Elegant educator Enid W. Collins dies at 83; taught students about dance, classical music, achieving dreams
“You have to imagine scores of little black girls doing ballet from someone who is so complimentary, so generous of heart and supportive,” said Keisha Turner, a former member of Urban Bush Women. Mrs. Collins “provided a safe space. Nobody was like, ‘Take your braids out of your hair and put it in a bun.’ ”
As a girl in New York City, Enid Collins took dance lessons from Mary Bruce, a famed instructor who taught Ruby Dee and Marlon Brando.
In Chicago, Mrs. Collins taught dance for more than 40 years. Her students included WLS-TV anchor Cheryl Burton and youngsters who went on to appear on Broadway and with UniverSoul Circus and the dance troupe Urban Bush Women.
At 83, Mrs. Collins was as trim and erect as when she was a teenager climbing the stairs to her apartment in the same New York building where Harlem royalty lived: Count Basie.
At her wake, her family played one of her favorite line-dancing songs: “Love’s Theme” by Barry White and the Love Unlimited Orchestra.
A South Side resident, she died Oct. 1 at Northwestern Memorial Hospital, less than a month after being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, according to her daughter Karyn D. Collins.
“She was dancing right up until the week she went into the hospital,” her daughter said. “She always had this smile on her face when she would dance. It was pure joy.”
She worked more than half a century at Chicago elementary schools. Mrs. Collins taught at Medill; served as an acting principal and reading specialist at Revere, and as a guidance counselor and acting principal at Nash grade school.
She operated the Enid Collins School of Dance at the Chatham YMCA, 1021 W. 83rd St.; the South Shore Y, 1833 E. 71st Street, and most recently, the South Side YMCA at 6330 S. Stony Island Ave. If a child couldn’t afford lessons, she taught them anyway.
“She clearly touched a whole lot of people,” said her son Donald C. Collins.
“Her support and love made me believe anything is possible,” Burton said. “Mrs. Collins introduced young children on the South Side of Chicago to an art form that wasn’t a popular activity in many neighborhoods, but she knew the value of how participating in this artistic dance could change a child’s life. Her expectations were high and her recitals were artistic innovation. From ‘The Nutcracker’ to ‘Swan Lake,’ she put so much energy and excitement into the costumes and the routines. The skills I learned from ballet I still use to navigate life today.”
“You have to imagine scores of little black girls doing ballet from someone who is so complimentary, so generous of heart and supportive and kind,” said Keisha Turner, a former member of Urban Bush Women. The rules of classical ballet can be rigid, but Mrs. Collins “provided a safe space. . . .Nobody was like, ‘Take your braids out of your hair and put it in a bun.’ ”
“That was so powerful,” said Turner, a dancer-choreographer who works with the Bay Area’s House/Full of BlackWomen performance project and the Embodiment Project, a street dance theater company.
Another former student, Kamila Jarvis Perkins, remembers how she and other kids used to try and puzzle out Mrs. Collins’ age.
On the one hand, their teacher spoke knowledgeably about the technique of Katherine Dunham, the anthropologist and classically trained choreographer who was celebrated for elevating and preserving Caribbean and African dance. Dunham died at 96 in 2006.
On the other hand, Mrs. Collins moved like a lithe young woman. “She just was beautiful,” Perkins said. “We always wondered. . . .‘how old is she?’ ”
She focused on grounding children in ballet and modern dance. Mrs. Collins taught them about the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater and Dance Theatre of Harlem. But Perkins fondly remembers when their teacher choreographed a number to Prince’s soundtrack for the 1989 “Batman” movie.
“We killed that dance at the recital,” she said.
“The discipline she taught helped me in college, in workplaces,” said Perkins, an educational consultant.
Young Enid was born and raised in the Bronx. After her mother died when she was 13, she moved in with her mom’s best friend, Vivian Marks, who lived in Basie’s building.
“She went to a camp every summer where a lot of children of the black cultural set went,” her daughter said. Located in western Pennsylvania, it was named after James Weldon Johnson, the educator, diplomat and NAACP leader who wrote the poem “Lift Every Voice and Sing.” His composer brother, John Rosamond Johnson, set it to music and it became known as the black national anthem.
At 16, she finished high school and moved to Chicago to live with her father Enoch Waters, executive editor of the Chicago Defender. Later he became an editor of the Associated Negro Press wire service and a United Nations correspondent for the Continental Press news agency.
She studied with former Royal Ballet dancers Robert Lunnon and his wife Doreen Tempest and Christine Du Boulay and her husband Richard Ellis.
In 1956, Mrs. Collins earned a bachelor’s degree at Chicago Teachers College, followed by a master’s from Chicago State University and a PhD from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, according to her daughter.
In her later years, she enjoyed line dancing. Georgia Griffin danced with her at her studio, Mz. Georgia’s Plaze, 7949 S. South Chicago Ave. “I’m 65,” Griffin said. “Miss Enid was the oldest person I know who could hit the floor and keep dancing just like me.”
Mrs. Collins dropped in to visit other seniors and often chauffeured them to church or the grocery store, according to her son. “There was an ethos of work; there was an ethos of care; an ethos of giving,” he said.
“She was always beautifully groomed,” her daughter said. “She loved a little shine and sparkle. Even in the hospital, to the end, she had her earrings on every day.”
Mrs. Collins liked to do Sudoku, word finder games and crossword puzzles. She was a member of the Theta Omega chapter of Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority.
Her husband Donald F. Collins died prior to her. Services have been held.