Lost Memphis: The Marjorie Duckett School of Dance



I thought I'd chat a bit here about the Marjorie Duckett School of Dance. Do you remember it? I certainly do, because I was a pupil there, you see. In fact, in all modesty I believe I was her most outstanding student. I say this based on the whispered conversations Marjorie had one day with Mother and Father, when they came to pick me up after my Wednesday-afternoon lesson. "I simply can't teach him ANYTHING," she said. "In fact, when little Vance struggles to dance, it just gives me the SHIVERS."

Gosh. High praise indeed! Oh, how my little heart swelled with pride. After three lessons, my parents said there was no reason to ever go back. What else was there to learn? It's a gift.

Anyway, Marjorie (shown here in 1943 with an unidentified sailor) was born in Memphis in 1918. She began to teach dancing with her mother, Doris, as early as the 1930s, initially working out of her home on South Bellevue. In the mid-1940s, she and Doris opened the Marjorie Duckett School of Dance at 1648 Union. I have no idea why Doris' name wasn't included in the name of the school, but a few years later they moved down the street to 1562 Union. The building was a rambling old house, like so many that lined Union in those days. The dancing school was on the ground floor, and Marjorie lived with her parents upstairs.

For a while, anyway. Sometime in the early 1950s, Marjorie married Arthur Binford, a successful dentist, and moved with him to a fine home at 1385 Goodbar in Central Gardens. Even so, she continued to operate her school on Union until 1969, when she retired.

Back in those days, I think dancing was more popular than it is now, or at least it was more complicated — so much so that there were quite a few dance schools in town. Some of Marjorie's competitors included Eugenia Weakley, Marylee Edwards, and Sue Flack, and there were quite a few others here. I just thought I'd mention them here.

Even after she closed her school, Marjorie remained active in the world of dance, serving for years as president of the Southern Association of Dance Masters, an organization that she founded. The group, in fact, is still active today. But the music finally came to an end in 1999, when Marjorie passed away at the age of 81. She is buried with her husband in Memorial Park.

And her school? After it closed, the old house was torn down and replaced with a Bonanza Sirloin Pit. That was around 1970. I don't even remember such a restaurant in that section of Union, but that's what the telephone directories say. At any rate, the site of the dancing school is now occupied by The West Clinic.

PHOTOGRAPH COURTESY SPECIAL COLLECTIONS, UNIVERSITY OF MEMPHIS LIBRARIES

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Ask Vance is the blog of Vance Lauderdale, the award-winning columnist of Memphis magazine and MBQ: Inside Memphis Business.  Vance is the author of three books: Ask Vance: The Best Questions and Answers from Memphis Magazine's History and Trivia Expert (2003), as well as Ask Vance: More Questions and Answers from Memphis Magazine's History Expert (2011) and Vance Lauderdale's Lost Memphis (2013). He is also the recipient of quite a few nice awards, the creator of several eye-catching wall calendars, and the only person we know with a vintage shock-treatment machine in his den. 

You can find him from time to time in the pages of the Memphis Flyer and MBQ, on WKNO television, and on Facebook. When he is not exploring the highways and byways of Memphis, he spends his time sleeping, napping, and dozing.

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