Mary E. Atkinson; owned dance studio

Mary E. Atkinson
Mary E. Atkinson
Posted: September 29, 2013

Mary E. Atkinson, 93, of Gloucester City, a performer and owner of dance studios in Philadelphia and Gloucester City, died of heart disease Monday, Sept. 23, at Alaris Health at Cherry Hill.

Born Oct. 29, 1919, in Minneapolis, Mrs. Atkinson was a gifted entertainer, family members recalled. She trained in dance at the Lundstrum Center for the Performing Arts in North Minneapolis and later performed professionally, going on the RKO theatrical organization circuit.

Mrs. Atkinson also performed benefits for the military as "The Dancing Majorette."

Passing through Philadelphia in the early 1940s, Mrs. Atkinson was performing at Palumbo's in South Philadelphia when she caught the eye of Lewis Israel Atkinson, who was in the service.

The two married in 1944.

Settling down in Philadelphia, Mrs. Atkinson opened the Dorothy Lewis School of Dance in South Philadelphia, teaching ballet to children. She was also a tap dancer, her daughter Joanne Howey said.

Mrs. Atkinson also played the piano and accordion, which she had learned from nuns at Catholic school, and the harmonica, which her father had taught her.

Mrs. Atkinson later moved to Gloucester City, closing the first school and opening the Mary Lewis School of Dance.

After more than a decade teaching dance, Mrs. Atkinson became a seamstress in her 60s, Howey said. She designed costumes and dresses, and at one point worked at a bridal salon.

"She made her daughters' wedding dresses, she made our uniforms for school, she made our clothes," Howey said.

"She made my prom dress - every dress I ever had that was important in my life. If you liked something, she could match it. . . . It would just be amazing," Howey said, recalling that her mother stayed up with wedding dresses on mannequins, beading into the night.

Mrs. Atkinson was a performer from beginning to end, Howey said.

"She was singing right before she died. Who does that?" Howey said, remembering the reactions of people at the nursing home: "They couldn't believe it, they said, 'Mary, you singing in there?' She was singing away! They couldn't believe it."

In addition to her daughter, Mrs. Atkinson is survived by another daughter, Dorothy M. Hlopak; son David J.; a sister; nine grandchildren; and 18 great-grandchildren.

"She taught me to love life, it didn't matter what she was doing, where she was, she just absolutely loved life," Howey said. "She was just a joy, a very happy woman."

A viewing will be held from 10 to 11 a.m. Saturday, Sept. 28, at St. Mary's Roman Catholic Church, 426 Monmouth St., Gloucester City. A Funeral Mass will follow.


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