Gwen Hammat Kagey was born in Kentucky to an opera-singer mother and a dentist/horse-trainer father. She did not walk until she was four, but then she had dance therapy and never stopped dancing. She spent her early years in Columbus and studied ballet with Jorg Fasting, the Norwegian ballet master formerly of the Ballet Russe. (Fasting founded the Capital City Ballet and lived in German Village) Gwen then moved with her family to Cuba for her teen-age years, where she developed a lifetime interest in Latin and African dance.
She returned to Columbus and enrolled at the Ohio State University for a year. At nineteen she went to New York and studied with Jose Greco, the great Flamenco master. She also performed at Radio City Music Hall. On a return visit to Columbus, Gwen met and then later married Barton C. Kagey, who sold OSU jewelry and then later was vice-president of Standard Brands.
Gwen then opened her dance studio in Columbus. The first was downtown, on South High next to Foerster’s Restaurant. In 1951, she founded the Sans Souci Dancers, a troupe that specialized in Haitian ceremonial and tribal dances. She taught, in addition, tap, ballet, modern, Flamenco, and Hawaiian dance. Recitals in the early days were on the Central High School stage. (Christine performed there in the early 50’s – a Hawaiian number and a ballet, within a child-class group, on the cavernous stage and under the whitewashed Emerson Burkhart mural.)
Other dance studios were at 144 East State Street and in the Kingsdale Shopping Center. She taught five hundred students a week, including Miss America 1972, Laurie Lea Schaefer and Beverly D’Angelo, the film star.
After thirty years of marriage, Gwen’s husband died. This did not slow her down. She went back to OSU and got her degree in Theatre in 1975. She taught in the Humanities College at OSU in Hispanic and African and African-American studies. In the summers, she traveled and studied and taught dance in Spain, France, Germany, Belgium, and Russia. She spoke several languages. She began teaching in senior centers and proved to many elderly ladies and gentlemen that they could move beautifully.
She endowed a scholarship to the Ohio State University for undergraduate or graduate level in the Department of African-American or African Studies, to attend conferences, workshops, study abroad programs or other activities.
I thank Gwen Kagey for my early childhood dance instruction and for all she did for central Ohio in dance and ethnic studies.