Robert Ivey was an incredibly gifted man, but he was even more than that: He was an unbelievable friend. It’s an honor to have known him and to be able to share my thoughts on such a great man. As I listen to peoples’ memories of Bob, it just makes me smile. Not only did he make me feel special, he did so to everyone that he came in contact with. He is one of the most loved men, by so many, that I have ever known.
I met Bob six years ago when I started at the Footlight Players as the director of development, and an immediate bond was formed. Even though it is a relatively short time compared to some, I feel like I have known him my whole life. Bob worked at Footlight for over 30 years, and I knew one of the best decisions I could make when I became executive director was to hire him as our artistic director. You couldn’t have asked for a better mentor, a better visionary. The knowledge he had, he would instill in others so they could be a better leader, dancer, actor, or teacher.
Bob danced on and off-Broadway for years and influenced the dance community all over the world. He loved ballet and all forms of dance. Even though he was in demand around the world, performing all over Europe and with the Swedish State Theatre and Royal Norwegian Ballet, he chose to call Charleston home. This is where he founded and served as artistic director of the Robert Ivey Ballet School. He would grab your hand, twirl you around, and before you knew it, you were right there with him dancing around the room.
To try to explain Robert Ivey to someone is almost impossible. He had this aura about him that filled a room. He radiated kindness and humbleness. He was an incredibly busy man, but he never made you feel like you were keeping him from his next meeting. Bob would always have the time to talk to anyone. He and I spoke almost every day. Every time I called him he would answer, sometimes just to say, “I’m in a meeting, bye.” Then he would call back as soon as it ended. I knew Bob could help with any situation that came up, even if he would just tell a funny story to brighten my day.
One of the many things I will always remember and cherish about Bob is that he believed in me, in everyone. When it seemed like no one would give you a chance, he would look you in the eyes and say, “You can do it. You are doing the right thing and I support you.” He pushed you to look beyond your limitations. He did that with everyone in his life. Whether you were a dancer at his studio, at the college, in one of his shows, or working behind the scenes, he wouldn’t let you settle for just getting by. He saw in others what they didn’t see in themselves and proved there was a talent that the world was waiting to see. I, like hundreds in Charleston, have learned so much from him and have grown in ways I never knew I could.
There is definitely a hole that is left in the world because he is no longer with us, but I know my life is better because he was my friend. So here’s to you, Mr. Ivey. I know you are dancing your heart out up there and shining down on us all. We love you and you will forever be in our hearts.
Jocelyn Jenkins is the executive director at the Footlight Players Theatre.