The Moment

May 1976

It is an election year and the First Lady's calendar for May is overflowing with officially scheduled events. Beyond these are countless other formalities and obligations which will require her time and attention. Her travels for the month will bring her to approximately 20 cities in 10 states. Efficiency dictates that in each state she will make numerous stops in multiple cities. There is only one exception: Vermont, for which there is only one stop, Bennington. Vermont's three measly electoral votes make it an unlikely place for any campaign to visit but this trip isn't about the election, it is about coming back to Bennington. She has returned to speak at the dedication of the new Bennington College Arts Center building.

True to her nature as a humanitarian, she acknowledges not only the building being dedicated but also the people who made her Bennington experience so meaningful. She expresses gratitude to Martha Hill and Martha Graham,"They touched our hearts with fire and infused us with spirit."

True to her nature as an artist, she draws inspiration from everywhere. A visit two days earlier with France's President Valéry Giscard d'Estaing and his wife Anne-Aymone d'Estaing brought Paris to mind. When she speaks at the dedication she says, "Hemingway once wrote: 'If you were lucky enough to have lived in Paris as a young man, then wherever you go for the rest of your life, it stays with you, for Paris is a moveable feast.' I feel about Bennington the way Hemingway felt about Paris."

True to her nature as a dancer, she moves with purpose into a moment and brings the audience with her, "When I drove up to campus today-what memories came back!" Forty years later with thousands of occasions requiring formal etiquette, tailored outfits, and high heels, the Bennington memories that come back are about days of "wearing a leotard from dawn to dusk" and "being barefoot most of the time" while bouncing up and down on Commons Lawn trying, as Martha Graham had ordered, to "pick up as much grass as possible with our toes."

She returns to Bennington as the First Lady of the United States to dedicate the new art and performance center now called VAPA. She has been away for 40 years but it is still her movable feast, her Paris. She returns as the First Lady but she has always carried her Bennington within her: Betty Bloomer, dancer, 18 years-old, clutching the cool grass between her toes, leaping up to the sky, her heart on fire.

From the Archive

Biography

Betty Ford enjoyed modern dance because of the way its freedom of movement made her feel. Dancing since the age of eight, it was her young life's passion. During the summers of 1936 and 1937, Ford studied at the Bennington School of the Dance with famed dancers Martha Graham and José Limón, among other notables, naming Graham as one of her strongest role models in an 1987 interview. In 1976, President Gerald Ford presented Graham with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, making her the first dancer and choreographer to receive the award. In 1991, after Martha Graham's death, Betty said: "As a dancer, Martha helped form my body. As a woman of independent thought, she helped form my mind." Betty Ford authored three books: The Times of My Life (1978); Betty: A Glad Awakening (1987); and Healing and Hope (2003), a volume that highlights six alumni of the Betty Ford Center. Betty was the first recipient of the Alice Paul Award given by the National Women's Party. In November 1991 she received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President George H.W. Bush, and in 1998 Betty and Gerald Ford were awarded the Congressional Gold Medal.

Sources:
Anderson, Jack. "In Praise of Graham and her Legacy to Dance: An Influence Personal and Professional" New York Times 3 Apr. 1991. Print.
The Bennington School of the Dance. Bennington College Archive. Summer 1936. http://hdl.handle.net/11209/3847.
Gerald R. Ford Presidential Library. "Mrs. Ford's Activities 1976". Ann Arbor: GRF Library, 1976. Print.
"Mrs Ford's Remarks - Bennington Arts Center Dedication." Bennington Quadrille Summer 1976. Print.
Schneider, Dorothy, and Carl J. Schneider. First Ladies: A Biographical Dictionary. New York: Hermitage, 2010. Print.