Ruth Margaret Mitchell
Ruth Margaret Mitchell
  • July 4, 1923 - July 18, 2017
  • Marietta, Georgia

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Generations of Atlantans have been enriched, entertained, and inspired by Ruth Mitchell and the dance she brought us. Her studio was the setting of many childhood memories, and numerous young dancers had their start there. On July 18, 2017, we lost and Atlanta icon and valued member of the arts community. She established her studio and company in the Greater Atlanta area, but was respected as a choreographer, dancer, and producer of dance throughout the Southeast and the United States.
She was born in Social Circle, Georgia on July 4, 1923, to Clarence Whatley and Mary Pearl Blasingame Mitchell, and had one sister, Mary. Ruth attended Oakhurst Grammer School in Decatur and Decatur Girl's High. She graduated from Draughton Business School with a dictation speed of 120 wpm, but dance was her real interest. She studied with Alberta Benham and Dorothy Alexander in Atlanta, and in 1942 journeyed to New York City where she studied under Muriel Stuart at the "School of American Ballet" while auditioning for Broadway. Her first show was "Follow the Girls" starring Jackie Gleason, and then "Polonaise" choreographed by David Lichine, next was "Bloomer Girl" with Nanette Fabre and choreographed by Agnes De Mille, and finally in 1950, "Annie Get Your Gun" starring Ethel Merman, the longest running show on Broadway- two and a half years. When it closed, Ruth auditioned for Ruth Page and "Les Ballets Americains", a company that was to tour Europe. Ruth continued her studies in Paris under Olga Preobrajenska. "Les Ballets Americains" opened in Paris, but returned to the states at the outbreak of the Korean War because their contracts did not have war clause. The company was never reorganized.
Ruth came home to Atlanta in 1952 and married Claude Kimbrell. They had one son, Jeffrey Whatley Kimbrell. She also opened her own Dance Art Studio, and by 1957 she had organized the "Ruth Mitchell Dance Company". In 1958 as "Atlanta Concert Dance Group", her company joined the Southeastern Regional Ballet Festival and performed annually thereafter at the regional event. In just three years, Ruth's company was firmly established with a reputation for originality and creative accomplishment in its performances.
Ruth particularly displayed her virtuosity in the field of jazz, with its intricacies and complexity of form. Ruth kept her company small so that individual dancers could attain varied experience as well as strength and endurance. She also nurtured new choreography. As her friend and teacher, Bess Finch said in an interview with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, " .. The reason for the Ruth Mitchell Dance Company is to do new, experimental, creative things, to give choregraphers a chance to choreograph."
The Atlanta Concert Dance Group consisted of junior, intermediate, and senior divisions, the senior group performed under the name "Ruth Mitchell Dance Company" and conducted tours from Florida to Tennessee, in colleges and concert series, while presenting two performance seasons each year for Atlanta audiences, one of which featured innovative jazz choreography.
A 1966 review in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution said, "Certainly members of the Ruth Mitchell Dance Company tackle some surprising themes in the twice a year concerts. Productions of their fall season.mix beauty, humor, excitement, and grim horror...The Ruth Mitchell group, one of the three in Atlanta ranked as a "National Honor Company" by the National Regional Ballet Association, has always emphasized theatrical aspects and dramatic values of it's dancing as much as ballet techniques. It tries basically to be good theater."
As choreographer, Ruth was a leading innovator in correlating classic and jazz forms. She received recognition of her ability through audiences' delight and critics' approval, and by the praise and interest of renowned dancers and choreographers. Some of Ruth's memorable choreography includes, "Cindy", "Archy and Mehitabel," "Panopticon," "Dark Side of the Moon," and "Tubular Bells." Other pieces were based on popular music such as The Alan Parson's project's "Tales of Edgar Allen Poe" and an interpretation of the classic rock opera "Tommy" by the Who.
Starting in the late 1960's through the 1970's, Miss Ruth offered dance camps each summer in the North Georgia mountains for her young dancers. She opened a second studio in Marietta, and then sold the Buckhead studio and eventually also the one in Marietta yet this studio kept the name Ruth Mitchell Dance Studio. Miss Ruth thought she would retire but was asked to teach on a freelance basis and she did so into her eighties. In 2007, she was presented the Georgia Arts and Entertainment Legacy Award.
When she lived in New York city, she had attended Columbia University for two semesters. She liked school but found it an impossible schedule while performing each night on Broadway. Her dancing kept her busy for many more decades but finally at 80 years of age, she enrolled at Georgia Perimeter College to work towards a degree in journalism. She maintained a 3.5 GPA and was inducted into the National Honor Society. Ruth was a life-long learner and teacher.
She is survived by her son Jeffery Whatley Kimbrell and his wife Jenny Kimbrell, her grandson John Whatley Kimbrell and his wife Sarah Staats Kimbrell, her nephews William Douglas and Charles Mitchell Penuel, Charles' wife Rebecca Drane Penuel, and her great nephew Colin Mitchell Penuel. Memorial service will be held at Saint Dunstan's Episcopal Church 4393 Garmon Rd NW, Atlanta, GA 30327, Thursday July 27, 2017 at 2PM. In lieu of flowers donations can be made to either of Miss Ruth's favorite charitable organizations, Saint Dunstan's Church, or Miles for Cystic Fibrosis,