Texas Border Business
The McAllen community and the American dance world have lost a legend. Melba Stewart Huber, founder and owner of Melba’s Dance School in McAllen, has gone home to be with the Lord Jesus Christ. She passed away in the morning of April 24, 2021 at the age of 93. Starting in 1958, she built the first building in McAllen dedicated to dance and continued to build the largest dance complex in the Valley that houses seven studios and a dance shoppe.
Born near Beaumont, Texas on October 1, 1927, Melba Huber hardly knew life without dance. She started dancing in 1932 at the age of 5. Her mother, Melba Stewart, played piano providing music for her daughter’s ballet and tap classes in exchange for tuition. In those days, even phonographs and vinyl records were not widely available.
During World War II, Huber taught dance to kids whose parents worked in the shipyards in Beaumont. She attended Lamar University and taught dance there as well.
Later, as a student at the University of Texas in Austin, she started UT’s first permanent dance team. In 1947, she was selected as Miss Austin. She taught dance at the historically black Huston-Tillotson University back when segregation was still in place. She opened a dance studio in Austin, but soon found herself moving to Canada where her husband, Bill Kinsolving, was transferred in his job with Sun Pipeline Company. Another job transfer by the pipeline company brought the young couple to McAllen with their two young sons. She never left.
In 1958, Huber opened Melba’s Dance School in McAllen. She built the first building in McAllen dedicated to dance on Sycamore Avenue, but soon outgrew it. She moved to the present location at 2100 N 10th Street and began to acquire properties around the small clothing store she had purchased. She worked tirelessly to keep reworking the space to best serve her students.
Now a world-class dance complex, Melba’s Dance currently houses seven dance studios and a retail dancewear store. The largest studio is as big as the entire stage at the McAllen Performing Arts Center. At least three generations of dancers have called Melba’s Dance their dance home over its 63-year history.
After diligently training staff and family members to continue the dance school, Huber enjoyed her last few years in retirement. But to the very end, nothing would make her smile more than hearing from a past student and learning what their dance education at Melba’s Dance had meant to them.
Awards, Honors & Accomplishments
Huber was the first person outside of New York to receive the prestigious Flo Bert Award at Lincoln Center. She has twice been honored by Oklahoma City University, which is considered to have the best college dance training in the world. The Texas Senate recognized Melba in 1997 and presented her the Texas state flag. In l998, she was presented the Savion Glover Award at the St. Louis Tap Festival and in 2006 Glover honored Melba at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center. Other honors are from Tradition In Tap, Dallas Arts Council, Detroit Festival, Plaudit Award, and several editions of the Who’s Who publications.
Many in New York referred to Huber as “the most published writer of tap in the world.” For 20 years, she wrote a tap column for two major dance magazines. She served as president of The Texas Association Teachers of Dancing and board member of Dance Masters of America. She introduced the first competitive gymnastics in south Texas.
Melba’s former students are everywhere in various forms of dance, gymnastics, exercise, ballroom and performing arts. Some started their own dance schools or taught dance at the university level. Others have danced with the Rockettes, Disney and in Broadway musicals.
The Three Melbas: Together Again
Up until 2015, Huber and her mother and daughter were together, living in Huber’s home. Family fondly referred to the close-knit trio as “the three Melbas.” Others thought of them as the “Steel Magnolias” for their strength and beauty. Huber’s mother, Melba Stewart, passed away in 2015 at the remarkable age of 106. Huber’s daughter Laurin, whose first name is Melba, had lived in a severely disabled state ever since a 1980 auto accident. She passed away in 2018 at the age of 56. The older two Melbas had been Laurin’s heroes, overseeing her constant care for 38 years.
Carey Kinsolving, Huber’s eldest son, calls this his mother’s greatest achievement. “With the constant care and expense that 24/7 nursing required, many parents and grandparents would have given up, but not my mother and grandmother,” said Kinsolving. “They were amazing women.”
“My mother’s dancing has only just begun,” said Kinsolving. “Because she trusted the Lord Jesus Christ as her savior, she’ll be dancing forever in heaven!
“I remember talking with my mom about going to heaven solely because of Christ’s sacrifice for our sins. She said that in a class at Lamar University in Beaumont, she studied the Protestant Reformation. She was impressed with Martin Luther’s declaration that eternal salvation is a gift to be received by faith alone in Christ alone and not a reward to be earned.
“Perhaps the gift of God’s grace she received at a young age motivated her generosity. I could write a book on her generosity to me and others. Through the years, there have been dance students whose families struggled to pay their monthly dance bill. My mother always found a way for those students to continue. Many of them assisted in teaching classes to younger dancers.”
Melba Huber is survived by her son Carey (Lisa) Kinsolving, son Keith (Holly) Kinsolving and granddaughters Lindsay Kinsolving, Emily Kinsolving and Kylie Kinsolving. She was preceded in death by her parents, Carl and Melba Stewart, her husband, Jim Huber, and her daughter, Melba Laurin Huber and her previous husband Bill Kinsolving.
Show Them You Love Them
When attending a memorial service, one may hear people express regret that the person couldn’t have been around to hear all the nice things said about them at their memorial. In 2007, when Melba’s Dance School celebrated 50 years of dancing, Huber was overjoyed when friends, former dance students and teachers came from far and wide to celebrate with her. She was glad they hadn’t waited for her memorial, saying, “I can’t believe something like this happened to someone while they are still living. I will never forget this day and the great reunions that took place with former dancers.”
Huber’s funeral will be held at 11 a.m, on May 3 at Legacy Chapels in Edinburg. A public memorial service where former students and teachers can share their thoughts is being planned for the future.