Texas Border Business –
If you ask Melba Huber about her favorite dance memory in more than 56 years of teaching dance in McAllen, she will always hearken back to November of 1987 when Broadway star Gregory Hines taught a master tap class at Melba’s Dance School for free.
Free master tap class at Melba’s? Gregory Hines?
Why would a star of Broadway and Hollywood donate his time to teach a master tap class in McAllen at Melba’s Dance School?
The answer is Laurin Huber, Melba Huber’s daughter. After graduating from McHigh in 1979, Laurin moved to New York City to take dance lessons from some of the world’s best teachers. One of the most famous jazz dance teachers of that time was Jo Jo Smith. By the end of the first week of seeing Laurin dance, Smith offered her three dance jobs.
“Laurin called me one day, knowing that I was such a great fan of Gregory Hines, to tell me she had met him,” said Huber. “Gregory was a regular visitor to Jo Jo’s studio and often watched Laurin dance. The New York people all felt that she had star quality and were carefully monitoring her progress.”
When Hines came to teach the master tap class at Melba’s Dance School, he had not seen Laurin since before her tragic 1980 car wreck that left her totally helpless and dependent on caregivers around the clock. When Hines first saw Laurin in a wheelchair at Melba’s, he turned away for a moment to hide his sense of shock at the contrast to the once vibrant dancer he had befriended in New York.
Laurin’s dance days suddenly ended forever in 1980, but the 24/7 nursing days that began in 1980 have continued for more than 34 years. For the first year after her accident, Laurin remained in a coma.
“Laurin was originally taken care of by Dr. Vincent Tavarez, his brothers Hiram and Marvin, Dr. Steven Blackwelder and Dr. Tommy Yee,” said Huber. “Dr. Vincent and Dr. Steven both came to our home to see her regularly. After their deaths, Dr. Jeff Hines, Dr Joel Solis, Carmen Medina, PA-C and Dr. Sarah Rodriquez continued her care. Laurin is now on Gracia Hospice care at our home which has been wonderful.
“Dr. Terry Posluszny has been there for us from the beginning and also takes care of my 105 year old mom, Melba Stewart, who shares a room with Laurin in my home. Both Sharon Posluszny and Dr. Terry have always said, ‘Call us anytime, day or night.’ They have been my lifeline.”
Dr. Terry Posluszny considers Laurin’s longevity of surviving 34 years after her car accident nothing short of miraculous: “With the brain stem injury that Laurin had in 1980, her life expectancy was about four years. It is virtually unheard of for someone to go for over a year or two without a skin breakdown or infection. It is amazing to go decades without a problem. This is such a testament to the remarkable care she has received all these years by Melba and her mother.”
For 34 years, both Melbas (Huber and Stewart) used their money to stretch the settlement money Laurin received as a result of her auto accident. However, with low interest rates for the past few years and monthly nursing bills around $7,000 a month, the days of stretch are long gone. Except for a small, monthly Social Security check, Laurin’s funds are exhausted.
This year, Huber established the We Love Laurin Special Needs Trust. The trust allows Laurin to receive funds for medical care without affecting her eligibility for government programs. The trust is administered by CPA Gary Lenz. Family members built and maintain the trust website, www.WeLoveLaurin.org, and Laurin’s Facebook page, www.Facebook.com/welovelaurin.
“The generosity of my former students and Laurin’s friends is so much appreciated,” said Huber. “Many have learned about Laurin’s trust through Facebook and her website. Others like Lupe Enriquez have organized parties of Laurin’s friends at my house.”
In October, Adriene Blackburn Coffey flew from San Francisco to organize a W By Worth trunk sale at Melba’s Dance School to raise funds for Laurin’s trust. Coffey danced with Laurin and grew up with her on the same street. She plans to return early next year to show the W By Worth spring collection at Melba’s.
Through the 56 years of dance at Melba’s, literally thousands of children have grown up in her dance studios with many starting at age 3. Some have followed their mentor in dance teaching careers and others have seen the bright lights of Broadway as professional dancers. But now in a twist that Huber couldn’t have anticipated in 1958 when she opened McAllen’s first studio built for dance, Broadway has come to Melba’s Dance School.
“We’re really thrilled about adding drama and singing classes to our many dance classes,” said Huber. “We’re now producing musicals where Melba’s students become a triple threat by dancing, singing and acting.”
Last May, Huber’s newly formed theatre company, Melba’s Triple Threat Theatre, presented several performances of “Annie” at the Nikki Rowe Theatre in McAllen. Proceeds from ticket sales went to Huber’s favorite cause, the We Love Laurin Special Needs Trust. Joel Garza, who lectures on drama and theatre at University of Texas at Pan Am, is heading up All Star Kids for Melba’s. “Babes in Toyland” is scheduled to be performed at the Civic Center on December 7.
Melba’s used to have a little spare time and space in her dance complex that includes seven dance studios and a retail dancewear store, but that’s all changed. Now that Melba’s is offering theatre classes, studio time is at a premium.
When Huber travels to New York, she is often introduced as “the most published writer of tap in the world.” At tap conventions in New York and St. Louis, Huber often has served as chairperson for a panel on tap history. For 20 years, she interviewed many of tap’s pioneers when she wrote a tap column for two major dance magazines. Her columns are available for reading at MelbasDance.com.
“Tap is a truly American art form,” said Huber. “Its origins started humbly with creative, talented black dancers hammering Coke bottle caps into their shoes. Tap shoes didn’t exist because tap hadn’t been invented.”
In her home, Huber has an entire wall that features the many awards she has received. The one she cherishes the most is the prestigious Flo Bert Award she received at Lincoln Center. She was the first person outside of New York to receive this award for her tap column and many dance achievements.
Huber has been honored by Oklahoma City University (OCU) on two occasions and in 2011 presented a three-day workshop for the dance department. OCU’s dance training is considered the best in the world. In 1997, the Texas Senate recognized Huber by presenting her the Texas state flag that flew over the Capitol. In l998, Huber received the Savion Glover Award at the St. Louis Tap Festival. In 2006, famed tap dancer Savion Glover honored Huber again at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center.
“I’m blessed with the mother that so many dancers would love to have, and I don’t even dance,” said Carey Kinsolving, Huber’s son. “She never ceases to amaze me with her compassion, generosity, insight, encouragement and humor.
“There are not many people in McAllen and in dance circles who are so well known that they only need their first names. My mother is one of them.”
At an age when most people have long since retired, Huber said: “Why should I stop? I’m a lot smarter now than when I was young.”
Please click this link that will take you to Laurin’s webpage www.WeLoveLaurin.com, there you will have a chance to donate.