Dallas Met Ballet Studio Closes After 54 Years

Dallas Met Ballet Studio Closes After 54 Years
Patrons have left loving notes on the windows of the ballet studio. (Photo: Chris McGathey)

For years, drivers on Hillcrest Avenue have been able to spot tiny ballerinas shuffling in and out of Dallas Metropolitan Ballet on Hillcrest Avenue. But this summer, many passersby found the doors closed and the signs taken down.

In their place, parents and young dancers alike have left kind notes in pastel colors all over the windows.

“Thank you for helping me to become the ballerina that I am today,” one message reads.

The messages remind all those who stop by that longtime owners Ann Etgen and Bill Atkinson have finally decided to retire.

“It was a pleasure,” Atkinson said of running the studio.

He and his partner, Etgen, built their own careers as dancers in New York, Canada, and South America before opening the doors of their studio in 1960.

Between the two of them, they were in Broadway productions of “Carousel,” “Brigadoon,” and “My Fair Lady.” They even produced a DVD/CD-ROM called “Ballet is Fun.”

“We made lots of dancers,” Atkinson added.

And he’s not kidding. The company launched dancers into professional careers with troupes across the country, including the San Francisco Ballet, the Boston Ballet, and the prestigious American Ballet Theatre in New York City.

Their instruction even sent performers abroad to dance with the Birmingham Royal Ballet in the United Kingdom, the Stuttgart Ballet in Germany, and the Ballet de Wallonie in Belgium.

But for many locals, the owners’ impact right here at home was much larger.

“Both of my daughters took ballet lessons from Mr. Bill and Miss Ann,” University Park resident Kym Cecil said. “For five years every Saturday, I was up and down University [Boulevard] dropping one off and picking up the other.”

And she’s not the only one with happy memories of the studio.

“They were just exceptional dancers and teachers and really stood apart in how they treated each dancer so they could all reach their optimum potential,” Park Cities resident Lee Thompson said. Not only did she study there as a youngster, but her three daughters, Elizabeth, Margaret, and Catherine, attended there as well.

“They truly focused on classical ballet at its very best and in its purest form,” she said. “They developed each of their dancers to be full people — not just dancers, but to use that discipline in other areas of life and translate into success.”

Technically speaking, Dallas Metropolitan Ballet was the name of the performing company. Etgen-Atkinson Ballet School was the instructional part of the company, training dancers from preschool through the professional level.

Many recitals took place at McFarlin Auditorium on SMU’s campus. Memorable performances included “The Night Before Christmas,” “Snow White,” “Coppélia,” and “Cinderella.”

Now, those performances have come to an end.

“Frankly, I can’t believe they’re just now retiring,” Cecil said. “They’ve been going forever.”

According to the Dallas County Appraisal District, Etgen and Atkinson own the space on Hillcrest Avenue. However, the building is listed for lease with Barry Waranch — no new tenant has taken the spot yet.

As for the couple, they plan to spend their immediate free time traveling.

6 thoughts on “Dallas Met Ballet Studio Closes After 54 Years

  • September 5, 2014 at 1:45 am
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    I danced at this studio on an off from the time I was 3 years old in 1984 until 14. I FINALLY found a REAL Studio and went on to dance professionally in NYC. The ONLY thing I ever took away from “Mr. Bill and Miss Ann” was self loathing, humiliation and shame. I STILL have nightmares (20 years later) about class with “Mr. Bill” or “Miss Ann”. No person of ANY age should EVER suffer the trauma I experienced at that place. To this day, I have to turn my head in the opposite direction every time I drive by the studio.

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    • August 1, 2015 at 6:49 pm
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      They did have a pretty narrow view of what a professional ballet dancer could be, and what must constitute his or her career. There’s no denying they trained a lot of dancers, and achieved some impressive results, from performance I saw, but I also knew of some of the negatives about their outlooks and attitudes (and, no, I’m not talking about the difficulties and sacrifices inherent in becoming a professional dancer, or even just trying to do so). There were some who came through their system, and made professional careers, after being told by Ann and Bill that that wasn’t possible (too short; didn’t want to live in New York City; whatever else Ms. Etgen and Mr. Atkinson held to be insurmountable “negatives,” that actually were not). I’m happy for those who had good experiences with them, and happy for you and others, who prevailed by leaving them.

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  • September 6, 2014 at 11:11 am
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    Scarred for life: If Ann and Bill were so horrible to you, why did you continue to go back to their school off and on for eleven years? Did your parents force you to attend classes? What was the REAL ballet school you attended? Where did you work professionally in NYC? Were you even a classical ballet dancer at all? I have my doubts.

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  • September 29, 2014 at 8:57 pm
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    I’m so sad to see the school closing. I literally grew up there from my first classes in 1966 to my last performance with the Dallas Metropolitan Ballet in 1975. Ann & Bill provided superb training and worked hard to give us up and coming dancers opportunities with professional dance schools and companies. When I was in NY one summer at the School of American Ballet (thanks to Ann & Bill for making sure we got auditioning opportunities), Ann & Bill arranged for a few of us to see a private class of the visiting Bolshoi Ballet! We saw Gordeyev doing 12 pirouettes — this was in 1973, before Barishnykov or Makarova defected. Really inspiring. Hillcrest Avenue won’t be the same without Etgen-Atkinson School of Ballet.

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  • November 28, 2014 at 10:27 am
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    While sitting around the Thanksgiving table with my family we talked about how The Night Before Christmas was a big part of our Christmas tradition. My daughter was a student from 1977 to 1985. My car was on autopilot going down Hillcrest almost every day. She started in the Spanish Village class and made her way down to the Hillcrest Studio. Ann and Bill were wonderful teachers, heartbreak and the pride that comes with overcoming challenges were wonderful lessons learned. The community is better for having the Dallas Metropolitan Ballet and will feel its loss for years to come.

    Reply
  • January 25, 2015 at 1:49 am
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    I stopped dancing when I entered highschool, but the 8 years I spent at the DMB were amazing and still serve as a major part of who I am today. I want to be back in touch with ms Ann and mr. Bill. When I saw the studio closed I was shocked.

    Reply

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