Dancing from New York to Alaska, Oliver style

Carolyn Oliver has been instructing aspiring ballerinas at the Children's Museum of Northern Nevada since the 1960s. She now teaches the children and grandchildren of many of her original students and many over the years have gone on to professional careers in dancing, gracing stages from Zurich, Switzerland to Broadway to New Jersey to Oakland.

"We have a lot of talent around here," she said with conviction.

Statuesque with dark brown eyes and hair to match, Oliver has an easy manner and a hint of dry wit as she speaks of her career with the Ballet Russe in New York City, the time she spent as a talent scout and a life that has taken her from Alaska to Los Angeles.

In Carson City, the Children's Museum is home because it's where she started and she wishes more people would visit.

"Everyone's worked so hard," she said. "There are some wonderful people on the board of directors and a lot of dedicated people work there for nothing."

Her early productions were often performed on the stage at the museum but, more recently, at Piper's Opera House in Virginia City, where both of last year's Christmas performances of the Nutcracker sold out.

"Piper's has been good for us," she said. "The community center is difficult to book and I like being on the same stage as Lilly Langtree and the Barrymores. The proceeds we generate will help restore Piper's and I feel good about that, too."

Despite the years spent performing and teaching, she said she is still learning about ballet, which "gets in your blood."

"Ballet gives dancers form and placement. Once you've conquered the basics of ballet, you can do any kind of dancing," she said.

Her mother started her in ballet at the tender age of 10 after deciding she was too chunky.

"She thought it would be good for me," she said. "But she lived to regret it. After taking a few lessons, I was hooked. I wanted to dance. Mom wanted me to go to college."

Veteran dancer Bob Irwin of the world-famous Ballet Russe in New York City became her first instructor and, over the years, members of the company watched her develop through recitals and performances in her home town of Corvallis, Ore. But that didn't guarantee her a position with the company.

After one year of college work, primarily to appease her mom, it was off to New York City where she danced first with the Corps de Ballet at Radio City Music Hall and, finally, with Ballet Russe.

"I called up the director (of Ballet Russe) and asked him for a job," she said. "He simply said, 'come over and we'll take a look at you.'"

The demands of the profession were wore thin after about four years and her lifestyle changed. Oliver married and had three girls, spent time instructing at a private studio in Fairbanks, Alaska, and at one point became a talent scout in Los Angeles. But she always returned to ballet -a career that has spanned more than 30 years.

Oliver is married to retired developer Mike Oliver and her three daughters, Danielle, Denise, and Deseret, are grown. The New School of Classic Ballet conducts 13 classes a week at the Children's Museum. Her students number about 100 and range in age from 4 to 19.


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