Stop 29: The 1965 Blackwood Studio
The next stop on the Merchant’s Self-guided tour is the Blackwood Dance Studio at 37747 Meridian Avenue in Dade City. The 1965 Sally Blackwood’s Studio and complex encompasses two historic houses: the 1920’s Fred W & Hattie Casey House and the 1920s Joshua R. & Alicia Brown House with the 1987 studio that displays the Postich Stained Glass.
The Grande dame of Dance in Dade City, Sally Atwood Blackwood has taught thousands to tap their toes and pirouette in pointe over the community’s history. The magnificent stained-glass window on her main studio as well as the stucco relief figures of dancers will catch your eye and you’ll be mesmerized, so be ready to pause for a few minutes to take them in. The stained-glass window in the center building will capture your eye; it was designed by Kevin Postich of Postich Stained Glass in Largo. Postich studied at the Art Institute of Pittsburgh and worked for Pittsburgh-Stained Glass Studios before locating in Florida.
As Blackwood’s 1987 studio and magnificent stained-glass depiction of the ballerinas were unveiled, they paralleled a magnificent recital in which actual dancers were revealed at the conclusion of the performance as they danced to George Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue before a translucent backdrop depiction of the stained-glass dancer designed by Steve Spanger.
In 2023, Sally presented her fifty-eighth recital for the community as she arrived in Dade City in 1965. She hosted her very first dance classes in the Dade City Woman’s Club the first year but soon purchased a historical old house on Meridian Avenue which she transformed into the family’s home and dance studio. Sally shared a little-known characteristic of that first house which served as her studio in a later interview as the house had once served as a funeral home.
When we first opened, children would come in and say, ‘My granddaddy was laid out here.’” Sally explained that she would reply, “the house is much happier now!”
Subsequently, they bought a second historic vintage house adjacent to the first, transforming it into another studio and storage area for Blackwood’s 600 plus costumes which she painstakingly designed, sewed and created herself. The pupils’ numbers reached five hundred or more and the class selections grew to accommodate a variety of dance forms with numerous teachers.
The two vintage houses featured two-stories including timeworn clapboard walls, wooden floors, and old-fashioned fireplace. (In regard to historic homes, the two structures were originally the households of Fred W. & Hattie B. Casey and of Joshua R. & Alicia Brown. The 1930 census registers the Brown family from Virginia and the Casey family from North Carolina. Fred W Casey was the proprietor of the Casey garage and displayed a high degree of aptitude as an extraordinary machinist. His wife, Hattie was the bookkeeper at the garage. The Casey family lived in Dade City in the 1920s until the 1940s and later retired to Deland. With the onset of World War II, Casey patriotically aided the war effort by making gears and parts for war equipment in his home machine shop to the tune of three million dollars.)
A driving passion for everything dance, Sally came from an extraordinarily courageous and talented family. Sally Blackwood grew up in Lakeland, the only daughter of Benjamin Franklin Atwood who founded and conducted a Lakeland dance orchestra and Genevieve McCleery who played first violin. Her parents had been in Vaudeville and Sally traveled with them, actually dancing in the shows at age 5 as a mascot. She remembered the USO troupe during World War II. When she was not traveling and performing, she was studying dance and working at a dance studio in her native Lakeland.
Sally’s mother, Genevieve Atwood, was also a world champion outboard motor racer in her twenties, holding world championships in 1927, 1928, and 1929.
Initially complying with societal norms, Sally attended Florida Southern College to study journalism. She admitted however that the dream of ballerinas, waltzing across concert hall stages was her lifelong passion. Ultimately, she trekked off to work on that passion in New York City. Robert Joffrey was just starting the Joffrey ballet and offered Sally a spot, which represented a huge career break. On a trip back home to Lakeland however, she reignited a romance with James Woodson “Woody” Blackwood, an Army veteran who she had dated since age 16, and was married, ending her Joffrey career, but certainly not her life of dance.
Her husband was the president of the dance school until his untimely death in 2001. He also designed and constructed the many sets for performances. Along the way he opened a furniture repair and refinishing shop for antiques in one of the original vintage houses in the complex. Their two daughters, Mary Ann and Glenda were active in the business, and Mary Ann took over co-leadership in later years.