September 30, 2010

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Nazi Germany escapee, now 97, dancing up a storm
Still teaching students in Hill area

Seen here in the 1930s, Hedy was a member of the Matray Ballet Company in Berlin as well as the solo dancer and choreographer for the Theater of Culture in Berlin. (Photo by Konrad Weidenbaum)

Although she will never be on the popular TV shows, “Dancing with the Stars” and “So You Think You Can Dance,” it’s a pretty good bet that Hedy Tower is the oldest dance teacher in the U.S. It started with a curtsy when Hedy was seven years old – such an impressive curtsy that a dancing teacher invited her to dance with her group. Hedy said yes, thank you, and did.

She’s been dancing and teaching for over nine decades since then. Now, at the age of 97, she can still lift her legs higher than her eyebrows and do a spread-eagle yards wide. But as remarkable as this ability may be, its accomplishment to Hedy is most important as an illustration of the disciplined physical development required in the art of creative dancing.

Growing up in Bayreuth, Germany, with dancing her great aspiration, Hedy first had to counter her family’s opposition, and dispel such remarks from neighbors as “I wouldn’t let my son marry a dancer,” and “Don’t ever tell anyone you’re a dancer.” But with her parents’ eventual approval, and undaunted by the nay-sayers, she went to the Mary Wigman School of Dance in Dresden, where she studied improvisation, music appreciation, anatomy and psychology. Following that, Hedy accumulated experience with numerous dancing engagements and became a member of the Matray Ballet Company in Berlin as well as the solo dancer and choreographer for the Theater of Culture in Berlin.

However, as anti-Semitism intensified, she had to fill in with various jobs such as working in a Campbell’s Soup factory. But she continued her dancing in a cabaret, and then as a member of the Jewish Kulturbund, which under Hitler dictates sent her out to Berlin and various other cities to perform alone and with two or three others — but restricted to Jewish audiences.

Lifetime Achievement Theatre Award for Mt. Airy Wolfs

Mt. Airy residents Ted and Stevie Wolf will receive a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Theatre Alliance of Greater Philadelphia at the Barrymore Awards for Excellence in Theatre on Monday, Oct. 4.

“I was shocked when we were notified,” Ted Wolf said about being told that he and his wife, Stevie, had been chosen to receive the 2010 Lifetime Achievement Award by the Barrymore Awards for Excellence in Theater. “I thought they must be running out of celebrities to give awards to.”

Ted and Stevie Wolf, who are really Albert and Stephanie (which is why, Stevie says, they prefer to be known as Ted and Stevie), are not being cited at the awards ceremony on Oct. 4 because the sponsoring Theatre Alliance of Greater Philadelphia ran out of celebrities. Far from it.

“Ted and Stevie Wolf’s years of leadership and extraordinary vision are exemplary of their indefatigable dedication and passionate commitment to the theater in Philadelphia,” said Theatre Alliance executive director Margie Salvante in announcing their selection. “As visionary advocates for the theater community, they have fostered creativity and excellence through their presence, their ambassadorship and their extraordinary generosity.”

After 80 years, Pastorius Club still cements friendships

The name of Francis Daniel Pastorius (1651-1720) was chosen for the club because of his integrity and character and because he was the founder of Germantown. Pastorius, whose name is also on Pastorius Park in Chestnut Hill, opposed slavery and had it banned in Germantown. (Ed. note: We don’t have a photo of club members because a spokesman said the club was unable to locate their group photos.)

In July of 1930, a businessman who worked most of his life in center city but who six months earlier had begun to work in Germantown sent a letter to several local businessmen. The man wrote that he missed his old habit of dropping into his club each day for lunch. He wished to suggest a luncheon club be formed in Germantown involving “the most congenial men that it [had] ever been [his] pleasure to know,” men whom he had met and had welcomed him in the preceding months with “daily greeting on the street and in offices.

“The club will have no … purpose (other) than that of congeniality and the creation of a natural forum to which men come to their own great profit,” wrote its founder, George I. Bodine, Jr. “Men who already know each other and are congenial find their best entertainment in their own quiet conversation.”

The letter spawned the meeting of a group of men on July 16, 1930, at 46 Maplewood Ave. Another meeting was held July 23. Bodine was elected president. Dr. Gordan W. Venable, treasurer. A membership committee was formed by Morgan Lister, Carl Helmetag and Millard Brown, and a $5 initial membership fee was decided upon.

Eighty years later, the Pastorius Club formed so many July’s ago is still going strong, and has about 60 members, according to past president Len Brown, who will soon be 84. Doctors, lawyers, educators and others from various parts of the business spectrum meet every Tuesday for lunch. And, in the name of upholding tradition, initial membership fees are still $5.

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