Family brings ballroom legacy to Marshall, offers classes at Weisman home
Robin Y. Richardson
Jan. 8, 2017 at 4 a.m.
Ballroom dancing is what brought Mark and Brenda Judkins together, as two college kids, searching for the best partner in class.
It's also what brought their daughter, Linsey, and husband, Jeffrey McBride, together, as young protégés in the Judkins' dance group.
And now that they've settled into the historic Weisman-Hirsch home in Marshall, it's what both couples, owners of MJS Dance Studio and the nonprofit Social Dance Association, hope will bring others together, too.
"We really believe Marshall needs this," said Linsey, who along with her husband will be moving their free dance night events from Longview to the Marshall Visual Art Center this spring.
Right now, the couple, who recently moved into the grand Victorian-era home at 313 S. Washington Street, offers private ballroom lessons inside of their large, open parlor room, which boasts a graceful appeal and immaculate hardwood floors, fit for dancing.
"He's a Marshallite. And we've been married five-and-a-half years," Linsey said. "I've come from Longview seeing a little bit, so I'm so happy to come here and bring this and really let people know about it."
Ballroom dancing offers the perfect opportunity to create bonds, her father Mark believes.
"That's the whole thing, it's social," Mark said. "That's where this house becomes very important because this house is a grand example of the social graces; and that's why our nonprofit with Social Dance Association, and all, becomes very important because dancing is one way to learn about etiquette, but also a home like this and a setting like this, when you just come in for a ballroom lesson, you're already in a home that is full of etiquette.
"It is a grand example of it," he said of the home, which was once the residence of Marshall's most prominent merchant, Joe Weisman. A New York native, Weisman moved to Marshall as a teen with his family and opened up the first department store in East Texas years later, including the one in Marshall on North Washington Avenue, offering elegant findings.
The perfect place
The home was renowned as "the finest home in Marshall," former owner and local historian Gail Beil wrote in a published paper in which she shared her family's 1970s journey of restoring the home into the adored dollhouse it once was.
It's exactly what the McBride and Judkins families were looking for when they decided to settle in Marshall.
"We came out and we realized they needed a place to teach," Mark said of Linsey and Jeffrey. "It needed to be here in Marshall and we couldn't find a place to teach. We looked at renting a place. We looked at buying a building and we just couldn't find it."
He said at the time, he and his wife, who live in Utah, were looking for a home to eventually retire to. They had already spent 12 years in Longview before moving back to Utah, and figured Marshall would be a great place to stay. Thus, when Linsey and her husband called to disclose their interest in continuing the ballroom dancing legacy, the Judkins asked them to consider Marshall.
"We love the historical part of it. There's so much history. The people are tremendous," Brenda said of the town.
Brenda had always admired the old Weisman home. Through their search, they discovered it was for sale.
"I was doing my searches and she said, 'Let's look at homes with parlors, so we could teach in one of the parlors,'" Mark recalled. "Well, this home came up. We didn't even know it was for sale."
They felt it would be a great home for the McBrides and their nonprofit organization. Linsey said Beil, the former owner, really wanted a family to have it. The home, boasting nearly 14 rooms, was the perfect place for Linsey and her husband, who were both reared in large families.
"I'm one of seven and he's one of eight," she said.
Mark said they're happy that it's become a home for not only his daughter and son-in-law, but their nonprofit organization as well. He and his wife are thrilled about the opportunity the couple has to share their passion of dancing there.
"When you go back to the original owners that she bought the home from, the Weismans, what a legacy of kindness and loving and giving, and so it just made me feel like this was the home for our nonprofit organization and for this to be a giving home," Mark said.
"We do feel that owning this house is a commitment to the community and this cannot be a house that has a shut door that doesn't let people in," he said. "This needs to be a house that brings people in and teaches about this period of time, which was so beautiful."
Legacy of dancing
Mark, whose profession is construction, gained a love for ballroom dancing as the president of his ballroom dance club in high school. He met his wife Brenda in dance class in college.
"I never new ballroom, so it was all knew to me," Brenda said. "I wanted to be as good as he was, so I worked extra hard, so I could be his partner because a lot of girls wanted him to be their partner because he knew how to lift them over his head and do these amazing aerials and I had never done it.
"Eventually we became partners and we enjoyed each other so much," she said. "We just felt like we danced so well together. We started to compete and we were pretty good."
In 1984, they fulfilled their dream, participating in an open cabaret at the college's international ball, which showcased the international styles of competitive ballroom dancing.
"He wanted to win it. I wanted to do it with him. And so, on March 31 of '84, we won dancing, together, first place," Brenda said.
After that, the couple walked away from competitive performance to raise their family of seven children.
"We just felt like because that was our dream and we fulfilled it, we could walk away and feel fulfilled," Brenda said.
Dancing stayed with them, however, as they went around teaching friends, church members and volunteering their gifts for charity.
"It wasn't until we came to Texas that we felt there was a real need and an opportunity to really do more and it kind of started through Linsey's high school," Brenda said.
They choreographed Longview's first Dancing with the Stars affair to raise money for school uniforms.
"We got some stars in the community and the kids (to dance together)," Brenda said. "The whole evening was magical."
Linsey, who was 15 at the time, participated as well. It was the start of her dancing career.
"I did the jive," Linsey recounted.
She said the event was more of a social event than the performance dances her parents would compete in while in Utah. In East Texas, they discovered that people, in general, just want to go dancing.
"They don't want to perform (and have costumes)," Brenda said. "They just want to go to a place where there's really decent people and so we wanted to provide lessons for whoever wanted to learn."
"We volunteered, but through that, we started a nonprofit, a dance business (that sparked from there)," Brenda said.
Their nonprofit, formerly East Texas Ballroom Dance Association, provided ballroom lessons to adults and age appropriate youth.
"We decided we would teach anybody, even people that came in work boots," Brenda said.
The lessons grew into hosting free ballroom dance nights, allowing participants to showcase their new moves.
"We decided to make them free so that there wouldn't be any excuse not to come," Brenda said.
A different lesson was offered every time, from the foxtrot to the swing and the merengue.
"We wanted to get into social ballroom (lessons where) you could dance at a wedding. You could go ballroom dancing, but not necessarily competition; so, if you wanted to perform, we could add a few more things to the social dance and you could perform," Mark said.
"The tango was the most popular," he said, describing it as easy to remember with a "slow, slow, quick, quick, hold" rhythm.
Eventually, Jeffrey, a native of Marshall, would make the commute to Longview to be a part of the Judkins' youth ballroom dance performance team. Linsey met him a little later after she returned to the group, following college. The two have been dancing through life together ever since.
"We were hoping she'd meet this guy because we already knew him," Mark teased.
"They had practically adopted him, already," Linsey blushed, sharing how her family had fallen in love with him.
Brenda said like her daughter and son-in-law, many of the homeschoolers on the performance team met their mate through dance.
"We watched some of these kids grow up and a couple of them marry each other and it was really neat," she said.
Jeffrey, who was trained in clogging and hip hop styles, said he discovered the Judkins after traveling to Tyler for several years to ballroom dance.
"I'd go to Tyler and then, low and behold, they had been in Longview the whole time so I was like 'wow,'" he said of learning about the Judkins' class.
Mark said Jeff had a mean swing dance.
"He could swing dance like nobody else … so fun to watch," said Mark.
Ironically, Linsey loved swing dancing, too.
"That's our favorite," said Jeff, noting they won a swing dance competition together, a month before they married.
Linsey enjoys dancing with her husband.
"We do a lot of fun footwork," she said.
New year, new ventures, new location
This month is the last that the McBrides plan to host the free ballroom nights in Longview before starting them in Marshall. The couple decided to dabble in hosting the events themselves after the Judkins retired from doing it three years ago.
"We loved doing it and we missed it," Jeffrey said, noting they relaunched them a year ago.
Linsey also decided to teach private lessons just like her mother, who taught herself to teach both men and women.
The lessons are fitting in well with the couple's young family.
"We've got a 4-year-old and a 2-year-old, so we're adjusting," Linsey said.
The Judkins are honored to see them follow in their footsteps.
"They are the ones that told us they wanted to do it, and so we've just been a support," Brenda said.
The parents are even more thrilled about them moving the program to Marshall.
"They've got their first one in Marshall scheduled for April 15," he said.
Women are encouraged to wear comfortable modest dresses or skirts and men are urged to wear a shirt and tie for a classy, fun night.
The family anticipates the events to grow, attracting individuals locally and beyond.
"A lot of these dancers, they'd drive to Shreveport, so why won't they just drive to Marshall," Mark said.
For private dance lessons contact MJS Studio at MJS Dance Studio at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 903-702-2548.