The man who danced for Jerome Robbins in "West Side Story," took lessons from Agnes DeMille and performed with two ballet companies in Scandinavia made Charleston his home in 1978. It was a fortuitous decision for this city.
For the next 33 years, Robert Ivey brought his talent, experience and passion for dance to hundreds of local dance students as owner of Charleston Dance Studio and director of Robert Ivey Ballet. Mr. Ivey also was professor emeritus and director of the dance program at the College of Charleston.
Even in a city identified with the arts, it isn't easy to keep an arts organization going. Mr. Ivey did. He was a teacher with rigorous standards who prepared two students for Broadway careers and one, Robert Carter, for the star position in a Monte Carlo ballet company.
His students also danced with the Robert Ivey Ballet Company, which toured Denmark, Russia and the coast of Spain, and performed in China, Sweden and Morocco and Cali, Colombia. And his work as a choreographer gave him an important role with local theater companies.
Barry Goldsmith, retired fine arts coordinator for the Charleston County School District, remembers Mr. Ivey's genius as a producer. "Robert directed a musical each summer for a Charleston County School program. ... In three weeks, they put on a full-scale musical performance as good as any high school production.
"He was demanding, but he did wonderful things for students. He helped them get in college. He helped them financially. He was really a father figure for many."
Mr. Ivey's company received the Elizabeth O'Neill Verner Award, the highest honor the state of South Carolina gives for excellence in the arts.
But as significant as any of his accomplishments was that Robert Ivey, who died Friday, inspired a love of dance in his students and in the community at large.