Trying to define a person is a difficult task.
With everything Wally Dashiell has been and done, it’s next to impossible.
Wally was a youthful German performer during World War II. As a postwar American wife and mother, Wally taught ballet, jazz, tap, and character dance for over six decades. She’s a multi-gold medalist Senior Olympian, and won the first ever Queen Anne’s County Chamber of Commerce award for outstanding volunteerism.
She’s a breast cancer survivor, green thumb gardener, needlework craftsperson, and crossword enthusiast. On her annual winter vacation she skis for hours on end. She’s thrown out the first pitch at an Oriole’s game and in 1996 was honored to be one of the Marylanders chosen to carry the Olympic torch.
In 2007, Wally was inducted into the Maryland Senior Citizens Hall of Fame.
Wally Dashiell is a perpetual whirlwind of activity and a beloved Eastern Shore icon.
Wally’s love for dance developed early and she defied social conventions to pursue her passion.
She was touring with Germany’s version of the USO when the tides of war turned against her homeland. Her performance troupe was called back home and she was ordered to work in a munitions factory. Dashiell doesn’t have much to say about those days, except “it was terrible.”
With Germany under American occupation in 1946, Wally met George Dashiell from Cambridge, Maryland at Heidelberg’s Stardust Club. Despite rules against fraternization, Army Staff Sgt Dashiell asked her to dance.
The couple married and in 1947, a son, Edwin, was born.
George brought his new family back to his hometown. After Wally danced in a few shows at the American Legion, friends started asking her to teach their children. Wally realized she had no real credentials, so she enrolled in Dance Masters of America, the standard bearers of dance education.
She opened a studio in Cambridge, then one in Easton. Parents of some of her Kent Island students suggested she move her operation there and she soon did.
Wally taught dance at her Stevensville studio for more than 40 years.
Wally is a distinguished member of Maryland’s dance community. She’s a past president of Dance Masters of America regional chapter and the Ballet Theater of Annapolis. A life member of the Maryland Council for Dance, Wally served as their faculty chairman for 20 years. She’s also been a board member for the state arts council.
Wally instructed “thousands” of students over the years. Her students started as young as three years old and she did not teach adults.
“Ballet is the foundation,” she says. “We would have fun, but even the little ones knew it wasn’t an hour of playtime.”
And she doesn’t believe competition makes better dancers. Her students helped and encouraged each other. Senior dancers were expected to be leaders in the studio.
Upon graduation from Dashiell’s School of Dancing, some students went on to study with masters and perform with prestigious dance companies. Watching her protégées accomplish great things is one of her life’s immense pleasures.
Many dance professionals have complimented her on the grace, poise, and proficiency her students exhibited. Wally believes in “not just teaching dance routines but providing students the basics for all parts of their lives.”
Her students excelled because they develop self-confidence in dance. “Dance is discipline,” she says. Wally retired in June of this year, at the end of the annual recital, and turned the reins of her studio over to a former student.
Another large part of what makes Wally such an inspiration are her triumphs as a Senior Olympian. She started competing in her sixties as a swimmer before switching to track and field. Dashiell practices in her back yard and she’s a life member of the Island Athletic Club.
Though she’s participated every year since she discovered state competition, receiving hundreds of medals, winning an event in the biannual national games eluded her until 2009, when she brought home her age group’s gold in hammer throw, triple jump, high jump, and the 800 meter run. This past July she obliterated the previous record for hammer throw in the 90- to 94-year-old female group by more than six meters, setting the new record at 11 meters, 49 centimeters or 37 feet, 8 inches.
In 2004, Dashiell was inducted into the first class of the Maryland Senior Olympics Hall of Fame.
George Dashiell passed away in 2006.
In 2010, Wally told me her goals were “to just keep doing what I’m doing.”
She turned 90 years old on Halloween.
It would surprise no one if she keeps doing what she’s doing for a good long time to come.
Brent Lewis’ sister Norma and niece Heather both trained under Mrs. Dashiell for many years. Brent goes more freestyle.