Betty Jones, Founding Member of Limón Troupe, Dies at 94

Betty Jones, Founding Member of Limón Troupe, Dies at 94


Betty Jones, a dancer known for memorable performances as an original member of José Limón’s famed company and later a respected dance teacher, died on Nov. 17 at her home in Honolulu. She was 94.

Her husband, Fritz Ludin, announced her death.

Ms. Jones was 23 and relatively new to modern dance, in August 1949, when she originated the role of the Desdemona character, known as the Moor’s Wife, in Mr. Limón’s take on “Othello,” which he called “The Moor’s Pavane.” The work, using only four dancers, caused a sensation when it premiered at the American Dance Festival in New London, Conn. John Martin, writing in The New York Times, called it “a completely stunning work.”

Ms. Jones, he wrote, “is an incredibly lovely Desdemona,” dancing opposite Mr. Limón as the Moor, the Othello character. The piece, Mr. Limón’s best-known work, became a staple for the young company, and Ms. Jones performed it all over the world.

As a teacher at the Juilliard School and, for 40 years, at the American Dance Festival (which relocated to North Carolina in 1978), Ms. Jones imparted the techniques developed by Mr. Limón — who thought of the body as an orchestra and emphasized movement of its individual parts to create a harmonious whole — and enhanced them with her own.

“You just don’t imitate movement,” she told The Herald-Sun of Durham, N.C., in 2000, speaking of any dancer who might seek to recreate her “Pavane” performance. “It needs to come from inside. The human element. You understand what the body is saying when you’re doing it.”

Betty May Jones was born on June 11, 1926, in Meadville, Pa. Her father, Dr. Hiram A. Jones, was director of health and physical education for the New York Department of Education, and her mother, Elizabeth (Smith) Jones, managed food service at the Jacob’s Pillow dance center in Massachusetts in the 1940s and was later booking manager for Dances We Dance, a company Ms. Jones and Mr. Ludin founded in 1964.

Ms. Jones grew up in Delmar, N.Y., near Albany, and after graduating from high school studied dance in Albany and then, beginning in 1941, at Jacob’s Pillow, where she appeared in several ballets. Near the end of World War II she danced with a United Service Organizations production of “Oklahoma!,” performing for troops in New Guinea, the Philippines and elsewhere.

In 1946, when Mr. Limón first approached her about joining the dance troupe he was forming, she had been thinking of a career more in keeping with her “Oklahoma!” experience.

“I had planned to get a night job in a show and go to Columbia University,” she told Américas magazine, a publication of the Organization of American States, in 1997. “Anyway, I said that I wasn’t interested, and in the fall, I got into ‘Bloomer Girl,’ with choreography by Agnes de Mille.” That musical had made Broadway in 1944 and was touring, but Ms. Jones soon found that the road-musical life “wasn’t interesting to me at all.”

“So I went back and studied with José,” she said.

Mr. Limón’s fledgling company began drawing notice in 1947. Then, two years later, he created “The Moor’s Pavane.”

Mr. Limón, who died in 1972, was often said to have created the role of the Moor’s Wife for Ms. Jones. She wasn’t so sure.

“He had had several kind of false starts with different people,” she told Américas, “and I think perhaps he got the idea that I inspired the Desdemona role after he saw me do it. Eventually, José said, ‘I did Desdemona for you’ and that it was my dance. But that was news to me, and it certainly wasn’t my dance when he started.”

In any case, the work became an enduring part of American dance history, performed not only by Mr. Limón’s company but also by many others. Ms. Jones also originated roles in other important Limón works, including “There Is a Time” (1956) and “Missa Brevis” (1958).

She danced with Mr. Limón’s company into the late 1960s. In 1964, for a performance at the American Dance Festival, Mr. Limón paid her an unusual compliment, or so a review by Allen Hughes in The Times made it seem.

“Because Mr. Limón was suffering from a knee ailment, his solos were danced by Betty Jones,” Mr. Hughes wrote. “She did them very well, but it was rather strange to see a woman do movements Mr. Limón has previously reserved for himself.”

After forming Dances We Dance, Ms. Jones and Mr. Ludin, a fellow Limón dancer, toured extensively under the dance touring program of the National Endowment for the Arts. The couple, who married in 1979, settled in Hawaii and created the Jones-Ludin Dance Center, a presenting organization.

Mr. Ludin is Ms. Jones’s only immediate survivor.

Of the many times Ms. Jones performed “Pavane,” she told Américas, one in particular stuck in her mind. It was in Paris in 1960.

“Coincidentally, the Comédie-Française was doing ‘Othello,’” she recalled, “and when the actors came to see us, they said, ‘You were able to say in 20 minutes what we say in three hours and a half.’”



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