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Moira Allen, dancing queen

Ballroom Dancing

Everything you wanted to know about the director of student affairs’ past as a competitive ballroom dancer, from puffy frocks and chassés to the dental students she coaches to this day

In your mind’s eye picture the fox trot, with its smooth, flowing movements set to big band music. No doubt you can visualize the stylish and elegant waltz. But the samba — perhaps you weren’t aware the samba can get precarious.

Moira Allen has firsthand experience with this fact from her former life in New Zealand, one she spent as a competitive ballroom dancer.

“We were doing the samba, and someone caught their heel in my shoe, which took it halfway off,” Allen says. “I couldn’t get the shoe completely off because I was wearing a Band-Aid and my shoe was stuck to it. You can’t exactly dance with half a shoe on.

“My partner was like, ‘What are we going to do?’ I said ‘Pick me up, and lift, and I’ll kick my shoe off.’”

It was a good idea in theory — until the shoe flew off Allen’s foot, bounced off the floor and promptly smacked the judge in the shin. Once the marks were tallied, the judge marched across the dance floor and presented Allen with her wayward garment. The most surprising part: The snafu didn’t affect their scores.

As she speaks, Allen glances toward the hallway, noting the lack of student traffic near her door. It’s a rarity in her corner of the fifth floor.

Moira Allen

WITH A FLING AND A LILT: Moira Allen, donning one of her many
Scottish Highland dance costumes worn during childhood competitions

 Photo courtesy Moira Allen

If students were nearby, they might have overheard her story, even been tempted to ask her to lend her expertise. It wouldn’t be the first time.

Not to say that Allen, director of student affairs and 25-year staff member at the college, would mind. She often goes above and beyond the requirements of her job description to serve as an ad-hoc dance instructor for nuptials-ready dental students.

“There is no normal in student affairs.
There is no normal in dance.
And therefore, the two go together quite well.”

— Moira Allen

Until now, Allen’s past as a competitive ballroom dancer may have been a well-kept secret, unlike her preference for heels (today she’s scooting around in wedges several inches high).

“But somehow students just find out, and then they come and ask me if I’ll teach them a dance for their weddings,” Allen muses. “I’ll put together a piece for them so they don’t get stage fright. I don’t charge them anything. I just do it, for love of the kids. 

“There you go, and there is my dancing career,” she announces succinctly.

Generations of dance

Used to be, Allen would spend hours a day rehearsing. Until she was in her early 20s, her time was consumed with eight counts, frilly costumes and even appearances on 1960s New Zealand TV programs reminiscent of today’s “Dancing with the Stars.”

When she was just a little girl, then in Scotland, Allen learned to dance the St. Bernard’s Waltz on her father’s feet. By the time she was four, she took up Scottish Highland dancing under illustrious master Bobby Watson, where her claim to fame was a ride on Olympic swimmer and “Tarzan the Ape Man” star Johnny Weissmuller’s shoulders when he was a judge at a Miss Universe performance.

When her family moved to New Zealand, Allen added tap to her repertoire, and later, competitive ballroom dancing. Between performances, Allen and her dance partners were often hired as floor entertainment for weddings.

She passed on her love of dance to daughter Rhonda, a former soloist with Ballet Dallas and a principal dancer for the New Jersey and Carolina ballets.

Who knew Allen’s dance experience would serve her well decades later and half a world away at a dental school in Dallas?

Moira Allen

PRESENT DAY: Allen, now director of student affairs 

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Rules of engagement

Dr. Alice-Ann Thompson Alcorn ’11 still carries with her one of Allen’s key dancing lessons: “No matter whose toes get stepped on, it is always the woman’s fault!” Alcorn recalls.

Throughout several sessions, Allen choreographed Alcorn’s and her husband’s first wedding dance and even taught the pair the rumba and several other numbers.

“Moira is extremely dedicated to her students and is always willing to help them out in any way she can,” says Alcorn. “She is always looking out for their best interests.”

In the weeks leading up to their wedding, Dr. Diego Hurtado ’12 and his wife, Micela, learned a fox trot under Allen’s tutelage.

“Originally it was going to be something more complicated,” Hurtado says. “As soon as she saw my lack of dance skills, she simplified it for me.

“Moira literally had to pair my dance steps with words for our wedding dance because I couldn't hear the beat. I was probably her toughest dance lesson,” he jokes.

Despite the obstacles, Hurtado says Allen remained excited to teach them.

“Moira goes above and beyond in her commitment to students. Whether it's dance lessons on her days off or going to the hospital when you are sick and your family can't be there, she does it.”

Point of balance

One September Friday, Allen strode into the recruitment and admissions office where she had an idea for Executive Director Dr. Barbara Miller, whom Allen accompanies once a month to the Dallas County Jail to teach dance to female inmates through Resolana, an educational and arts program for incarcerated women.

“She had kicked off her shoes and was showing us a dance she thought the ladies in the jail would enjoy,” Miller says. “When we got to the jail on Friday, the ladies did really enjoy the dance that she had made up.”

Allen’s dancing abilities are no secret to Miller, whose daughter also was a beneficiary of her pre-wedding choreography sessions.

Miller says Allen’s artistic background helps her keep up with the college’s active students.

“Her job goes well beyond 8 to 5; students have her phone number, and she meets with them and attends their association’s meetings and hangs in there with them at their school-sponsored activities,” says Miller. “She has that energy, and I think the dance helps with all of that.

“I think our students are much more likely to be successful with what they’re doing if they feel supported. She’s a big part of that support we have for our students.”

Even on a Monday morning, Allen’s energy is boundless as she re-enacts the dance she taught at the jail that previous Friday.

“It’s a cha-cha,” she says, feet quickly whipping back and forth, although this time she keeps on her high heels.

Allen offers up a fitting parallel: “There is no normal in student affairs. There is no normal in dance. And therefore, the two go together quite well.”