didn’t go to dancing school. As a high school student, I studied in New York. I had some offers to do some shows, but my mother wouldn’t lake me take them. When I was 15 I started teaching dancing while I was still in high school, and even then I knew that was what I wanted to do. Still, I went to college to please my mother. I majored in sociology at Carlow College.

After college, I started teaching full time, and when my children were born, I thought I should be a stay-at-home mother. So I quit teaching, but I did do some work for a little theater. I acted, danced and did choreography. It was sort of a part-time job, but for what you get paid in a little theater, it may as well be a hobby.

One night after a play in the theater, Nancy Heriot came to meet me. She was looking for a dance teacher, and wondered if I might be interested in the job. I jumped at it because I had been away from teaching for about 10 years, and I really missed it. Nancy and I hit it off right away. But talk about opposites. She’s very tall, more than 6 feet, and I’m only 5-foot-2. As the years went on, we did a lot of things together, but for me the teaching was what I really loved.

I think I’m going to miss the students most of all. We’ve stayed in contact with many of them, and they often pop in and see us. I taught a lot of kids, and I remember them all.

When I started work in September 1970, Fairgrieve had three schools. A year or two after I started, the school in the North Hills opened. Now we have two - one in Churchill that will be closing after we retire and the one in Hampton. I think it’s wonderful that it is being taken over by Jenny Huling McGrath, a former student of ours. Who would have thought that little Jenny, who started taking ballet at 8 or 9, would grow into such a beautiful dancer, marry her dance partner, and take over the school? I know that Nancy and I will help her in any way we can to make a go of it.

Thank you.

Thank you to the following dancers, alumni and friends of Fairgrieve who contributed to this digital archive. Your time and memories made this project possible and are greatly appreciated.

  • Dianne Williams
  • Debbi Huling Wasson
  • Miss Carol
  • Miss Amy
  • Halle Mathieson
  • Sarah Watson
  • Olivia Shipley
  • Erin Boggs
  • Anna Brumberg Lindemuth

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