About Charlotte Blume
Starting in the mid-1950s, a young Charlotte Blume brought true artistic professionalism to the Fayetteville region in the teaching of ballet, bringing her own top-flight training pedigree and her insistence on high standards and authentic technique. Before her arrival, no other local dance studio was using mirrors or bars. One teacher taught ballet on carpet.
Over 60 years she helped thousands of girls and boys achieve a sense of poise along with a knowledge of movement and body. More importantly perhaps, she helped them learn the virtues of responsibility and hard work, sometimes working with three and four generations of the same families. She helped little girls achieve their ballerina dreams and encouraged boys to defy convention and make ballet the cool thing to do. And many did.
“I built a dance scene here as a result of my early work,” she told the Fayetteville Observer. “Because of that work, I was able to build a dance audience and dance awareness at studios all over Fayetteville.”
For thousands of students the studio was their second home of childhood, and for some it was their virtually their first home, their place of refuge and positive growth.
For many, participating in her productions and studying under her helped win admission to top colleges. She taught the city’s prominent families and she taught the less fortunate. Within the studio, all were treated equally.
For many talented students, dance became the activity of their youth that they looked back on with pride. Quite a few became professional dancers; a select few opened their own dance studios and ran dance companies.
Her no-nonsense insistence on merit made Ms. Blume, who grew up mostly in Texas and the northeast, a de facto civil rights pioneer. In the rigidly segregated South, she welcomed all students equally, white and black. And there was never any question but that they would learn together in the same classes. And the prime dancing parts would go to the most deserving: Those students who worked hard and showed talent. (There also were roles for any student who worked hard, regardless of talent.)
At her Fayetteville studio, the first students were black; white families quietly boycotted her integrated operation, until their daughters insisted that they, too, wanted to receive the finest instruction.
Ms. Blume also was a trailblazer as a woman business owner and professional. At one point, her studio had branches in more than half a dozen cities. She eventually narrowed her focus, concerned over quality control, she said.
Her most loyal students made sure either to work for her studio or open their own in a different region, just as she had with her mentor, Harriet Hoctor of Boston.
Besides running her innovative studio, Ms. Blume was a notable performer, dancing lead roles as prima ballerina for the Raleigh-based North Carolina State Ballet during the 1960s, when it was under the direction of founder John Lehman. Later, she assumed control of the franchise, reshaping it as a regional operation based in Fayetteville. She staged ballets with classic, original choreography—which she had traveled all over the country to learn, and she also developed works of her own invention.
She worked with some of the world’s best dancers, teachers and choreographers, including Leonide Massine of the Royal Ballet, Alvin Ailey, Donald McKayle, Henry LeTang and Alexandra Danilova. Danilova was the first wife of the famed Russian dancer George Balanchine.
In a punishing profession where the vast majority of ballerinas retire from performing by their early 30s, Ms. Blume danced lead roles into her fifties, a longevity she credited to clean living, good genetics, and careful stewardship of her physical gifts.
Her father lived to be 97 and she expected to do at least as well before symptoms of failing health revealed themselves as advanced pancreatic cancer in 2016. After more than a month of treatment at Wake Medical Center in Raleigh, Charlotte elected to enter a hospice in Smithfield in late March of that year.
She died on May 11, 2016 at the age of 85.
Her studio, the Charlotte Blume School of Dance and Performing Arts, has become a landmark business and cultural institution and remains so as the Blume School of Dance, under the guidance of her son Howard and studio manager Dina Lewis.
more about Charlotte Blume...
Charlotte Abrevaya was born April 12, 1931 in New York City, the eldest child of Harry Abrevaya and Jennie Baruch. Harry was a World War I refugee from Turkey who worked in a family grocery — he also spoke five languages fluently. Charlotte’s mother was an accountant whose own mother had limited her promising dancing career by refusing to let her travel with a dance company. Most parents of that time would have done the same in the rowdy 1920s, when even classical dancers were widely considered either to have shady reputations or to be putting themselves at risk by going on the road.
Harry pursued work as a federal employee and moved the family to La Tuna Texas, outside of El Paso, to accept a job as a prison guard.
In Texas, as in New York, Charlotte and her mother would go to the theater to watch their favorite movies. In the evenings her father would play operas on the record player.
“I started dancing in Texas when I was eight and the only thing available at the time was baton and some movement classes,” Ms. Blume recalled early in 2016. “They did not call it ballet. Baton was the main thing.”
She charged neighborhood children a penny to watch her and her friends perform.
“I would make up things for people to do,” she told the Observer. “It was just something that came out of my head. To get their attention, I would do a split and they would ask, ‘How did you do that? That was my big attention-getter. I took it from there.’”
Her father broke his leg in several places after he was thrown from a horse while chasing an escaped convict. His own escape from that job was the invention of an improved teletype machine that the Defense Department quickly adopted as its own. On the strength of this achievement, he transferred to better federal work in Boston, and later became a quality-control inspector at factories with federal contracts.
Harry Abrevaya believed in giving his three daughters a firm foundation in the arts. His second daughter, Hilda, would become an opera soloist, and later used these vocal skills to become the first full-time professional woman cantor in New York City, leading the singing and chanting during religious observances.
With her family’s encouragement, Charlotte continued to pursue dance: “When we moved to Boston, I enrolled in ballet, tap and gymnastics. I was a Saturday kid, and danced all day Saturday. The dance school was run by two sisters and they were pretty good actually.”
“We lived on the second floor, and I practiced all the time. Downstairs, Mrs. Ivy complained, but I never stopped practicing.”
She also took piano lessons and loved classical music.
“I snuck in the room and hid a radio under my pillow,” Ms. Blume recalled. “My father listened to classical music on records. He loved the tenors, especially Caruso.”
“My mother decided I needed more serious training. I wound up at Harriet Hoctor’s. I was probably around 13.”
Hoctor has been a leading performer in the Ziegfeld Follies and a partner of Fred Astair. She enjoyed national renown as a dancer and teacher: “She taught Russian technique and I loved it.”
“She was a master of the pirouette,” Ms. Blume said. “And the use of her arms.”
Around that time, she also took a part-time job in a hospital: “I was pushing patients as a nurse’s aide in the emergency room at Beth Israel Hospital during the summer. I was a little thing and I hurt my back. I strained my back. I weighed only 99 pounds.”
Doctors told her to take more ballet for therapy: “I did it and progressed fast.”
She remembers that a dancer at Hoctor’s, an Italian woman whose first name was Elvis, took an interest in her, giving Charlotte extra private lessons at her home.
Later, she began to master the Cecchetti technique from local expert Mary Burns.
The teenager excelled in the Hoctor studio, reaching the most advanced class at 15.
Ms. Blume told the Observer that she advanced quickly because she had a body that was suited for ballet — small frame, long legs, feet that arched, good wind capacity and the right strength.
“I had another quality she liked. I had very long arms and I was very conscious with what I did with my arms, and she was conscious of arm movement,” Ms. Blume said. “I became one of her more expressive dancers. I could do some of the more interpretive ballet because of my arms. My arms became my specialty.”
“I taught for Harriet in high school, like other kids. And on Saturday in college in Winchester, a city near Boston. She had a school there.”
She also performed solo in high school and college at supper clubs and nightspots. Given her age and somewhat sheltered background, Harry Abrevaya took no chances. He went to every show as chaperon and drove his daughter home. He also learned to sew costumes to help pay for lessons.
His daughter had ambitions, as the senior annual of Girls High School noted in 1948.
“Char is one of our star debaters and promising young actresses,” the yearbook recorded. “And is studying elocution in preparation for a theatrical career. You may have heard Char’s clever and amusing monologues at some time in our class entertainments, particularly her rendition of a baseball fan, and baseball is Char’s favorite sport.”
She won the Miss Northeastern crown as a freshman and later was one of the few students mentioned, somewhat allusively, in a senior year report in the 1952 Northeastern College annual: “Charlotte Abrevaya went into the leotard business. She had a spare and the ballet was in town, so she put two and two together.”
(Get it? Two and two is tutu.)
She earned a bachelor’s degrees in biology and English in 1952, although, based on her transcript, her grades seemed to suffer for all the performing she was doing. She spent much time in musical productions conducted by future husband David Blume, a talented jazz pianist and composer.
Dave Blume also was editor of the school newspaper, where Charlotte spent some time as a reporter.
All along, Charlotte was a serious and accomplished student of the intricacies and development of ballet. As the Observer put it:
Blume realized that to become a successful dance teacher, she had to master the Cecchetti technique. She began studying the style with Margaret Craske and Antony Tudor.
Craske worked with Cecchetti and wrote books on his technique. Tudor was a disciple of Cecchetti and was the ballet master of the Metropolitan Opera.
As Blume began studying with some of the best teachers, her reputation as a dancer was growing. Edward Caton with the American Ballet Theater wanted her to work full time with his theater. Her mother refused, saying she needed more formal education.
Charlotte and Dave married in 1954, and she followed him to Ft. Bragg when the Army drafted him. He never had to serve overseas once the base discovered his musical skills. He conducted an orchestra; she danced in USO shows, which led to an invitation to teach on the base.
Around this time, Ms. Blume was contacted by local civil rights pioneer Sylvia Allen, a black attorney who also was a force to be reckoned with. Allen wanted to put her daughter into ballet.
“I could not get anybody to take her,” Allen told the Fayetteville Observer. “People who were doing dance would not take her. I called all around. I called Raleigh and no one would do anything.”
In Charlotte Blume, she found a kindred spirit. At the time, Ms. Blume was doing a three-year stint as a 6th grade teacher at Person Street School, work that she recalled with pride many years later.
“I had 45 kids in my sixth-grade classes; some were just out of reform school,” she told the Observer. “I was very young, but I was going to teach them something and they were going to learn whether they liked it or not.”
After meeting Allen, Charlotte started to give lessons to black children in the second floor of a funeral parlor across from the downtown train station and around the corner from the city’s red light district on Hay Street. Later, she moved into the recreation room of Allen’s home.
Initially, her only students were black because of an informal white boycott. But Jewish families soon became part of the clientele. And then the resistance simply broke down.
Dance began to take up more time, and it paid better than teaching school, so she decided to start her own fulltime operation.
Meanwhile, David Blume opened the city’s first bowling alley with his cousin Howard Baum. B&B Lanes also was an integrated business. In a side room of the bowling alley, Dave set up a jazz club. Both the band and audience were integrated, and the club became the region’s stopping point for jazz.
The first full-fledged spring dance recital was in 1959, Alice in Wonderland, with a score composed and conducted by her husband with a live orchestra.
Ms. Blume’s first regular studio was across from Terry Sanford High School. Then she moved to a building on Bragg Boulevard before landing in Haymount in 1964, where she remained, eventually buying the building from the Bullard family, which had operated a grocery store there.
Around 1961, Ms. Blume first became affiliated with the North Carolina State Ballet, which was based in Raleigh — the first dance company in the country to be chartered by a state, according to its founders.
Ms. Blume quickly became the prima ballerina, touring with the group in North Carolina and surrounding states, and driving up from Fayetteville every week for rehearsals.
In the latter 1960s, the company began to have problems, riven by conflict among its leadership as well as by financial issues. Ms. Blume tried to help by serving as business manager, using skills she was honing in her own operation. But the ballet company couldn’t pay its dancers after the 1968 season and Lehman resigned. Operations ceased in 1969.
Ms. Blume also had turmoil in her personal life, a divorce in 1967. (Dave Blume pursued a musical and journalism career in New York and Los Angeles and died in 2006.)
Charlotte’s sons Leo and Howard were products of this first marriage.
By 1970, Ms. Blume wanted to restart the ballet company as a regional troupe based in Fayetteville under her leadership. She incorporated under the familiar name, North Carolina State Ballet, in 1971. The three initial directors included herself and her second husband, Harold Siek.
Harold was an Army officer from Wyoming and an engineer at Ft. Bragg, who managed small-scale construction projects at the base. Ms. Blume’s third and final child, Margot, was born of this union.
Harold left the Army after marriage and took part in two business ventures with Ms. Blume.
The first retail foray, in about 1972, was an audio electronics store named Sound Central. It fell victim to the Owen Drive extension at Raeford Road.
The second was a Shop for Pappagallo, one of the inaugural businesses in Cross Creek Mall in 1975. The store also sold dancewear and other dance supplies.
The dancewear store moved to the studio premises when sales at Pappagallo slumped.
Ms. Blume and Harold Siek divorced in 1979. Mr. Siek now lives in Colorado.
Around 1976 also was the period that Ms. Blume began her annual winter holiday production of the Nutcracker, which has continued to this day. (Earlier, she had periodically staged the Nutcracker in whole or in part within the spring festival in May or June.)
The 1970s also were noteworthy because Ms. Blume made a short film capturing her staging of Act II of Giselle, partnering with Edward Myers. The film was cited for distinction at a film festival in New York.
During this period, Ms. Blume made semi-regular television appearances with her dancers on Carolina at Noon, hosted by Jim Burns. She later hosted her own segment, providing advice on staying young and healthy.
Ms. Blume retired from lead dancing roles in the 1980s, when she was in her mid-50s. She continued to dance character parts as late as December of 2015, when she performed in the Act I ballroom scene of the Nutcracker. She also expanded her interest in modeling, offering both training and work opportunities for her students.
In 1987, she met Dr. John Midgley at a Bat Mitzvah party for one of Margot’s friends. Ms. Blume felt they did not immediately hit it off, although Dr. Midgley immediately was smitten. They started dating and were a harmonious couple a long time before they married in 2009. They’d been hesitant to tie the knot because of previous marriage experience, but John, a devout Presbyterian, concluded that marriage was the best way to insure that they would one day spend eternity together. In this world, they had many memorable experiences traveling the globe together. Ms. Blume even managed to drag her husband into the ballet ensemble. He learned ballroom moves so he could partner Ms. Blume in the “parents” dance in Act I of the Nutcracker. They performed this role together as recently as December 2015.
Another interesting collaboration in the 1990s was a local cable TV show they put together: “Ask Dr. Midgley,” in which Ms. Blume interviewed Dr. Midgley about medical topics, while offering her own opinions as well.
Medicine and health was one of Ms. Blume’s many areas of interest. Others included photography, cooking, rock and mineral collecting and golf. She closely followed news and current events — she and Dr. Midgley notably agreed to disagree on politics.
Ms. Blume combined her love of traveling with her professional interests. For years, she took delegations of students to study classical ballet, jazz and tap in New York City and modeling in Los Angeles. The California trips also gave her a chance to spend more time with her three grandchildren, Rebekah, Ansel and Hannah, who also enjoyed their visits with her in Fayetteville and Florida.
“Dance is a journey, just like life,” she said during her acceptance speech at her 2015 induction into Fayetteville’s music Hall of Fame. “Dance is a joy to come to every day, and I will do it as long as I can.”