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Tolo, Ore., Girl Becomes Top U.S. Ballet Dancer

Born in 1916 in Tolo, Ore., Janet Reed Erskine remembered being in a pageant at age six, more interested in her new dress than anything else, until she got in front of the audience.  She loved to perform.

Reed’s mother took her to Portland in 1924 to study ballet with dancer Bill Christensen. He offered to work tuition-free if her beautician mother would do the hair of his wife and aunt. 

Known professionally as Miss Reed, her career blossomed. Portland audiences loved the petite redhead who was so much like the girl next door, yet so talented.  In 1934, she performed the first Sugarplum Fairy role in American ballet.  Moving with Christensen’s troupe to San Francisco, she became the first American ballerina to perform as Swan Queen in the U.S. production of Swan Lake.  In 1944, she created the role of the pretty girl in Fancy Free, Jerome Robbins’ first ballet accompanied by Leonard Bernstein’s first ballet score.  She became the ballet mistress for the New York City Ballet and helped found the Pacific Northwest Ballet in 1974.

She was described as “just about as complete a theater dancer as the ballet possesses.”

Sources:  Van Vechten, Carl. "Extravagant Crowd." Carl Van Vechten's Portraits of Women, Yale , 1974, brbl-archive.library.yale.edu/exhibitions/cvvpw/gallery/reedj1.html. Accessed 15 Nov. 2016; Beers, Carole. "Janet Reed Erskine was leader in Northwest ballet." Seattle Times, 4 Mar. 2000. Accessed 16 Nov. 2016. community.seattletimes.nwsource.com/archive/?date=20000304&slug=4008172; Shults, Carol, and Martha U. West. "Dancin' in the Rain A Bit of Portland Dance History-1900-1954." Discovering Oregon Originals, ochcom.org, 2001-02, www.ochcom.org/dancing/. Accessed 16 Nov. 2016.

Luana (Loffer) Corbin graduated from Southern Oregon College, majoring in Elementary Education.  The summer after graduation she was hired to teach at Ruch Elementary, where she taught for 32 years. After retiring, Corbin worked for Lifetouch School Photography and then returned to Ruch as an aide helping with reading instruction and at the library.  More recently, she has volunteered at South Medford High.