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DISCOVERY DANCE GROUP

Where We Came From:

The Roots of Discovery


A Brief History of Discovery Dance Group's Founder, Camille Long Hill


THE HILL METHOD... Where did it come from?

Camille Long Hill began her long career in Dance as a young child in Austin, Texas. Born a "blue baby" in 1910, Barbara Camille Long's health was precarious, but at an early age she made it clear she wanted to dance, when her family doctor was asked if it was a good idea, he confided to her mother "let the poor little thing dance, so she can enjoy what little of life she has left." Needless to say, Dance didn't do her any harm, in fact, it apparently strengthened her heart enough to allow her to live a rich and rewarding 76 years. Camille began her studies in Austin and studied Dance all her life, never assuming that she knew it all.

Camille Long Hill 1910-1987

Camille Long Hill

During her teen years Camille continued to grow taller after other girls her age had leveled off, and she was soon considered too tall to dance in a corps de ballet. At that time her interest in Dance turned away from ego-satisfying performance work to teaching and choreography. At the age of 18 she opened her own studio and began to teach, a voracious reader, she read everything she could about Dance and took master classes from all the recognized leaders. Early on she became aware of Ruth St. Denis and Ted Shawn of Denishawn. Her friendship with Ted Shawn lasted until his death. Mr. Shawn introduced her to the writings of the fabled French Elocutionist and Teacher, François Delsarte (1811-1871), whose Delsarte System, Shawn felt, offered a valuable and unique perspective on Dramatic Presentation. The teachings of François Delsarte made a tremendous impact on Camille, and would later manifest themselves over and over again in her choreographic efforts. Another young dancer who had studied and danced with Denishawn was a gentleman named Jack Cole, much of what we call the Hill Method evolved from theories and ideas developed during conversations between Camille and Jack Cole.

By the mid-forties Camille had married and moved to Houston, Texas. While still intensely interested in Dance, she no longer had a studio. One day she ate lunch at the Rice Hotel in downtown Houston, after lunch she browsed the lobby of the hotel, and saw a gorgeous bronze sculpture on display in the glass case of an art gallery in the lobby. The price was a staggering $300. Camille fell in love with it, she wanted that piece of sculpture in the worst way, but she just couldn't afford it. That afternoon she was talking to Emma Mae Horn, a friend who owned a dance studio, Emma Mae had been pestering Camille for months about coming to her studio and teaching Dance, each time Camille had reluctantly declined. When Camille began to describe the beautiful piece of sculpture she wanted so dearly, Emma Mae's ears perked up, and she asked Camille why she didn't just buy it. To which Camille replied, "Its $300, I just don't have that kind of money to spend on a bronze." Emma Mae laughed and said "If you taught for me you could buy that lovely piece, why I'd pay you $300 a term for each class you taught." The deal was made and Camille got her statue and her career back.

Camille continued to teach Dance to Houston students like Tommy Tune, and his little sister Gracey. Over the years she had developed some very firm ideas about how Dance should be taught, and in her involvement with the Texas Association Teachers of Dancing (TATD) she saw an opportunity to put those theories down on paper. She was the Principal of the TATD Normal School and decided to write a syllabus for Teachers of Dance. She and several committee members set about putting together a booklet to guide teachers preparing to be tested for certification by the TATD. The result was a slim book filled with the necessary information a teacher would need to not only be certified, but also to teach Dance properly. Over the next 20 years Camille would write numerous books on the Teaching of Dance, Choreography, Adagio, and Tap.

In 1965 Camille hosted a summer workshop and invited Houston's best Dancers to participate, at the end of summer she had a great idea, she would form a dance company, Discovery Dance Group. In 1966 the company performed in Beaumont, Texas to a highly appreciative audience. By April of 1967 Discovery Dance Group was incorporated in as a Non-Profit, and certified by the IRS as a 501(c)3.

Camille set about recruiting dancers for her young company, and in an effort to secure rehearsal space, she made a trade-out with the fledgling Houston Ballet, she would choreograph a piece for the Houston Ballet and teach in exchange for studio space. At that time the Houston Ballet's Artistic Director was Nina Popova, Michael Lland was the Ballet Master, and they were assisted by Holgar Linden. The Houston Ballet's day-to-day operations were directed by a gentleman named Arnold Mercado, whose Administrative Assistant just happened to be a young dancer named Pamela Ybarguen-Stockman. This young lady, a former student of Alexander Kotchetovsky, was a scholarship student at the Houston Ballet Academy. She also acted as recording secretary at Houston Ballet Foundation Board meetings. She was efficient, enthusiastic and just a little too tall for Ballet.

Pamela Ybarguen-Stockman & David Quintero -  Ron Sequoio's "A Time Remembered" 1974 Camille's "Eye of Me" - Pamela, Gina Kieval & Linda Sego Pamela and the late Charles "Honi" Cole in 1989

As a scholarship student at the Academy, Pamela was allowed to take dance classes from the guest choreographer Camille Hill. Camille took an immediate liking to the tall young dancer (23 at the time) and asked her to come to a Discovery Dance Group class-rehearsal the next Tuesday. Pamela went to the rehearsal and struggled through it, uncomfortable with the non-classical movement Camille's dancers did with ease. She didn't return the next Tuesday, and a few weeks later Camille called her to ask why she hadn't returned. Pamela confided to Camille that she was "too old" to start learning a new style of dance. Camille laughed and told her to be at the next Tuesday night class-rehearsal. Pamela did return and this time she stayed, performing and training with her, until Camille's death on January 19th, 1987.

Between the years of 1967 and 1987 Camille taught Pamela Ybarguen-Stockman, and as is so often the case, the student taught the Teacher. In the seventies Camille was approached by the University of Houston about teaching Dance in the Drama Department, the course was to be taught on Tuesday and Thursday, but Camille had a schedule conflict and asked Pamela to teach on Thursdays. Pamela realized that for the class to be consistent, she would have to take the Tuesday class, too. For 4 years Pamela drove Camille to the University of Houston each Tuesday and then went by herself on Thursday. It was a learning experience for both of them. They taught on the stage of the Cullen Performance Hall, with its raked floor and no mirrors. Camille was at first unsettled by the lack of a studio to teach in, but Pamela, who had learned dance in a mirror-less studio (Kotchy's) pointed out that without mirrors the students weren't wasting time looking at themselves, and that since they were ultimately going to dance on a stage anyway, learning there was a plus. In a short time Camille realized that, indeed, the students seemed to be able to concentrate on feeling the movement much better without mirrors. From then on Camille began to de-emphasize mirrors with all her classes.

Camille was a stickler for perfection, often rehearsing a piece of choreography for a full year before presenting it in a concert. Often dancers would leave the company due to this demanding attitude about perfection and constant rehearsal of the same pieces over and over, while others thrived in the atmosphere of absolute perfection.

In 1974 Pamela Ybarguen-Stockman was made Associate Director of Discovery Dance Group, a position she held until Camille's death. Also in 1974 Pamela had been hired by the Jewish Community Center of Houston to teach dance, by 1976 she was promoted to Dance Coordinator.

In mid-1982 Pamela had a meeting with Camille and told her that the competition for her time between the JCC and Discovery was wearing her out, that she was going to have to choose one over the other. Pamela explained that one of the problems with Discovery was, that for 15 years they had spent a huge amount of time re-training and re-making adult dancers into Discovery Dancers, and she felt that it was time to start training children to become Discovery Dancers, instead of waiting until they were adults and often having to undue the teaching of others. She said Discovery needed a school, a place where children could be trained from an early age in the Hill Method, and a place where future Hill Method Instructors could be trained. Pamela pointed out that a permanent home would also allow the Company to offer its dancers a place to work as teachers, so that their loyalties wouldn't be divided, as her's had been. Camille listened and agreed, it was time to test her theories and apply them to a new generation of young dancers. After 8 years, 6 of them as Dance Coordinator, Pamela left the JCC in August of 1982. The Board of Directors agreed that the time had come to open a training center for future Discovery Dancers, and a suitable facility was located.

 

Camille at studio (Early Spring 1983) photo by Jacqpea Franco-Stockman

A happy Camille in her new studio

(Early 1983)

 

In Closing...

Many things have happened since that fateful decision was made. In 1987 Camille passed away at the age of 76, her old family Doctor in Austin had been right when he told her mother to "let the poor little thing dance, so she can enjoy what little of life she has left", he just didn't realize how long "what little of life she has left" would be.

Pamela

  Pamela Ybarguen-Stockman, Camille's "daughter-in-dance", was promoted to the position of Executive & Artistic Director of Discovery Dance Group following Camille's death. Since its creation in 1965, Camille Hill's dream, Discovery Dance Group, is still dancing. The theories, ideas, and values formulated by Camille Hill, as refined and articulated by her successor Pamela Ybarguen-Stockman, are still as fresh and right today as they were in 1965, well over a third of a century ago!  In December of 2002 Pamela retired after committing 35 years of her life to Discovery Dance Group. 

 

It is amazing how well the basic ideas embodied in the Hill Method work. First, there is a conceptual foundation laid, what is the reason for the Hill Method? Obviously Camille and Pamela realized that the basic reason for the Hill Method was to codify the Teaching of Dance, but they also considered why they should do this work, and who would benefit from it. They realized that of all the students who take that first Creative Movement Class at age 3 years, only a tiny percentage would continue their training after age 12, and out of that small number of students, an even smaller percentage would ever do anything with their training in Dance. It has always been the goal of Discovery Dance Group and the Institute of The Dance Arts to Teach Dance via the Hill Method, and those who come to us and are inspired by our example to continue their involvement in Dance, are encouraged and supported. But what about those who come and only take a few years because their mother pushed them or their friends were taking dance, what about them? Our efforts are to teach those students not only the French terminology, proper placement, and all the other things one learns in dance, but also how to appreciate the work of those who stay at it, in other words, we are in the business of creating future audience members, people who grow up and love Dance.   Pam & Cole Michele in Arkansas

Pam Ybarguen- Stockman with Cole, her grand-daughter in Eureka Springs, Arkansas



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