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NOLA4Women: Elma Moore Booker & Her New Orleans Dance Studio

“Dancing is first and foremost a healthful exercise; it is pleasure and it is an art that brings to the front, courtesy, ease of manner, grace of body and happiness of mind. It is for us to set this standard.”— Elma Moore

Elma Moore Booker, undated.

Elma Moore Booker turned her love of dance into a gain for the New Orleans community. Booker was the first Creole instructor in New Orleans to open her own dance studio. She attended Holy Ghost Elementary School and Xavier University Preparatory School. Booker wanted to take her talents to Hollywood and was invited to be a professional dancer in movies but her father did not allow her to go. He viewed the movie industry as an exploitative enterprise and did not want Booker to be exposed to abuse.

Booker channeled her talents into teaching instead of performing on the big screen. She received her Louisiana Dancing Teacher's Certificate in 1934 after she completed training at the Mildred Kohlman Studio of Dancing. She opened the Elma Moore School of Dancing where she taught classical ballet, adagio, tap, acrobatic, ballroom, and character dancing for over forty years. The date that Booker opened her dance school is unknown, but there is evidence that she operated it as early as 1933. Booker provided instruction to the children of African American professionals in New Orleans and she intended her school to be a place where students developed self-confidence and a sense of accomplishment through the study of dance. The school’s 1934 dance recital was the first of many shows to receive praise from local audiences and newspapers for the talent and skill displayed by the young performers.

Fenelia Magraff, a student of Elma Moore Dancing School, undated.

As a dance instructor and proprietor of her own school, Booker served as an inspiration to her students. Sylvia Hayden, one of Booker's pupils, would open her own dance studio. Booker was a lifelong resident of New Orleans. She ended her teaching career in the 1970s and died in 1998 at the age of 88. The Elma Moore Booker papers, located at the Amistad Research Center, contain photographs and documents from the Elma Moore School of Dancing. The finding aid for the collection can be found here.

Elma Moore Dancing School program, 1933.

Images from the Elma Moore Booker papers. Amistad’s website, newsletters, and blogs cannot be reproduced without permission.


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