Saturday, July 19, 2014

The 50th Year: Miss Kay's Magical Touch

Note the add-on laces for the dancing shoes.
Dresses were made in home ec class.
My old high school, Cranberry High in Avery County North Carolina, was quite a force in competitive square dancing from the late 1940s to the end of the 1960s because of the best coach of any kind I ever saw.

Miss Kay (Kay Wilkins) ran an extraordinarily tight ship and during her years at the tiny school, retired the Old Smokey trophy of the Mountain Youth Jamboree and won three national championships. I don't know which was more prestigious, but let's just say she had credentials.

Miss Kay is in a nursing home in Marion, N.C., now, closing in on 90. A couple of years ago, I wrote a story about her for Blue Ridge Country magazine ("The Ballad of Miss Kay" won an international award) and turned that piece into the novel CLOG! recently.
Miss Kay's license plate.

Today, I was back at the old school for our 50th reunion and visited the virtual shrine to Miss Kay that is her old room these days. These photos contain some of what I found. I toured the room with former Wildcat dancer Regenia Street Clark, who filled in some of the details for me. Regenia was on at least one of the national title teams.

Her coaching jacket (with whistle).
Ours was a poor school, so the square dance costumes were made in home economics classes from patterns Miss Kay and the students created. The fabric was furnished free by a mill in Spruce Pine where Miss Kay's husband worked. The dancing shoes were not fancy (though the label here says they were) and did not lace up the calf. Miss Kay gave each of the girls shoe laces to use separately, giving the effect of impressive shoes. The whole thing was cobbled together. The talent and the coaching were the exception.

The dancers, developed by Miss Kay (who also coached basketball) were extraordinary and she was creative beyond words, always keeping a step (dance step, that is) ahead of the competition. I watched her teams at a distance. With my mouth open. Some of our football players danced for her. They always said square dancing was much tougher. I had no doubt.

Hand-made boys and girls costumes.
This is the tiny school auditorium where the national champion square dance team performed.

1 comment:

  1. An amazing woman ........ creative and obviously with a vision ....... I would think people like her are rare but perhaps the high school will one day be blessed again .