Patricia Schmidt Enoch stood poised at the barre in one of the five studios at The Moving Company Dance Center in Cockeysville recently, speaking with a visitor about her long career as a performer, teacher, lecturer and mentor to hundreds of wannabe professional ballerinas.
That career has taken the 81-year-old “Patti,” as she is known in the dance world, from Colorado to South Dakota to Broadway and the high reaches of American dance, and eventually to Baltimore, with a world tour squeezed in between.
Near Enoch, young dancers, her students, stretch on the studio’s floor, their backpacks, books and ballet gear scattered nearby. Though not glamorous, the studio, however, turns out to be a place of inspiration where the beauty of ballet takes shape.
Two folding chairs sit in the middle of the large room, the floors of which are scuffed from thousands of dancers passing through. Mirrors reflect on all sides of the dimly lit studio — but in sharp contrast to the setting are Enoch’s dance movements, which are astonishingly elegant.
If the rounded arcs of her arms recall classical ballet vocabulary, then the raised, open palms have a definite liturgical quality.
Dressed in a matching sweater set with embroidered cats and tiny rhinestones, this doyenne of dance absolutely sparkles when she demonstrates an arabesque, honed from the Royal Academy of Dance ballet syllabus she has taught through the years. She follows with a perfect gliding side brush of her wrapped foot, toes pointed.
Not all is perfect in Enoch’s world, though. She is dealing with the October 2015 death of her husband, attorney John T. “Jack” Enoch, after 57 years of marriage, and has had both her hips and knees replaced.
“Every couple of years since 2002, first a hip, then a knee in 2007, the other knee in 2009 and the last hip in 2011,” the still-spritely dancer points out.
When the visitor asks her to name the source of her inspiration after seven decades of practicing her art, she replies, “My faith, of course, and dance.”
During the early years of her career, Enoch was inspired by the religious beliefs of her grandparents, who guided her through a Catholic education.
“Dance is my spiritual and physical therapy,” said Enoch, who in addition to her dance career raised nine children, with her husband, a well-respected trial lawyer for 49 years at Goodman, Meagher and Enoch. She has 20 grandchildren and one great-granddaughter, with another on the way.
Her daily routine includes attending Mass at St. Mary of the Assumption in Govans and she continues to involve herself in church projects, especially the “Respect Life Committee” for the Baltimore Catholic Archdiocese.
“Jack and I lectured at parochial schools ... until his health was too difficult to carry on,” she said.
Enoch, who is a resident of Elkridge Estates Apartments in Roland Park, also directed a liturgical dance company called Kyrios, which performed for an audience of 10,000 at the Baltimore Arena in 1976.
“Prayer dances are for all faiths,” Enoch added. “And our company, Kyrios, danced ecumenically.”
Enoch began her dance studies in Colorado where she was born in 1936.
Her father, a musician, moved the family so he could play drums for big bands in the 1940s. After the family moved to Yankton, South Dakota, the 12-year-old aspiring singer, dancer and actress was running her own dance studio. Enoch’s sister, Judi O’Connell, runs a dance center in Yankton today.
Young Enoch also commuted 60 miles to study dance in Sioux City and returned to Denver every summer to take classes in ballet, tap and Spanish dance with her first dance teacher, Marianne Koch. It was Koch who urged her to go to New York City.
After two years of college, the 19-year-old auditioned for a professional summer stock show in Kansas City, Missouri in 1955. While performing there, she was encouraged by fellow performers to go to New York and audition, which she did and was chosen for the original cast of the musical, “The Most Happy Fella,” the story of a romance between an older man and a younger woman. After performing for seven weeks in trial cities, the show opened on Broadway in May 1956.
She continued to take dance classes in New York including with ballet greats Robert Joffrey, Antony Tudor and Margaret Craske, who instilled in Enoch not only a love of dance but also a passion for teaching, she said.
After performing with “Most Happy Fella” for a year, Enoch auditioned for American Ballet Theatre, one of America’s premier dance companies based in New York.
Lucia Chase, ABT’s then-director, had earlier caught Enoch in a performance of “The Most Happy Fella” on Broadway.
“I want the pretty, petite blonde in the blue dress to sign a contract immediately,” Chase reportedly said.
As a corps member dancing featured roles and later being prepped to become a soloist, Enoch danced for nearly two years in 25 ballets, performing in great halls around the country and side-by-side with such stellar dancers as Nora Kaye, Violette Verdy, Eric Bruhn and Alicia Markova.
Enoch’s blue eyes twinkle when she talks about how she watched from the wings as Cuba’s prima ballerina, Alicia Alonso, performed “Swan Lake,” or when she met Elvis Presley during a televised taping of The Ed Sullivan Show, when the cast of “The Most Happy Fella” performed on the broadcast.
Nonetheless, the magic of “The Big Apple” paled once she met the man who would become her husband, she said.
“My future husband came to New York City in 1957 and told everyone in the dance studio, ‘I’m going to marry that girl,’” she said. “He flew to the Chicago Opera House in winter 1958, where I was dancing, and proposed with a ring on Valentine’s Day.”
In spring 1958, ABT was rehearsing for a summer world tour to Europe and North Africa backed by the U.S. State Department. The tour was interrupted abruptly when there was fire in the company’s supply truck as the company headed to Switzerland.
“The dancers lost everything, including my trousseau from my pre-tour engagement to Jack,” Enoch said.
Various performing companies throughout the world came to ABT’s aid providing costumes, scenery and music and the troupe finished the tour, including at the World’s Fair in Brussels. ABT then returned to New York for a final two-week engagement at the Metropolitan Opera House before the company temporarily disbanded to rebuild and remake what it had lost in the fire.
Patti and Jack took the opportunity to tie the knot in Yankton, South Dakota.
“[Jack] was living in Baltimore and practicing law ... and he persuaded me to move [to Baltimore] after we were married by assuring me there was a lot of dance. There wasn’t!”
A mother and dancer
Sally Wilson, American Ballet Theatre’s soloist, suggested Enoch meet with Carole Lynne at Peabody Institute soon after the couple moved to Baltimore.
“When I did my first plié, they gasped,” Enoch recalls. “Soon I was performing and even invited to dance the coveted role of the swan queen in Peabody’s production of ‘Swan Lake’ when I was pregnant with my first child.”
Multiple births hardly hampered Enoch’s dancing career. “I was always able to get back in shape soon after childbirth and have encouraged my students in this natural process,” she said.
During her off-and-on 30-year tenure at Peabody, Enoch taught and performed various styles of dance – Spanish, character dance, liturgical and classical ballet. She was a member of the Peabody Chamber Ballet and performed in Baltimore operas with her younger sister, Paulette, who continues to sing and teach voice in Germany.
Enoch taught for 16 years at Towson University’s Children’s Dance Division, supervising the kids in professional productions of The Moscow Ballet’s “The Nutcracker,” and still leads discussions of dance history with topics as varied as “Dance for the Camera” and “The Evolution of Dance.”
She began lecturing about dance at Peabody Elderhostel in the mid-1980s and continues to speak about dance at senior centers throughout the Baltimore area.
In early spring, Enoch will share stories about Gene Kelly and Fred Astaire at the Osher Life Long Learning Institute of Towson University.
She marked her 10th anniversary of teaching with Moving Company Dance this year. “They nurture their students and teachers,” Enoch says of Moving Company staff.
She has no plans to retire.
The list of her protégés, who still keep in touch with her, would fill pages in a book that friends have encouraged her to write.
“My love of technique stems from Patti Enoch’s classes, when she taught me the value of discipline and attention to detail. She was a positive force,” said Beth Disharoon Wright, of South Carolina, who performs with the Isadora Duncan Revival Co., with which she traveled to China last year. “She made sure we knew how to execute each step correctly before moving on to the next one. I would almost certainly not be a dancer today if it were not for Mrs. Enoch’s influence.”
Musician Lydia Bobes, credits Enoch for her career as a dance accompanist, currently at Towson University and throughout the city and county. Bobes’ daughter, Grace Schwartz, a dance artist in Germany, wrote in an email, “Mrs. Enoch not only gave me a really solid technical foundation for my ballet career, but she also treated me like family.”
Enoch’s family has supported her dance career for as long as she can remember, she said.
Her first-born daughter, Ann Therese Verkerke (the one she carried during her first Baltimore ballet) shares her mom’s passion for her art as a Spanish dancer and yoga teacher.
“I will continue to teach as long as I can ... and practice my faith ... and support my family,” Enoch said.
As her visitor is about to depart the dance center, Enoch ends the conversation with her signature, “God’s blessings.”
This story has been updated from an earlier version.