It was a long time coming, and when it did, it was richly deserved. In honor of a life and career dedicated to dance, Lopez resident Marlys Waller received the National Dance Association’s 2010 Heritage Award.
Presented on March 20 at a ceremony held in Indianapolis, the award officially recognized her contributions to the field including the book series “Dance a While,” now in its 10th edition.
“It was really exciting. I think the thing that was so rewarding was the people who came up to me said ‘I had your book in college and I want some more editions,’” says Waller. Although involved in dance and education before the books were first published, it is perhaps for “Dance a While,” that she is best known.
The book is more than a comprehensive dance manual, it is the most widely used and best selling folk dance text book in the history of such publications.
Held to be a classic, it retains such popularity for its unique combination of instruction and cultural background. Covering more than 260 international dances, it comes with a CD and is available at the Lopez Public Library.
Sixty years ago, however, Waller could have no idea of such future success. In fact the origins of the book lie in post-war recreation. ‘‘It was right after the war finished and all the men were coming back, they didn’t know how to dance and they wanted to meet women,” says Waller, describing the success of dance classes she led in Austin Texas in the post-war years.
“There were so many men that men were dancing with men … but then the women found out about it and it all evened out.”
Not only did the dynamics of the class change, but the future of Waller’s crib notes on dance moves was decided when she and colleagues received a letter from the publisher Burgess. “We had a letter from Burgess saying that the were looking for books to publish,” she explains. She and the co-authors of the series Ann Pittman and Jane Ericksen had enogh material already prepared for a book. “We sent them a table of contents and the first chapter.” The rest, as they say, is history.
Essentially now operating as the Julia Childs of dance, the three went on to finish the first edition of “Dance a While.” It was published in 1950 to an expectant audience, “the book was a huge success, it sold like pancakes,” says Waller. It was a success that was to be repeated again and again, over the following years.
The team of Pittman, Ericksen and Waller remained the same until the sixth edition when Pitman left. Waller and Erickson would work on the seventh as a twosome before bringing on Cathy Dark from Corvallis to participate in the eighth. Dark, younger than Waller and Erickson
Younger than Erickson and Waller, the addition of Dark represented the forward thinking and creative dynamic that has kept the institution of the “Dance a While,” books alive and well. Never one for sitting on her laurels, Waller and her colleagues always sought out new people to write for the book. “When we find an aera we aren’t good at we pay a stipend for a researcher to write it,for example when we did clog dancing a friend Appalachia wrote about it.”
Waller attributes the enduring success of the series to this creative outsourcing, noting that although the books have had competitors in the past, no series has run as long and as successfully as theirs.
Her energy and enterprise shows again in the fact that she is still considering the future of the next editions, expressing a hope that she can find some ‘east coasters’ to write for the book and can find a way to slim it down a little, lessening the cost for the buyer. In terms of content, Waller has an appetite for the east, “There are people doing dances from Turkey, and from Iran,” she says, listing a few areas that interest her. Waller may have had the crown placed upon her achievements so far, but it seems that she does not intend to stop the dance.