In her twenties, Gloria Tuohy left the tea rooms and manicured gardens of England for the bustling American Midwest to marry the man she met at Marquette Park Beach. It was a move that lead to the founding of the Indiana Ballet Theatre, but it took a few major steps to get there.
After pushing papers and passports at the British Consulate in Chicago, Tuohy and her husband moved to Indiana to follow his work. Although she had worked in cabarets in England, she did not have a clear professional path in Indiana.
“I also felt that, though I fell in love with an American and came to make my home here, I very much loved the life I had in England and missed it,” Tuohy said.
While her husband’s salary was enough to sustain her family, it would not afford them a yearly trip back to England. She kept her eyes open for opportunities to make some extra money and to add to the vibrant community of the Region.
“Having been away from dance for almost five years, I didn’t think I would ever do it again,” Gloria said. “In England, that’s too long to be away. I took some classes, but I was already beyond the levels they offered.”
Tuohy and her husband began a family with one daughter, then a second. When her daughter turned three, Tuohy wanted to involve her in dance but couldn’t find classes with enough advanced instruction. She asked a few neighbors, and with the interest of 12 young students, Gloria and her husband converted their garage into her first dance studio.
“It just keeps evolving. It never stops. We keep advancing,” Gloria said of her non-profit that has expanded to offer classical and contemporary classes in Merrillville, Valparaiso and DeMotte. “All of that started in the garage 40 years ago.”
Graduates of the program have gone on to dance in Cats on Broadway, Sesame Street Live, Disney, and with classical and contemporary dance companies around the country. Many, like the daughter her inspired her to start offering her own classes, have come back to teach at Indiana Ballet Theatre.
After the Nutcracker at the Aerie Crown Theatre in Chicago lost their prime sponsor, the production shut down. Tuohy approached the Star Plaza Theatre to see if she could bring the show there.
“I didn’t have the money to do something like that, so I put the deposit on my charge card,” she said. “That’s how I knew I had to make it happen.
With resounding success and a little creative budgeting, Tuohy was able to pay off the deposit debt quickly. The show was a mainstay at Star Plaza for 20 years.
After her husband of 40 years passed away, Gloria met her next love. While helping at the last run of the Nutcracker at Star Plaza Theatre, he fell and sustained injuries that landed him in the hospital. He was released just in time for the very last performance. During intermission, he came up on stage, and on bent knee, he proposed.
“I’ve had two fairytale romances amongst all of this,” Tuohy said with deep gratitude for a full life. Now she prepares for what’s to come.
From her English upbringing – her father was a Queen’s guard at the palace – Tuohy’s love for historical spaces was woven into the fabric of her being. Tuohy was pained by the loss of the historical Star Plaza Theatre, and her passion for culture extends to the spaces she supports with her own business.
The Valpo Studio is in the historic Valparaiso Technical Institute, and they have plans to work in the revival of the Bridge VU Theatre.
Tuohy’s next big move, further establishing her legacy, is a new cultural center in Crown Point. She was able to secure the Lake County Sanitarium Nurses Home on Main Street, a nurses’ dormitory built in 1937.
“It’s the last remaining nurses’ home in the world, and here it sits,” Tuohy said. “It’s going to be more than dance and arts classes; it’s going to be a destination. Who wouldn’t want to visit a historic building and enjoy the tea room and the arts at the same time? It’ll be something special for Northwest Indiana.”
Drawing from her rich experiences at the now-demolished Star Plaza Theatre, Tuohy assures that its influence will be seen and felt in the new space. She has 85 seats, as well as mirrors and bars, that they’ll be using in the new space.
“Star Plaza created a culture,” Tuohy said. “We’ll be using those things in the new building. We keep Star Plaza in our hearts.”
“I wanted to make a difference in people’s lives and wanted to make a difference like my daughter, who works at Porter-Starke, and my son, who works on cancer research equipment,” Tuohy said of her contributions to the Region. “We’re all doing something that gives back to the community.”
If you would like to help support Tuohy’s goal of transforming the historic building into a new cultural center in the heart of Northwest Indiana, you can catch one of their shows like Sleeping Beauty this spring or donate at http://ibtnw.org/support-ibt/