My mother discovered, when I was a teenager, an all girls' summer camp called: "School of Creative Arts." The School of Creative Arts was owned and managed by Kathleen Hinni, who from September through June, was the modern dance teacher at the The Chapin School in Manhattan. The "School" was located on Martha's Vineyard. It had opened in Oak Bluffs in 1949 with 20 girls ages 6-16. Later, it moved to the former Whitney House, "Hedge Lee," in Vineyard Haven, where the school remained for 4 additional years. During those years Regina Woody wrote: "Ballet in the Barn," a children's story based on the school.
Eventually, the school moved further north on Main Street to West Chop, and was housed in a huge old barn style mansion with 3 floors, 30 rooms, and porches all around the outside. On the grounds were about 12 small one room cabins where the older campers lived. The house was close to a steep bluff and the cabins were surrounded by trees. Days were filled with classes in dance, drama, music and the arts.
So, off I went to spend 4 consecutive summers (1959-1962) with a load of girls my age, many of whom were from very different backgrounds. These girls were "socialites;" some from families listed in the "social register." They had "coming out" parties at the Waldorf Astoria and private planes and parents who summered in the south of France. What did I know from this? My mother played mah-jong in Long Beach. I learned the meaning of "old money" from Cynthia Wainright, my bunkmate, who later went on to become "Debutante of the Year," and was a guest speaking about the topic on the David Susskind Show.
The school was run in an old-fashioned strict way, to the point where we called the school: "Pure Hell at St. Trinian's." There was a boys' camp next to ours, and sometimes we would go to the fence to see if we could catch the eyes of some willing participants in some mischief. One night, we arrived back at our cabin to find scrawled in red lipstick on the dresser top: "Tonight we come to get you." Needless to say, we all ran screaming to the main house and next thing we knew the police were called and we hovered in the woods until it was safe to return.
We danced on the bluffs with Charles Weidman, had classes with Merce Cunningham, sang opera with Lotte Lenn and folk songs with Burl Ives, and we were treated to special performances by Pearl Primus. Margaret Bourke White spent several summers at the school during the time she was writing a book. I remember those hot days she would play jacks with me under the trees to increase her mobility because she was suffering from Parkinson's disease. Her photos decorated the living room of the great house where many younger girls lived. But, the common denominator was that we all hated the place and we were so homesick we sometimes made ourselves literally sick. And the strict rules were unbearable. KT, as we called her, made us do the dance to Bloch's "Concerto Grosso" so many times we literally collapsed in exhaustion (in the rain) outside the ballet barn.
We would take afternoon naps to the sound of the wind rustling the leaves of huge oaks and down below the bluff the ocean waves crashed to the shore. These sounds seemed to increase our feelings of unhappiness... yet for so many summers we returned.
This wonderful 14 year old dancer, Gail, said to me once in the ballet barn: "Every time I turn around, I am here."
From time to time, I open my eyes in the morning, and in a split instant I am startled to be here and not there. Well, I hear the large old house is now an assisted living facility and nursing home. So, I may open my eyes one morning, and really find myself right... back... there.