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Life’s a Dance: The Marvelous Experiences of Elizabeth Dube

“Every day brings a chance for you to draw in a breath, kick off your shoes, and dance.” Oprah Winfrey said it, but Forest resident Elizabeth Dube lives it. Elizabeth’s life has indeed been an extraordinary dance, a remarkable sequence of elegant moves, following her partner’s lead, and learning new steps along the way.

Born in the small, rural community of Chester, South Carolina on January 28, 1918, Elizabeth grew up in Greensboro, North Carolina, and spent her childhood participating in Girl Scouts and singing in the church choir. Before the Depression, her father owned a chain of specialty music stores that sold pianos and an assortment of other instruments. Though she took interest in a number of them, none of the instruments really ever resonated with her. The music was in her heart, but she hadn’t yet found the source of her passion.

Elizabeth’s father in his music store in Greensboro, North Carolina. Courtesy Greensboro Historical Museum Archives, 1920s.

Discovering her passion for dance

It was during the late 1930s, when she attended the Woman’s College of the University of North Carolina in Greensboro (fondly known by students as the “WC”), that Elizabeth’s life saw a big turning point. While a freshman working toward her bachelor’s degree in home economics, the dance group on campus caught her attention. “I just barely made it in,” she recalls with a laugh.

Elizabeth in 1937, a sophomore at the Women’s College of the University of North Carolina

A short time after she joined the group, famed Mexican dancer and choreographer José Limón visited the college. He was there, along with a small, touring dance troupe from the Humphrey-Weidman Company, to put on a demonstration. This was a big deal, of course, and excited the collegiate dance enthusiasts at the WC.

During the demonstration, as José made his way onto the stage for what was supposed to be a solo act, he grabbed the hand of a student in the crowd of onlookers and pulled the unsuspecting yet delighted Elizabeth into a dance for two in the spotlight.Elizabeth’s fellow WC dancers audibly groaned behind her – many were upperclassmen and accomplished dancers, while she was a freshman who narrowly passed her audition to join their club. Brushing their discontent aside, Elizabeth gracefully whirled, twirled, and followed José’s lead with ease, the first memorable experience that set the stage for a lifetime love of dancing.

Waiting in the wings

Elizabeth—all smiles in 1938, a junior at the WC in Greensboro, North Carolina

After graduating from the WC, Elizabeth took her first job as a dietitian on the men’s campus of Duke University. She met her husband, Bertram, in the dining room at Duke, as he waited tables to support himself while he attended law school. Bertram courted Elizabeth for a while, and the two married in 1942, just a short time before Bertram was drafted to serve in World War II as a navigator in the Air Force.

Bertram was away with the military for several years while Elizabeth remained in her position at Duke. During this period, Elizabeth fully immersed herself in life at the university. She poured her heart into her work and attended school functions, like dances, to keep her spirits up while her beloved was away. A familiar face to many on campus, Elizabeth always found herself with a long line of young men waiting to cut in on her dance partner.

Bertram returned to Duke Law School after the war and completed his education. The couple eventually moved to Bertram’s hometown of Hudson Falls, New York. There, Elizabeth enjoyed engaging in genealogy and finding common ancestors with the original Greensboro settlers.

The Dubes loved to travel, often visiting New York City – Bertram for the sporting events, Elizabeth for the shopping. In the 1960s, Elizabeth made her way onto the television game show Concentration; she lasted into the second week of play and “lost” only because the judges had trouble understanding her Southern accent. She gave the correct answer, though: “playing it for all it’s worth.” How fitting!

Adventures in dance around the world

An Art Nouveau poster of the Folies Bergère, a famous dance/cabaret music hall
Jules Chéret, Folies Bergère, Fleur de Lotus, 1893 Art Nouveau poster for the Ballet Pantomime

The Dubes spent much of their lives seeing the world together. They were invited to join the Travelers’ Century Club, an association for people who have visited 100 or more countries and territories around the world.

With her husband by her side, Elizabeth saw 122; four of these were part of a trip to Europe arranged by the Forest! During their travels, Elizabeth loved taking photographs; she continues to enjoy sharing those pictures on the ledge just outside her apartment today.

On a month-long cruise in 1990, Bertram and Elizabeth shared the ship with about 10 dancers from the Folies Bergère, the famous cabaret music hall in Paris. The performers, on holiday, eagerly shared a number of dances with the Dubes throughout their time on the sea. This is one of Elizabeth’s favorite memories and one that brings an instant smile to her face.

Still dancing

This resident at The Forest loves to dance!
Elizabeth at The Forest in May 2019. (Photo by Lauren Young)

Elizabeth and her husband returned to Durham and joined The Forest at Duke when it first opened in 1992. A pioneer of the community, Elizabeth has always kept herself busy at The Forest. She has dabbled in virtually every form of dance offered on the activities calendar, including Zumba, but finds that line dancing is her favorite and regularly participates whenever it is available.

Elizabeth celebrated her 101st birthday this year and still very much enjoys the dance of life. She welcomes the notion of sharing her story to encourage prospective residents to look into living at The Forest at Duke. Her life is a legacy and a testament to the peace that comes from finding what you love and persisting in pursuit of the happiness it brings.

—Lauren Young, Marketing Specialist

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