The show must go on.
It is a maxim Joan O’Meara would always use at some point during her decades spent teaching dance and putting on shows in Port Townsend, her daughter, Erin O’Meara, recalls.
And now, go on it must.
Joan O’Meara died Dec. 10, 2017, at the age of 80. Now the 53rd annual Big Show by O’Meara Performing Arts Academy is named after her go-to show biz phrase.
“After losing her this past December, there was no choice but to name the show ‘The show must go on’ in remembrance of her legacy,” Erin O’Meara said.
The dance show will take place June 2 and 3 at the Port Townsend High School.
A SECOND HOME
“Kind,” “warm” and “inclusive” are some of the ways students of Joan O’Meara would describe her.
“My mom was a very special woman, not only to her family but to all her students in the dance studio she created,” Erin O’Meara said. “She had a huge heart and cared so much about everyone. The studio was her second home, as it has been for many who grew up in it.”
As one of Joan O’Meara’s four children, Erin O’Meara was one of those who grew up in her mom’s studio; she has herself been teaching for 23 years.
A lifelong dancer, Joan O’Meara graduated from Port Townsend High School in 1955 and founded a dance school a decade later in the basement of her home.
That studio grew during her five decades of teaching to become a home for hundreds of dancers of all ages.
Jan Boutilier, of Port Townsend, started taking tap dance with Joan O’Meara when Boutilier’s daughter Jennifer, a dancer now in her 30s, was a youngster.
“We dancers were a family to Joan,” Boutilier said. “(She) gave the youth in our community a second home while learning the art of dance.”
Even though that home changed locations many times over the decades – eventually landing in the upstairs portion of the Uptown Theater – each place had a comforting atmosphere.
“No matter what building (the studio) landed in, Joan’s way of being made it feel like home,” Nan DuMond said. “A feeling of inclusion and encouragement touched each of (the studios).”
DuMond started taking tap from Joan at the age of 11 and has known the O’Meara family for 40 years.
After her summer 2015 show, Joan O’Meara retired from teaching and dancing, and Erin O’Meara took over running the studio.
“(Joan) continued that warm inclusiveness through her last days in the studio, even when she wasn’t teaching at all,” DuMond said. “She could always be found watching everyone proudly from the wings. We will all feel her absence at the Big Show this year.”
SEWN WITH LOVE
Joan O’Meara’s devotion to hand sewing costumes is vividly remembered by her daughter and students.
“Growing up, I watched my mom put her blood, tears and love into hand sewing every student’s costume for every dance,” Erin O’Meara said. “It took her months of non-stop cutting, sewing, glittering and sequins to make every costume perfect that made every student feel perfect.”
Boutilier has fond memories of taking her granddaughter, Lili, to visit Joan O’Meara’s basement where all of those costumes were made. Joan O’Meara would always let Lili choose a costume to take home, Boutilier said.
DuMond also recalls memories of Joan O’Meara’s dedicated handwork.
“Some of my fondest memories of Joan are in her basement sewing costumes when I was about 11 or 12,” she said. “This was a space of magic and filled me with awe – not only at the talent this woman had with the cloth tape, scissors, a sewing machine, but the stories she would tell of each costume I would pull out of a box or off the hanger.”
Only when the studio became too big did Joan O’Meara have to start ordering pre-sewn costumes, Erin O’Meara said.
As part of her dance studio, Joan O’Meara founded a tap-dancing group for herself and a group of other “ladies and gentlemen” called Fantabulous Follies. The group put on its first performance in 2006.
Boutilier recalled her first performance of the song “Shy” – hand picked for her by Joan O’Meara because Boutilier was, at that time, she said, shy.
Boutilier decided to turn it into a comedy skit with friend and fellow dancer Peggy Tonan.
“I fleshed out a skit for it that included an invisible dog and the Nanda group, then nervously called Joan to run it by her,” Boutilier recalled. “We met her at the studio that Sunday afternoon to show her, and Joan loved it.”
The group started at the Wheeler Theatre and then moved to the Port Townsend High School auditorium, performing to songs from the 1920s to the present.
The Follies will also be performing in this year’s show, presenting a few numbers including a piece from “Chorus Line” that Joan O’Meara had performed in numerous times.
“Joan always had a vision for each number,” Boutilier said. “She usually picked something out for each of us to showcase us, believing in our abilities and sometimes making us stretch a bit.”
Boutilier added that, being in the group – and learning to sing show tunes live while performing – helped her overcome that initial shyness.
“Joan made me believe in myself,” she said. “For that, I will always be thankful.”
Erin O’Meara said she has incorporated that approach of her mom’s – of trusting in students’ abilities – into her own teaching.
“My mom taught me everyone is special and deserves a chance,” she said. “You never know what talents some have ’til you give them the opportunity for them to find it.”
THE SHOW MUST GO ON
During her mother’s last days, Erin O’Meara spent time with her in California and has since decided to stay in the warmer, sunny climate – running the studio from afar with the help and support of 13 Port Townsend dance teachers.
“All of the teachers have been awesome,” Erin O’Meara said. “I want to keep it going for the community. It’s been there 53 years.”
As is tradition, this year’s show will include all ages on stage and all forms of dance, from ballet to hip hop.
“This will be the most emotional show I’ve ever put on,” Erin O’Meara said, adding that it is a special show, too. “Coming home monthly to Port Townsend this year has been very hard, but when I get to the top of those stairs of the studio I couldn’t feel more loved,” she said, noting how many lives O’Meara Dance has touched over the years.”
Boutilier reflected, “Joan O’Meara was one of the most influential people in my life. Her love and belief in me gave me my wings. I will be grateful to her forever.”
“The Show Must Go On!” is at 1 p.m. and 6 p.m. June 2 at the Port Townsend High School auditorium, 1500 Van Ness St., and at 4 p.m. June 3.
The show featuring more than 100 students ages 3 and up will showcase a number of different styles of dance including tap and jazz. For more information, visit omearadance.com.