Priscilla Mangnall
THE WAY WE WERE
Grand Junction Free Press History Columnist

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February 7, 2013
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THE WAY WE WERE: Grand Junction's premier dancing 'Babe'

Nearly every little girl and a small percentage of boys that ever took tap or ballet in Grand Junction were given those lessons by Jeanne Harper. The Jeanne Harper Studio of the Dance turned out some pretty fabulous little toe dancers and I was not one of them.

My parents squeezed out some money to enroll me in dance lessons with Bobbie Fifield when I was in first grade. It wasn't talked about so much in my family because it was pretty much a fiasco, for me, anyway. I'm sure the reason I was given these classes was number one, my sister, Becky, took classes and was actually quite accomplished, and number two, maybe they thought they would "take" and I'd gain a little coordination. Number three, my mother, Ruby, was a professional sewer and more than likely relished the idea of making a costume.

I was painfully shy and at the end of our Can-Can number, the line of dancers had to turn their rear end to the audience and flip up their skirts. I did not attend the recital. I've always told the story that I didn't tell my folks when it was exactly or I ran away from home. I know the Can-Can skirt got sewn because my mom made a miniature version for my Barbie Doll which I still have. My costume was probably remade into a costume for our poodle dog, Lisa, to wear in a downtown parade with my brother.

Several of my girlfriends took lessons from Jeanne Harper. Patty Cowan Costello gracefully danced all her life and Jaymie Fortune Popish was another accomplished student that went on to teach dance. Dance developed in them what Jeanne Harper herself said: It teaches "personality and poise and it gives them so much confidence." I think I fell through the cracks with my lack of willingness to perform.

I doubt that most of Jeanne's students or their parents knew her past. She was born Ida Jeanne Harper in 1899 in Oklahoma City, Okla., and grew up in Las Vegas, N.M., graduating from high school in 1918. She and her sister, Maurine, attended the New Mexico Normal University in her hometown and were absolutely involved in the arts, teaching in the community and performing for service clubs and banquets.

From there Miss Harper enrolled in the Horner Conservatory in Kansas City, Mo., to study piano and voice. Between semesters she traveled with various Chautauqua groups, which back then were a little educational and a little vaudeville. "Babe" as she was called on the circuit, toured with the group to 800 towns and 33 states. She traveled throughout Colorado and that may have been why she settled in our beautiful little town.

After her storied five-year career on the road, she moved to Los Angeles to study with dance icons Ruth St. Denis and Ted Shawn at the Denishawn School of Dance. This was her first concentrated lessons in dance. It took her a long way.

By now, it is the Roaring '20s and Ida Jeanne "Babe" Harper decides to change her course and travel to New York to pursue her dream of becoming an opera singer. She studied for one term at the Eastman School of Music in Rochester. While there, she was a singing showgirl in an operetta titled "The Darling Duchess." She admitted it was a flop, having closed after only a five-week run in Boston. While there, her roommate was in a show across the street with Al Jolson who she said took so many encores that the cast would have their costumes and makeup off and be waiting outside the stage door before the applause died down and he came out in his derby hat, swinging his cane.

By the late 1920s, Babe was still touring in the summers and teaching dance in her hometown of Las Vegas, N.M. She managed to travel to Chicago, New York and back to California to continue her education.

In the 1930s, Jeanne made her way to Grand Junction. She began teaching dance while living at the La Court Hotel. Her studio was located in a variety of locations and in no particular order, the Labor Temple, The American Legion Hall, the Dean Studio Building and 518 Main St. on the second floor. She offered classes in toe, tap, ballet and acrobatic dancing. She held recitals at the Avalon Theatre, Mesa Theater, Palisade High School, and eventually, the new Grand Junction High School. She continued to entertain in her own groups across the Western Slope, reviving many of her former Chautauqua routines.

Somewhere along the way, Jeanne Harper met Kenneth B. McQuaid, a man her same age and a veteran of World War II. They may have been school chums in New Mexico. They were married on Christmas Eve of 1942 in Lawton, Okla., soon after McQuaid had rejoined the Army. On the road again, Jeanne Harper McQuaid moved to Alhambra, Calif., for three years while her husband was enlisted.

Returning to Colorado, they settled in Alamosa. It wasn't until 1949 that she returned to teaching permanently in Grand Junction, as a commuter. She would teach a class Monday in Alamosa then hop on the bus and return to the Harper Studio of the Dance. In the early '50s she broke ground on the little cinder block building at 827 Rood Ave. It is still there. In 1972 Mr. McQuaid joined Jeanne in Grand Junction. At one time there was an apartment in the back of the Rood Avenue studio where Jeanne would reside. The couple eventually moved to an apartment at 1302 Glenwood Ave.

Ida Jeanne "Babe" Harper McQuaid passed in 1996, just three years short of living a century. Over the course of those years she taught countless children grace, poise and confidence. I hope to hear from some of those students and be able to tell their stories and share their recital photos.

Watch for part two in the coming weeks.

Got a memory or picture to share? Call me at 970-260-5226, or email priscilla.mangnall@gmail.com.


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The Post Independent Updated Feb 7, 2013 02:56PM Published Feb 7, 2013 02:55PM Copyright 2013 The Post Independent. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.