When the economy tanks, give them bosoms!

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It’s easy to think this recession is unique. We may indeed be the first generation to lose our houses to banks bailed out by our own pre-layoff tax dollars. But of course economic misery isn’t new, and every time I’m tempted to think it is I am reminded of Byrne Miller.   

She came of age in the Great Depression and had to marry her husband twice because of it. The first time in secret, because leaving her father’s household to start her own would mean the family would lose the meager income she contributed. The second wedding was a few years later, when her father found work again. Only then could she declare her love for Duncan Miller in public, at the Manhattan City Hall. Still, money was tight. So she answered an ad in the paper for dancing girls and a career of fifty years began.

“I wasn’t one of the great ones,” Byrne once told me. I had thought her modest, knowing that she had danced in New York, St. Thomas, Santa Fe, Mexico and Ireland before she landed in Beaufort, South Carolina in the late 1960s. It turned out she was anything but modest.

“No darling,” she said. “It was these bosoms that got me noticed. That and legs that wouldn’t quit. It was the Great Depression, remember, men needed a lift.” The troupe, she later told reporters, was called the Sara Mildred Strauss Company. Eighteen or nineteen scantily clad women, many of whom had been prostitutes, made up the ranks. Her job was to stand on a pedestal, wearing two inches of cloth, and waggle her hips.

“Let’s face it,” she told me. “The legs have to be worth the ticket price.” As thousands of Byrne Miller Dance Theatre audience members over the years can attest, those she brought to Beaufort always were.

6 thoughts on “When the economy tanks, give them bosoms!

    Will said:
    July 19, 2010 at 1:42 PM

    Byrne was, indeed, anything but modest…what a presence she had!
    Facebook shows me evidence of y’all’s carousing in Murrell’s Inlet right now…a fun time must be had by all. Yum!


    Cristi said:
    July 19, 2010 at 2:46 PM

    I aways wondered how most people get head in show biz. Can’t wait to read more!


    Q Marshall said:
    July 19, 2010 at 2:47 PM

    Byrne Miller and her influence, her tribe, deserve a book. Her presence as an artist and her little house by the water stood in a kind of defiance to much of what has passed as art, dreams of “plantation” grandeur, and swollen lifestyle development along the SC coast in recent years. No one could tell the story better than Ms. Bruce.


    slesinger said:
    July 19, 2010 at 4:52 PM

    What a lively and engaging woman she must have been, and her influence
    seems to have manifested itself in you.

    Thanks for keeping me up-to-date on your writing and your involment in the arts!


    Annie Griffey said:
    August 19, 2010 at 2:15 PM

    When I first met Byrne it was 1973. I attended a dance class that took place in an upstairs loft on Carteret Street. I will never forget that first class. Here was this woman of 60 plus years doing split leaps across the wooden painted floor of a loft on Carteret Street in Beaufort. An asymmetrical bluesy brubeck waltz emitted from an ancient phonograph… mesmerizing me. Like a wily spider she pulled me into her vortex of music and movement. I quickly became a member of her dance company when I boldly said I could make costumes. (a lie) But She showed me the box of fabric, the depression era sewing machine and threads. I fashioned what were probably crude garments for one of her companies pieces, The Emperors New Clothes. Through it all she encouraged me and championed my efforts. Byrne saw something in me that I didn’t see and believed in me when I didn’t believe in myself. Thus began a relationship that lasted until her death.I became an adult under her loving tutelage. In selfishness I mourn her loss .


      teresabrucebooks said:
      August 20, 2010 at 11:46 AM

      Annie – I never knew. But I’m not surprised. She was always so proud of you and she had that amazing ability to make women she “chose” feel worthy – even when we ourselves, didn’t know we were yet. It’s one of the main reasons I’m writing the book – every young woman deserves a Byrne!


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