Dallas — The Dallas dance community has lost one of its biggest behind-the-scenes stars. Kim Abel, 64, died Sept. 14 at home after battling pancreatic cancer.
Kim was well known among dancers and arts leaders in Dallas and New York. Virtually every dancer—from aspiring pre-professionals to the world’s leading ballet stars—wanted to take her class.
To me, however, Kim was a friend. I knew her as the relaxed mom you could safely invite into your house, even if you hadn’t gotten around to cleaning all the cat barf off the sofa. My kids grew up playing with her son, Buddy, and we spent many happy Friday afternoons sharing bottles of wine, with kids running in and out of the house and husbands drifting in as the workday concluded.
I knew Kim’s story: how she left home at 16 to pursue dance in New York City; how she rose to principal dancer in Eglevsky Ballet (under the direction of Edward Villella); how she met her husband, Ric, then also a dancer, while at Eglevsky.
I knew she’d done stints as ballet mistress for Pennsylvania Ballet, Ballet Oklahoma, Milwaukee Ballet, and North Carolina Dance Theater, and had developed a dedicated following of top dancers in New York while teaching at Steps on Broadway.
And I noticed that whenever we attended some dance function—whether TITAS’ annual Command Performance Gala, or my daughter’s ballet recital —the waters always seemed to part for Kim.
But not being a dancer, I had no idea why. The day after she died, I made some calls to find out.
Jason Fowler, former soloist with New York City Ballet, called from Tokyo with his take: Kim was a tough teacher, but a generous friend.
“She was always very positive, but had this ability to be completely blunt and honest on the spot,” he said. “There was no sugar coating with Kim.” Fowler took Kim’s classes in New York, and later, whenever he returned to his hometown to guest star in Dallas Ballet Center’s The Nutcracker.
After moving to Dallas, Kim poured herself into the local dance scene, teaching at Booker T. Washington High School of the Performing and Visual Arts, becoming company teacher for Bruce Wood Dance, and serving on boards for TITAS, Bruce Wood Dance, and others.
“Kim supported just about every dancer and dance company in this city,” said Lily Weiss, executive director of Dallas Arts District. “She was a master teacher…and trained some of the best at New York City Ballet and American Ballet Theater. She instilled this ability for the dancer to work on their own.”
Weiss adds that Kim is a “descendent” of one of the great teachers of ballet, Maggie Black, who was Kim’s teacher and mentor of 20 years.
Kim’s special gift was helping dancers recover from injury.
“She was magic,” said Lily. “She was intuitive. She knew how to go about prescribing the right exercises.” Many teachers simply impart information; Kim took the time to truly observe the individual, where they were and where she needed them to go.”
“She was passionate about helping every dancer to improve and succeed,” said Julia Cinquemani, a former student, now at Miami City Ballet. “She was so gifted at the details, and she gave us so much in every class.”
For its annual gala, TITAS called on Kim to lead the pre-show warm-up with visiting dancers.
“These were ballet’s superstars,” said Charles Santos, Executive Director of TITAS. “They all knew her and they were all thrilled she was teaching class. She taught the right kind of class that warmed their bodies up in the right way.”
Santos added that Kim and her husband were also generous patrons of arts organizations, including TITAS, Booker T., Bruce Wood, Dallas Black Dance Theater and others.
“She has affected dancers from multiple generations,” Santos said. “She was such an asset to Dallas.”
Kim is survived by her husband Ric Abel; son, Alexander “Buddy” Abel; her mother, Georgia “Pete” Vickers, her sister Kay Patterson (John) both of Gainesville, Fla., her sister Alice Vickers (John Davis) of Tallahassee, as well as many nieces and nephews. Her father, Mosco A. Vickers, predeceased her.
Plans are underway for a memorial gathering in October. In lieu of flowers, the family suggests memorial gifts to arts organizations or to help those in need.