For years, drivers on Hillcrest Avenue have been able to spot tiny ballerinas shuffling in and out of Dallas Metropolitan Ballet on Hillcrest Avenue. But this summer, many passersby found the doors closed and the signs taken down.
In their place, parents and young dancers alike have left kind notes in pastel colors all over the windows.
“Thank you for helping me to become the ballerina that I am today,” one message reads.
The messages remind all those who stop by that longtime owners Ann Etgen and Bill Atkinson have finally decided to retire.
“It was a pleasure,” Atkinson said of running the studio.
He and his partner, Etgen, built their own careers as dancers in New York, Canada, and South America before opening the doors of their studio in 1960.
Between the two of them, they were in Broadway productions of “Carousel,” “Brigadoon,” and “My Fair Lady.” They even produced a DVD/CD-ROM called “Ballet is Fun.”
“We made lots of dancers,” Atkinson added.
And he’s not kidding. The company launched dancers into professional careers with troupes across the country, including the San Francisco Ballet, the Boston Ballet, and the prestigious American Ballet Theatre in New York City.
Their instruction even sent performers abroad to dance with the Birmingham Royal Ballet in the United Kingdom, the Stuttgart Ballet in Germany, and the Ballet de Wallonie in Belgium.
But for many locals, the owners’ impact right here at home was much larger.
“Both of my daughters took ballet lessons from Mr. Bill and Miss Ann,” University Park resident Kym Cecil said. “For five years every Saturday, I was up and down University [Boulevard] dropping one off and picking up the other.”
And she’s not the only one with happy memories of the studio.
“They were just exceptional dancers and teachers and really stood apart in how they treated each dancer so they could all reach their optimum potential,” Park Cities resident Lee Thompson said. Not only did she study there as a youngster, but her three daughters, Elizabeth, Margaret, and Catherine, attended there as well.
“They truly focused on classical ballet at its very best and in its purest form,” she said. “They developed each of their dancers to be full people — not just dancers, but to use that discipline in other areas of life and translate into success.”
Technically speaking, Dallas Metropolitan Ballet was the name of the performing company. Etgen-Atkinson Ballet School was the instructional part of the company, training dancers from preschool through the professional level.
Many recitals took place at McFarlin Auditorium on SMU’s campus. Memorable performances included “The Night Before Christmas,” “Snow White,” “Coppélia,” and “Cinderella.”
Now, those performances have come to an end.
“Frankly, I can’t believe they’re just now retiring,” Cecil said. “They’ve been going forever.”
According to the Dallas County Appraisal District, Etgen and Atkinson own the space on Hillcrest Avenue. However, the building is listed for lease with Barry Waranch — no new tenant has taken the spot yet.
As for the couple, they plan to spend their immediate free time traveling.