Every year, an immense audience from throughout the county would gather for Pam Nobles Studios holiday recital.
Whether it was at high school, or the Dixie Theatre or, as it was in 2019, at the Chapman Auditorium, for the sophisticated jazzy interpretation by Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn of Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker, the seats were filled.
Little girls in sparkly outfits, like St. George Island’s Krista Miller wore when she was a child, brought Christmas to life. Hymns and carols, they could be heard at church, sacred songs vocalized in musical testimony to the holiday’s purpose, a joy-filled celebration of the birth of Jesus.
But it was dance, the artistry of body movement sharing a message beyond mere sound, more than just words, not limited to a picture, that brought that testimony into a fully energized third, and if you can close your eyes and imagine it, a fourth dimension. That is what Nobles gave the community, the artistry of dance, and she will always be remembered as the county’s dance teacher, and perhaps due to a changing demographic, one of its last.
Miller, now all grown up and looking back from a distance on her years on stage, was among the speakers at the celebration of Nobles’ life last month. She recalled the delightful effect dance had on her when she was growing up here. Many women, and increasingly more men, who are now having children and grandchildren of their own, have similar memories of Nobles’ four decades of work. Her class lists were at various times enormous and her productions lavish, especially when considered by the modest standards of a small rural county. These are many, from throughout the county, and Florida, the Southeast and the rest of the country too, who have memories of dancing with Pam.
All who saw her recitals were uplifted by them, just like when the girls, all in white outfits, brought Nobles’ signature number, “Amazing Grace,” to a crescendo by lifting one of them high above their heads, her arms outstretched as those who have hoisted her punctuate the hymn’s majesty with a group pirouette.
Pam’s passing did not come as a surprise; with graceful steps she fought hard to outstep the brain cancer that took her, and when the time came, the many who came calling to the home she shared with husband Michael, including so many of her former students, made sure she knew in life the love that would endure after her death.
Not everyone, though, is so fortunate to be granted a chance to contemplate their own departure from this earthly existence, and to have those aware of its approach have the time to share just how much that life has meant to them.
Pam received in life the love and admiration so felt by so many. Her departure was not sudden; it was a dancer’s graceful exit.
In sharp contrast, so many others this year departed life without warning, suddenly, either from tragic accident or sudden illness for which treatment was short and futile. Without preparation, prolonged anticipation, or deep reflection
For all who have lost loved ones this year, the joy of Christmas can turn into a jab to the gut, a bone in the throat, a stinging in the eye.
Memories, like snowflakes, melt against the pain they summon, and run down our cheeks in tears. Remembrances swirl through our minds with the flutter of glitter in a snow globe, out of our reach, contained in a separate compartment of time, allowing only for contemplation.
Still, with the birth of hope as told in the Gospel story, so too is there hope for hearts to mend despite their terrible wound, their deeply-felt loss.
May the holiday enable those who are feeling this pain to grasp deeply, even if briefly, the peace that comes with understanding that the dance of life has its exits, however they may happen, and that in the spirit of a masterful dance teacher, the stage of life is forever replenished with vibrancy and joyfulness.
May all our families this season share at their tables, with strength and vivacity of spirit, the life-affirming warmth and energy of a Christmas recital.
David Adlerstein photographed many of the last 20 years’ worth of Pam Nobles dance recitals.