I could never write a memoir about my relationship with Byrne Miller without the help of my sisters-by-Byrne: other women adopted into her extended family. Judean Drescher is a yoga teacher in Savannah, and she found her inspiration and confidence to teach through Byrne. Judean was one of Byrne’s longest-running students, suffering through cramped classes in the un-airconditioned YMCA building way back when it was a Quonset hut in Pigeon Point Park. She said what impressed her most was Byrne’s ability to create a safe place for intelligent women to express themselves physically.
“Everyone in the class was smart and accomplished. Marlene a successful architect, Lisa a teacher – but they weren’t dancers and in a typical class they would have felt insecure or compelled to compare themselves to other students,” Judean remembers. “In Byrne’s Saturday classes they found a safe harbor – didn’t have to put words together to say something important.”
She was impressed that Byrne always treated the class seriously and with respect. She loved teaching and looked forward to the moment the improvisation part of class began.
“I’ll never forget that one day, because she knew I wasn’t wealthy and that I had to drive all the way from Savannah, Byrne asked me if I needed a scholarship. She said if I did then I would have one. She didn’t say, ‘hey this is just a 3-person class so I’ll give you it for free.’ She felt proud and strongly enough about the value of her time to call it a scholarship. Even though it was a pittance that she asked as tuition.”
I know exactly what Judean means. Byrne insisted that dance has value. That all fine art does. That it is worth the price of admission. If you couldn’t afford a ticket to one of the Byrne Miller Dance Theater performances, Byrne would find a way for you to earn one. Many a young dancer ushered at the Marine Corps Air Station’s theater, or worked the phone banks for season ticket sales. World-class dance didn’t come cheap and she never dumbed it down.
When Judean organized a master class in Savannah after Duncan died, it was the nicest studio Byrne had ever taught in. Her entire career had been danced in tiny rec rooms, halls without the proper floor for dance or even mirrors. Byrne loved to teach, regardless of the circumstances. Even when amazing, world-renowned companies come to Beaufort, companies that have luxurious studios and contracts that specify facility requirements, if all Byrne had was the YMCA room in Pigeon Point Park – that’s where the classes were held. No apologies, no embarrassment, no cancellations, Judean remembers “she gave whatever she had with generosity and without apology.”