Mary Anne Steele had an early start at Joy Johnson’s Dance studio. When she became a student there in 1979, she was just three years old. She continued her training by joining Owensboro Dance Theatre (ODT) when she was in high school.
“I was once one of the little girls that looked up to all the big girls and just aspired to be like them,” Steele said. “I was a part of this since I was young.”
Years later, when she graduated from Owensboro Catholic High School, she attributed much of her personal growth to the time she spent at the studio. Many of the life lessons found in dance she carries with her today.
“I was a company member for several years and was never the best dancer,” Steele said. “The ups and downs taught me so much. The great performances, heartache, disappointment of not being chosen for the part I wanted produced grit and character. These experiences were priceless.”
Two years ago, Steele and her family lost everything they owned when Hurricane Irma hit the island where they had lived for 12 years. At the point of total devastation, Steele just knew there had to be a silver lining.
“I was homeless. When I moved back to Owensboro I had my two small children, my cat, and everything I had fit in a suitcase,” Steele said.
With her family still living in Owensboro, Steele was welcomed back to her hometown with open arms. She became a real estate agent and started to rebuild her life after loss.
Then, one day while she was at the Owensboro Health Healthpark, Joy Johnson asked to talk to her after class. Steele would soon learn about an opportunity to apply for the executive director position for ODT.
“Owensboro Dance Theater is a place that is near and dear to my heart,” Steele said. “Life has come full circle. I never thought I’d be back in Owensboro.”
When Steele was officially named the executive director of ODT recently, she was met with support from the community.
“I have a lot of passion for this organization, so I’m excited to put my time and effort into it.” Steele said.
Part of her new role as executive director will be to help organize fundraisers, work as a liaison with RiverPark Center and help make decisions alongside Johnson and the board.
“I have a really diverse background in work experience; I was an underwater filmmaker and I owned a sailing and snorkeling charter business,” Steele said. “If someone said two years ago that I would be back in town, I would have said they were crazy.”
One event that Steele especially looks forward to through her new role as executive director is performance of The Nutcracker. When Steele was a senior in high school, she was in the original local production of The Nutcracker. This year ODT will celebrate its 26th year.
While Steele will continue working as a real estate agent, she feels honored to be given the opportunity to serve an organization that once served her. She feels grateful for the impact that Joy Johnson has had on her life and also the impact the studio has made on the community. Through the years, ODT has grown to twice as many dancers, added a significant amount of community outreach programs and promotes the art of dance through the public school performances.
“I didn’t choose to come back here,” Steele said. “Life circumstances brought me here. I am getting a sense of purpose being back in Owensboro. I feel very blessed.”