“She scared me to death,” Jeanie Quick Murphy responded when asked about her first meeting of Kansas City Ballet Founder Tatiana Dokoudovska. She was known to most students as Miss Tania.
“It was pure intimidation. Her hair was pulled back in the tight bun with white streaks in the front and she was dressed all in white. But I grew to love and adore her,” Jeanie admitted. She met Miss Tania in the fall of 1971 when she came to Kansas City to be a student at the Conservatory.
It was true that Miss Tania had a reputation as a strict teacher with very exacting standards. Jeanie added, “She would push you past what you thought you could do… But she knew what you could do. So she would just push and push.” Jeanie also admitted the two didn’t always get along. Many tears were shed in the studio. “She would just say ‘Do it again. Do it again.’ Until I finally did what she said I could do. I don’t remember that ever changing.”
Jeanie started dancing in The Nutcracker as a freshman. At the time, there weren’t enough men. Her fine jumping skills won her the role as the man in the Chinese section. “I later found out others were jealous of me because I got a solo. I was jealous that they got to dance on pointe,” she said.
Once, while on tour with the company to perform The Nutcracker in Joplin, they realized one student hadn’t showed up to catch the bus in Kansas City. So, for that performance Jeanie went on in the largest child’s costume for party scene. She left the party early and quickly changed in order to return as the very first snowflake for the snow scene.
As a senior, Jeanie was chosen to dance the coveted role as the Sugar Plum Fairy. “It was an honor! Miss Tania took me into her office and shut the door to privately tell me I was the one who had been chosen. As I got excited, she immediately informed me that it was going to be really hard work. She was going to expect a lot,” she said.
“Miss Tania had a concept of the Sugar Plum Fairy as a sugared plum. So, her Sugar Plum Fairy was always a plum velvet costume with silver trim and crystals. She was going for reality there,” she said. “At the time, the deal was that you had to go to a dressmaker and pay for your own costume to be made. So, she took me to a woman that had done other costumes for her. We went to the fittings together. My Sugar Plum Fairy tutu wasn’t as large in circumference as tutus are now and had very simple trim on the bodice.”
When Jeanie first saw the new Kansas City Ballet production of The Nutcracker by Artistic Director Devon Carney in 2015, she immediately noticed his Sugar Plum Fairy was also in a plum color. “The first thing I said to Devon was: Miss Tania would be so thrilled to see the color of the Sugar Plum Fairy. This was the color she always embraced,” she said.
If Miss Tania Were Alive Today
Jeanie believes that for Miss Tania, having lived through what she did, this (COVID-19) would just be another blip. “She went dancing on tour with a falsified work permit as a very young person. She lived through a war, she lived through illness, she lived through so many things that I think she would just say keep moving on, keep rehearsing, keep taking class, we’ll get where we need to be. She would have pushed for all of that.”
Miss Tania’s Legacy
Ballet is an art form passed from person to person. Dancers who have danced in the roles on stage, pass that knowledge and experience on to the next cast.
“Another great memory, and something I love about Miss Tania, is when she set Les Sylphides on the company. In it, I danced the part she had done with the Ballet Russe. She learned the part from Michel Fokine who had choreographed the ballet. So, I learned if from this person who learned it from the person who created the ballet,” Jeanie said, underlining the importance of performing great historical ballets.
Jeanie believes that Miss Tania was crucial to the dance community here in KC.
“She came to Kansas City to dance at Starlight. She started the dance division at UMKC’s Conservatory. She started the ballet company,” she said. “It was from people within the Kansas City Ballet that we ended up with other dance companies and dance schools here in Kansas City. There was such an outgrowth from Miss Tania and what she did. Her dancers are all over the world now and have danced with major companies in this country and all over. She is the reason that we are here. There would be no Kansas City Ballet without her.”
When asked what her time with Miss Tania meant to her, she said: “She was there as I was growing up from a teenager to an adult and offered support, love and all that firmness that I was so afraid of and that I am now so appreciative of. Miss Tania taught me how to dance and how to be an adult. And I don’t think I would be who I am today if it hadn’t been for her.”
What a legacy to leave behind in the hearts of her students.
Interested in sharing your own Miss Tania memories?
Those who knew Miss Tania usually have a story. She had a lot of presence. She even spoke four languages. If you have a memory of Miss Tania that youd like to share with us, please email email@example.com. We’d love to know more!
Support the 2020 Nutcracker Ball
Each year, the Nutcracker Ball celebrates Kansas City Ballet and the artistry of dance. This year’s gala will still go on, but it will be like no other in the Guild’s history. The 2020 Nutcracker Ball will present a private broadcast event on November 21!
Honor Her Legacy
For more information about becoming a member and the different ways you can support Kansas City Ballet through The Tatiana Dokoudovska Legacy Society, please contact Rebecca Zandarski, CFRE, CSPG at 816.216.5597 or firstname.lastname@example.org.