Dancer and Longtime Teacher Bill Atkinson Dies at 94

Bill Atkinson, an accomplished dancer who trained generations of young ballerinas in his studio on Hillcrest Avenue, died on March 27 at age 94.

A Memorial Mass and Celebration of Life for Atkinson will be held at 10 a.m. on Wednesday, May 1, at Christ the King Catholic Church, 8017 Preston Rd.

Atkinson and his wife, Ann Etgen, danced in New York, Canada, and South America before opening the doors of the Dallas Metropolitan Ballet in 1960. 

The performing company and associated Etgen-Atkinson Ballet School closed in 2014, after 54 years of training performers who went on to dance with troupes in the United States and abroad, including the prestigious American Ballet Theatre in New York City, the San Francisco Ballet, the Boston Ballet, and the Stuttgart Ballet in Germany.

Atkinson devoted his life to his art and did not retire until he was 85. When his studio closed its doors, parents and young dancers left pastel-colored notes on its windows.

A volunteer in the US Army who eventually rose to the rank of sergeant, Atkinson was a man of deep faith and a lifelong practicing Catholic, family friend Peter F. Gonzalez said. Atkinson was committed to preserving the artistic integrity of his company and school, and resisted attempts to monetize the business or commercialize performances.

In a video posted on YouTube, former student Suzanne Wagner described the Etgen-Atkinson Ballet School as “my emotional home for years. It was the place I felt free, safe and loved, in the ways that mattered the most to me.”

Atkinson, she said, used to bring her smoothies and honey, and gave her the tools, opportunities, and confidence to know that she was a good dancer with the potential to be a professional. 

“I am grateful to consider him one of my spiritual and artistic fathers in this life,” she said. “I am grateful for his care and concern for my wellbeing. I am grateful for the love he offered me at such a critical time in my growth, and I am grateful for the honesty he showed me even when I did not want to hear it.”

Atkinson is survived by his niece and wife, Ann Etgen, to whom he was completely devoted. Atkinson loved the company of his dogs, who he always named Dollie, and spent his final days praying for “strength and protection for his Annie and Dollie,” Gonzalez said.

Due to his army service, Atkinson will be interred with military honors at the Dallas-Fort Worth National Cemetery.

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