Patricia Klekovic aka Miss Patty is second from the right.
By Laurie Toth
No one, who saw her dance, could ever forget seeing Patricia Klekovic dance the role of Snow Queen in Nutcracker. I was just a child when I was taken to the Arie Crown Theatre to see the Ruth Page performance of Nutcracker. I knew after that night I would never be happy unless I took ballet! But never did I imagine years later I would have her as one of my teachers. She taught me to dance on pointe and to be totally honest I still can’t believe how something so beautiful as a pair of toe shoes could hurt your feet as much as they did those first few weeks of learning!
So, who was Patricia Klekovic, Miss Patty to her adoring students, and how did she get her start?
Patty began taking ballet classes at the tender age of three at a local neighborhood school on 22nd and Marshall. By the time she was 11 years old she easily won a scholarship competition to attend the Edna McRae School of Dance. Edna McRae was one of the leading dance schools in Chicago for training professional dancers. Edna was a force to be reckoned with and well worth her own article in the future.
When Patty was 16 she was hired by Dorothy Hild of the Dorothy Hild dancers of the Edgewater Beach Hotel. Dorothy needed an extra dancer for a summer dance routine called “Autumn Leaves”. I asked Patty once how she got to the Edgewater Beach Hotel and more importantly how did she get home so late at night; her response was she took the Red Line to her home in the Near South Side. Very different time.
Patty is again second from the right.
As a teenager, Patty was discovered by Ruth Page and joined her Chicago Opera Ballet in the Corp de Ballet. She was so talented that Miss Page would create choreography on her that would later be used on the visiting guest artists. She fast progressed to becoming the Prima Ballerina, a role all little girls in tutu’s dream of. Patty once said in an interview that Miss Page “made her a ballerina”! When the Nutcracker began in 1965 at the Arie Crown Theater, Patty was the Snow Queen. Ruth Page choreographed the role of Snow Queen for Patty and she was in most versions. Patty also danced the lead roles in the “Merry Widow”, “Camille”, “Fledermaus” and “Carmen” to name a few.
When Ruth Page’s first husband, Thomas Fisher, died in 1969, Ruth took Patty to Europe with her for several months, spending most of their time in Paris. Several letters from various company members mentioned hoping that Patty was having a fabulous time. Ruth Page mentioned Patty preferred to visit the Cathedrals to the Paris nightlife.
Patty is standing in the back center of this group of young dancers.
In 1970 the Lyric Opera decided ballet was too expensive and disbanded the full-length ballets within the Opera productions. It was at this point that Patty and her partner Kenneth Johnson accepted roles as principal dancers with the Pittsburgh Ballet. This is where Patty met and married the love of her life, a Pittsburgh Ballet dancer, Rodney Irwin. They returned by 1975 to teach at the newly created Ruth Page School of Dance, where both became teachers and performers in The Nutcracker each December. Sadly, Rodney passed away in 2007.
Patricia Klekovic today.
In a few weeks, a whole new class of baby ballerina’s will enter Ruth Page School of Dance and begin their training with Miss Patty as she continues to teach ballet to aspiring young dancers.
Newberry Collection, Edna McRae Files