Former First Lady Betty Ford (1918-2011)

Posted in 80 Faces, 2013.

Betty Ford

Betty (front left) in a class at Bennington College.
Photo: Gerald R. Ford Library

In 1934, modern dance pioneers Martha Graham, Doris Humphrey, Charles Weidman and Hanya Holm converged to create the Bennington School of Dance in the green mountains of Vermont. Dancers and educators alike flocked to the festival to study with its illustrious founders, and Bennington quickly became a hub for training and development of dance technique and the creation of new works.

One young pupil in this early iteration of ADF was future First Lady Betty Ford, who attended in 1936 and subsequently went on to continue her dance training under the tutelage of Martha Graham in New York. Upon visiting the Bennington campus some forty years later in 1976, Mrs. Ford reminisced, “I remember being barefoot most of the time and wearing a leotard from dawn to dusk. Between classes we bounced around the green and tried to pick up as much grass as possible with our toes. That exercise was one of Martha Graham’s orders…. We breathed, we ate, we slept nothing but dance.


Betty Ford & Martha Graham

First Lady Betty Ford with Martha Graham at ADF, 1981
Photo: Jay Anderson

“I felt I had been born to dance as I think most of the students did. It was our whole life, and Bennington… helped focus our intense commitment. [It] touched our hearts with fire and infused us with spirit. Isn’t that what the arts are about?”[1]

[1] Excerpt from Mrs. Ford’s Remarks, Bennington Arts Center Dedication, Saturday, May 22, 1976. Frances K. Pullen Papers at the Gerald R. Ford Presidental Library.