The Perfect Pas de Deux
February 2023 Issue
by Elizabeth Skenes Millen Photography
by T.R. Love, T.R. Media World
Some people come into your life for a moment, while others stay for a lifetime. Mary Coleman and Margaret Jones are a beautiful example of the latter, with a lifetime of connection, friendship and love between them.
Growing up in Greenville, SC, Mary and Margaret met in the third grade, living in the same neighborhood and going to school together every day. These little girls played together in the afternoons, but they also shared a very special bond: A love of ballet. Though they went to different dance schools, ballet held a place in each of their hearts like no other art, and it was an outlet where the two girls belonged, where they were filled with their hearts’ desires. One might say their friendship is a perfect Pas de Deux, which simply means a dance for two; a duet.
“I love the smell of a ballet studio, the reverence, peace, quietness. It’s a place where you are fully focused. It’s like entering a different world,” Mary explained.
Margaret went away to Ashley Hall Boarding School in Charleston, SC, in the 9th grade and the two girls lost touch, but their worlds would collide again in the most unexpected place.
During the absence of their friendship both girls married, had children and went on with their lives. It was in 1973 when they bumped into each other at a burgeoning Christian Women’s group on Hilton Head Island. Lo and behold, both of them were residents of the Island, and neither of them knew it! And guess what. They both still loved ballet, and perhaps that is how they became iconic women of the Lowcountry—simply reuniting and pursuing a love they had since childhood.
Margaret had been taking her daughter to the Savannah Ballet School because Hilton Head did not have a dance school. There, was a young, highly talented ballet dance instructor from the American Ballet Company. Her name was Karena Brock. “She was full of grace and beauty, humility and kindness,” Margaret said.
Margaret admired Karena so much, it broke her heart when the Savannah Ballet closed. Being on the board of directors, Margaret had an idea. She gathered up Mary, their friend Allyson Hardin and along with many other community folk, they began a mission to start a ballet studio on Hilton Head. “The first thing we did was pray. Was it a good idea? Would He take over and help us? Mothers were so excited and supportive. Karena was the brains behind the whole thing!” Mary said.
The formation of this dance school, and the people involved in it, read like a Who’s Who of Hilton Head History. Margaret’s husband, attorney Wes Jones filed paperwork for nonprofit status, Joe Hardin built the first building, Bill Dunnagan (think Dunnagan’s Alley) and his daughter were instrumental in providing the community playhouse for performances, Island Funeral Home set up tents under which the first fundraisers were held. This was truly a community project, not to mention it was in the early 1970s, when these residents were trying to turn early Hilton Head into home. It was these same people, along with so many others, who were working on getting the hospital built and so much more. It was an important time in the history of the Island, and we are all so lucky these residents had so much forethought.
Their mission in the midst of creating Hilton Head Dance Theatre was to bring a quality dance school and quality ballet to Hilton Head Island. “The first fundraiser featured dancers from the American Ballet Company in New York City. I’ll never forget seeing Johan Renvall1 leap across the entire stage,” Margaret marveled.
Though the process was fun, long, and arduous, we all know how this turned out. These ladies successfully spearheaded the creation of Hilton Head Dance Theatre, and Karena Brock-Carlyle and John Carlyle have been paramount to both its longevity and success. “People have moved to the Island because of Karena. They want their daughters or sons to study ballet under her,” Mary said.
This is the same dance theatre that presents the wonderful “Nutcracker” performance to Hilton Head every November. Mary and Margaret haven’t missed one of them. While you would think they would be on the front row, and perhaps taking their bows, these two friends take their places in the back row, hold hands and cry through the entire performance.
Margaret thanked Mary for all the times she had been there for her, especially as Margaret went through the process of recovering from breast cancer. Mary said with tears, “I didn’t know what to do, she was going through so much. So I called her doctor to see if she could travel to the ballet in Charlotte. It was just all I could think to do. We needed beauty; it was so magical.”
The two elegant women before me turned into those third grade little girls reminiscing about that trip. I watched in amazement, as I had never seen such a special friendship in action as these two. I was honored to witness the love and endurance this relationship has been through. I teared up just watching them, enjoying every second.
Mary then told Margaret, “I have a letter your mother wrote to me when I was young. She was encouraging me to never give up. I want you to have it.” The rest of our time together was spent talking about days gone by.
There is so much more I could write about these two extraordinary women. Mary said she didn’t want me to leave, and honestly, I didn’t want to. Her Sea Pines home mirrored her friendship with Margaret—comfortable, stunningly beautiful, familiar. It felt like home, a place you always want to return to, and maybe that’s why Mary and Margaret’s friendship has sustained all these years—it’s comfortable, stunningly beautiful, familiar, and definitely a connection you always want to return to.
1Renvall, known as one of only a small group of elite dancers the world has ever known, was a Swedish dancer and choreographer known for soaring leaps of astounding power and soft landings. One can only imagine the thrill and overwhelming turnout the Hilton Head community welcomed him with.