Wednesday, December 17, 2008

It Sticks With Me

bumped up...

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.


nickyskye said...

Dear Marjorie,
On one of those google-nostalgia whims, I looked up Kathleen Hinni tonight and found your wonderfully written blog story.

Miss Hinni, as I knew her, was a gym teacher at Nightingale Bamford School, where I went from 1962 to 1969. I liked her and felt liked by her. She got me interested in gymnastics early on and is the reason I still sit with my back straight. I still love watching gymnastics and now the Olympics are coming up this month, look eagerly forward to that, which she inspired my interest in.

Perhaps I've completely misremembered but I think Miss Hinni briefly gave a class in sewing, embroidery, which seems so odd. In that class I made a little doll for my sister, who was in the hospital having her tonsils out and a little blue-green pillow with fish and seaweed embroidered on it. Funny, the old memories.

Her smoker's hack both amused and horrified me. It seemed so unlikely for someone teaching dance, gymnastics and exercise. But those were the days when everyone smoked.

I'm sorry about Cindy, her committing infanticide. It sounds like she suffered from severe depression and post-natal depression. Most emotional illness was not wisely treated in the 1960's and I can't imagine her being sent home would have made much difference at that time. Perhaps her parents were the cause of her depression and keeping her there was more wise? Who knows. But I'm sorry for her and for the infant who was murdered.

I always felt Miss Hinni had a rebellious, brave spirit, which was, I think, part of why she associated with Isadora Duncan. She had a mischievous sense of humor too, which I liked, a twinkle and a joie de vivre. There was something inherently subversive about her, which I found comforting in contrast with the suffocating smugness, arthritic rigidity and materialism of the teachers and staff at Nightingale.

She could be stern too about girls in class behaving without focus, having lousy posture. Nothing any gym teacher or coach wouldn't say I don't think. But I was a ware that some of my classmates also didn't like her. I don't know why.

I'm curious why you felt so unhappy at the dance camp/school you went to. Why you and others "hated the place". It certainly sounds like a remarkable way to spend the summer, packed with educated, creative people, some of whom were global innovators.

In any case, I think fondly of Miss Hinni, miss her and wanted to thank you for sharing your own memories of her.

Marjorie said...

Thank-you so much for your comment at my blog. This is so meaningful to me. In just the past few weeks, I have connected with two other SOCA alumni. It seems many of us are nostalgic with regard to the past.
Lana organized a SOCA reunion in 1999, and although I was enthusiastic about it, I was unable to attend because it was on Martha's Vineyard and it was a long trip at the time.
We were unhappy at camp because KT created a very very strict and rigid setting. We were deprived of many comforts. We were not allowed to shower regularly and we all felt food deprived. She monitored our behavior and interactions and subjected us to stern lectures. I can recall one night when we were so hungry we ate toothpaste. And we all emotionally longed for home.
It was wonderful having you leave a message here. If you would like to speak more, please E-mail me at the address provided in my profile.

nickyskye said...

Hello again Marjorie,
A nice surprise to hear from you so soon.

It's one of the great joys of the internet connecting with others from the past, people one thought were long gone into the big unknown. Or finding out about people, like Kathleen Hinni. I was always curious about her and recently learned on the web about her connection with Anita Zahn, who was one of Isadora Duncan's adopted daughters.

Aww, I'm sorry she was so harsh to you and the other students. Strict and rigid are really not fun experiences and especially for a kid during the summer. Sad too that you were starved to the point of eating toothpaste. Miss Hinni was thin and smoked. Perhaps she projected her own lack on interest in food onto her students? Whatever, that sounds like her treatment of you in depriving you of food was near criminal. And it's an outrage you weren't allowed to shower more often. yikes.

One year, in 1966, I went to a summer camp in Nova Scotia, called Camp Arcadie. It was pretty simple and rugged compared with what kids are used to now and the Bay of Fundy was incredibly cold for swimming, which was compulsory. Perhaps children in general were treated more harshly in those years?

Interestingly, with the painful home environment I grew up in, I so appreciated Miss Hinni's stern and intense guidance. I needed parenting and felt cared about by her.

Thank you for sharing your honest thoughts about Miss Hinni and your experiences with her.

Anonymous said...

thank you! I was probably living in the big house when you were in the cabin. I was looking for any informaton regarding the school and
was so thrilled to find your blog.

I remember Margaret Bourke-White, her photographs lining the walls of the stair well...birds, shadows on the ocean from above, miners in South Africa.

I remember Burl Ives, Charles Weidman, Homesickness, the smell of Ben-Gay, dancing for hours, searching for my older handicapped sister one night on the beach, by moonlight, after Lana and Betty Sue came to get me to help them find her...I think I was ten.

Who was the blind pianist? Thanks again.


Beth Kastanotis said...

It was wonderful to run across these blogs while looking up KT tonight. I was a day-camper back around 1950 or '51 when I was 8 or 9 years old. I remember loving KT and also being a bit intimidated by her. But the wonderful, warm twinkle in her eyes always melted me. I returned as a counselor in '60 or '61 - Beth Harwood. Again, I remember KT being a joy and also occasionally a terror. I re-connected with her some years after that & stayed in touch almost up to when she died. Geez, we had no idea you kids were hungry - if you'd told us, I'm sure we could've gotten KT to feed you more. I'm SOOO sorry !! I re-connected with Lana in '99 (she was always there for us at SOCA - such a gift to us all) and Betty Lu Strasheim (now Lu Murray, mother of 4 boys & a bunch of grandkids, and still as much fun as ever). Thanks for bring back so many memories. Yes, SOCA could be like boot camp at times - I remember waiting daily for the "command of the day" - leotards, shorts & sweaters, or just leotards & shorts, or whatever. My husband is not well, so I may not have time to return to this web site,but thanks for the posts !!!

Bill said...

It is really wonderful to read your blog. My mom, now 94, was the resident camp nurse for two years. Thus my brother and I had the opportunity to attend SOCA for two summers with the few other boy overnight campers. Most of the other boys were day campers. Very happy memories...but I too remember near starvation. Milk to drink with meals was rare. The varied arts classes changed my life forever. Pottery, painting, dance, music, theater in addition to swimming, fishing, crabbing, baseball ( on the tennis courts with tennis balls) was my favorite. Burl Ives was terrific. For an 11 year old from rural Virginia, this was quite an experience.

carol said...

Gosh, I also had a nostalgic moment and remember "boot camp" at Katy's camp in Vineyard Haven....3 summers, fantastic dance, poetry,room creative contests, one apricot or prune as an afternoon snack; the townspeople coming to see us perform, and we were GREAT...and the swim instuctor that almost drowned my friend; but it was life-changing...learning to express emotion thru movement...
when were you there? thanks, Carol Grossman Fleischer

Marjorie said...

Carol, please E-mail me at and we can talk.
Thanks for the comment. I look forward to hearing from you.

Marjorie said...

This comment arrived in an E-mail from Anne:

Hi, Marjorie,

My sister alerted me to your blog yesterday and to your memories of SOCA. I
tried twice to post on your blog, but neither attempt appeared. I'm not sure
what I was doing wrong.

Here are some of my memories of SOCA:

Oh, wow! I just discovered this blog today. I was a camper at SOCA from the
age of 7 to about 15, seven summers in all, at 3 of the houses, when my mother,
Blanche Altshuler, was the music teacher. My younger sister, Jean, was there as

part 1

Marjorie said...

part 2 from Anne:

I remember a lot of what people have already posted, but there was more. It's
true the afternoon snacks might consist of dried apricots or prunes, but
sometimes there was the treat of a lollipop with a chewy inside. My favorite
was licorice. Myrtle Lister, the cook, made a delicious blueberry cake from
blueberries we picked (there was a big risk of poison ivy with that activity).
Sunday morning breakfasts featured delicious sweet rolls with icing. Ordinarily
we had a lot of canned fruit cocktail for desserts, and once I was forced to sit
all afternoon over a bowl of canned pears I refused to eat at lunch.

KT was indeed a good sewer, and she encouraged this skill in her girls. We were
given materials to make "originalities" for our room or cabin, things like
curtains, bags to hold belongings that could hang from our bunk beds, etc.
Prizes were given at the weekly "inspections."

Wednesdays were picnic days. We would be taken by bus to a surprise location:
South Beach, Gay Head, Menemsha Pond, Lambert's Cove. We'd sing Negro
spirituals on the way ("He's Got the Whole World in His Hands," “Now Ain’t Them
Hard Trials?,” “There’s No Hidin Place down There,” “Every Time I Feel the
Spirit,” "Do Lord, Oh Do Lord, Oh Do You Remember Me?"). We'd lie on our beach
towels all day in the sun, eat peanut butter and jelly or balogna sandwiches for
lunch) and arrive back in camp sandy and sunburned for a late afternoon rest
hour. Wednesdays were also the days we changed the sheets. The top sheet went
on the bottom, and we got a new top sheet and pillow case. Wednesday evenings
we had folk dancing at the Vineyard Haven town hall. We always started out with
"Carousel" ("Little children sweet and gay, carousel is running, it will run
'til evening, little ones a nickel, big ones a dime, hurry up, get your mate or
you'll surely be too late! Ha, ha, ha, happy are we, Anderson and Peterson and
Henderson and me!"). Next came "Shoo Fly, Don't Bother Me," then “Jump, Jump,
Jump Jim Crow,” "Wind, Wind, Wind the Bobbin," "Harmonica," "Mayim" and many

Swimming twice a day was compulsory. I never learned to feel at ease in the
cold, seaweedy ocean water, but I did eventually pass my raft test. We didn't
know the cause of polio at that time, and it was a great source of fear. As a
precaution, we were never allowed to put on damp bathing suits, and rest hour
was strictly enforced.

On rainy days I remember the long walks we would take as part of a game of
"Follow the Trail." Horseback riding, a special activity for which you paid
extra, was one way to escape from the camp for an afternoon. Occasionally the
whole camp walked into Vineyard Haven for ice cream cones, or even to attend a

Another memorable faculty member was Tom Two Arrows, who taught us Indian lore,
beading and dances. One year he shot a deer with a bow and arrow, skinned it,
and stretched and dried the hide.

KT was a wonderfully talented dance teacher. We learned lots of beautiful music
and creative dance. But she was fiercely jealous of her relationships with the
girls. No parents were allowed to visit except on the one Visitors' Weekend. I
was always afraid of being called to KT's office, as I knew she would make me

Jean and I attended the reunion that was held in August of 1999 and had a
wonderful time there reconnecting with friends we had not seen in 50 years.