A 95th birthday celebration for Mildred Fleming

Published 6:43 pm Tuesday, September 30, 2014

A big 95th birthday celebration is being planned for Saturday, Oct. 5 from 2 to 4 p.m. for Mildred Fleming. The party will be held in the Fleming Building, located at 114 Broughton Street on the square in the very building that once housed the Fleming dancewear store.

Many articles have been written about Mildred’s amazing life. Some she has written herself as a member of the Older Women’s Legacy Circle sponsored by the Arts Council, the Post Searchlight and Story Circle network. One of those was chronicled in The Post Searchlight Dec. 7, 2005 column, “Stirring up Memories,” by Trilla Pando. It was a story about young Billy Fleming and his dog Skippy who always accompanied him to first grade, where he quietly stayed under Billy’s desk.

Other Post Searchlight writers have also written about Miss Mildred, including yours truly. One especially fine article by the late Mary Frances Donalson was published May 27, 1994, when Fleming was still teaching dance after 50 years.

It tells the story of a small-town girl born in Alabama, who grew up in Florida and always had an interest in dancing. But, it wasn’t until she enrolled her own two young sons in dance classes in Bainbridge that she was motivated to take lessons herself. She did so well that she was encouraged to accompany her teacher Maude Evelyn Murphy, to New York during the summer to study at Dance Educators of America. While there she had opportunity to study with many of the greats of the 30s, including Peter Gennaro, director and choreographer of the Radio City Rockettes, Spanish dancer Jose Greco and June Taylor.

Fleming opened her first Bainbridge dance studio upstairs in the Callahan Building on S. Broad St., and later moved it to a studio behind her home on W. Shotwell Street.

As her business grew, she opened branch studios in Colquitt, Donalsonville, Blakely and Dothan. Her husband helped with set construction for recitals and shows and even the sons were involved in performing intricate routines.

At the time that article was published she was still teaching in a studio in the Tallahassee Mall. The article quotes her as saying “I started teaching in Tallahassee in 1955 in the ballroom of the Florida Hotel, then rented studio space on Calhoun Street, then finally in the Tallahassee Mall.”

Many notable locals were students of Miss Mildred. Among them are: Laura Stone Bridges, who was one of her first students; Marilyn Isaacs Collins, Ellie and Jackie Dodson, Pamela and Melynda Bolden and Margaret Kwilecki.

The Flemings have continued to be a topic for Bainbridge readers. As late as 2012, former editor Justin Schuver wrote about the six-foot grandfather clock crafted by Mildred’s late husband John Fleming for the Dance Arts Guild of Tallahassee, of which Mildred was the founder and artistic director. John served as the company’s set artist. The clock features an owl ornamentation with moving wings, as well as other features. It has been used in Tallahassee productions of The Nutcracker for many years. He even created a scaled-down version of the clock as an ornament that was placed on the official White House Christmas tree in Washington, D.C.

John Fleming passed away December 14, 2004. Family members include sons Johnny and Bill, their wives, Carole and Shirley; four grandchildren, and seven great-grandchildren.

Saturday, October 5, will be a day for former students, of which there are many, friends, family and associates, to stop by the Fleming Building to wish Mildred Fleming a Happy 95th Birthday and reminisce about more than 50 years of dance.