Bette Killingsworth Winslow, Taos dance icon, died peacefully in her sleep Feb. 14.
Born December 10, 1919 in Springfield, Missouri, to Winifred E. Reed and Troy K. Killingsworth, Winslow was proud to be born in the year women received the right to vote.
An only child, Winslow was introduced to dance at a young age by her family doctor, who felt it would improve her fragile health. Her early dance teachers were Edwina Tiede and Annette Good.
From 1937 to 1939, Winslow majored in dance at a women’s junior college called Christian College (now Columbia College). During the summer of 1938, she attended Perry-Mansfield Performing Arts Camp in Colorado, studying with camp founders Charlotte Perry and Portia Mansfield and modern dance pioneers Doris Humphrey and Jose Limon.
“After going there for that summer, I was convinced that was what I had to do for a life,” recounted Winslow in a 2009 videotaped interview. Recalling Doris Humphrey, she said, “Her whole philosophy was control and release — it was mostly the releasing. That was the summer that I learned to fall, and I loved falling. I still sort of love falling. ... It just gave you the most wonderful feeling just to put your full energy into something and then just let go.”
From 1939 through 1944, Winslow studied at George Balanchine’s School of American Ballet in New York City. Balanchine, a choreographer, is considered the father of American ballet. Winslow studied with Balanchine, Muriel Stuart and a number of other teachers at his school. She was also a student of Martha Graham (modern), Jose Fernandez (Spanish), Yeichi Nimura (Oriental) and Jack Stanley (tap).
While attending classes in New York City, Winslow lived at the Barbizon Hotel for Women. The hotel housed many dancers, models, actresses, musicians and artists of all kinds.
Winslow danced professionally with several New York companies, including the Vogue Ballet touring troupe and the Metropolitan Opera Ballet. In November 1944, she joined the American Red Cross, serving as a program director of service clubs for GIs in Papua, New Guinea, the Philippines, Manila and Korea before coming back to the U.S. in December 1946. Winslow returned to Springfield, where she created window displays for her father’s dress and millinery shop, a job that delighted her.
She married Kenelm Crawford Winslow in September 1947. They had five children. The couple traveled from one small town to another with Ken working as a mining engineer and Bette teaching dance.
In 1964, the Winslows settled in Taos. For many years, Winslow ran dance classes out of her home studio in El Prado. In 1986, she built her dream studio, the Bette Winslow Dance Studio. It still functions as a dance studio today, under the name TaoSatva.
In a 2012 interview with The Taos News, Winslow was asked if she had any advice for others. Her response: “You have to have passion for something – passion, patience and persistence. Those are the main qualities – and you have to enjoy them all. If somebody says no, you just have to be accepting of whatever comes your way and do something from that.” She emphasized this is where the patience and persistence come in. “The other thing is to keep an open mind – and when something calls to you – go.”
Winslow taught dance to generations of Taos children. She also held a nationally attended summer intensive called Dance Taos from 1986 to 1992, bringing teachers to Taos from across the U.S. and Canada.
Winslow taught alongside two of her daughters, and another daughter played piano for classes and performances at her Taos dance studio.
“Mom loved children, and they responded well to her,” recalled Liz, one of Winslow’s daughters. “She required them to get to the best of themselves and did it gently, but firmly, never expecting they would do less than their best.”
Prisca, also one of Winslow’s daughters, remembered her mother always made certain every student could participate in performances and gave them a role that would make them shine.
“I learned how to become an inspired artist at a very young age,” remembered former student Sonja Mayer. “This helped me believe in myself.”
“Bette was a kind teacher, but also set a formal, intentional tone in class, even with her youngest students,” recalled Claire Cote. “I remember Bette teaching us little ballerinas how to hold soft-looking, but strong, round ballet arms: ‘Imagine you’re holding a huge bouquet of roses, so many that they fill your arms. You want to be able to smell their lovely scent, but you don’t want to be pricked by the thorns.’”
“Of all the people who influenced who I am today, I can truly say Bette is the one that stands out throughout my life,” said Juniper Manley, who considered her studio a second home. “Bette exuded a sense of kind discipline. She was so dedicated to dance and to her students, with her graceful, gray hair tied with velvet ribbon and classic ballet pink and black. She was a graceful and warm teacher. … This is truly the end of an era in Taos.”
At home, Bette also displayed her love for artistic expression. Prisca recalled, “Mom and Dad both gave high value to arts of all sorts. We had classical music playing in the house nearly every waking hour. A profession in the arts was equally important as academia and supported 100 percent.”
“I remember Mom hand-painting on butcher paper to wrap birthday presents when we went to parties and making us beautiful dress clothing out of scraps,” said Winslow daughter Jeanette.
Liz, another Winslow daughter, said one of her favorite memories of when she was growing up was when her mom cut pictures into pies. “I could say ‘animals’ or ‘Dad’s face’ and she would quickly make it appear on the pie dough top crust.”
With a joyful love of life and an integral sense of decorum, Winslow carried herself with an easy grace on and off the dance floor. Katherine remembered, “She never raised her voice. She didn’t need to.”
She had a great interest in all the arts and worldly affairs and kept an extensive library. Until the end of her life, she had regular Feldenkrais sessions with Prisca and kept up a gentle movement practice. She also watched “Charlie Rose,” “PBS Nightly News” and “Masterpiece.” “She was engaged in life and the people who inhabit the world,” said Liz.
Winslow is survived by her children: Katherine Winslow Pond (Ashley), Jeanette W. Hodgson (Dean), Kenelm K. Winslow (Jane), Elizabeth Winslow Fruits (Tim), Prisca Winslow and daughter once removed Marcy Piersol; five grandchildren; four great-grandchildren; in-laws; nieces and nephews.
A private burial was held at Santa Fe National Cemetery. A public celebration of Winslow’s life will be held in Taos this spring. In lieu of flowers, her family greatly appreciates donations to Taos Youth Ballet for its scholarship fund, (575) 770-0189.