Hedi Pope’s apartment at Ardenwoods Retirement Community is bright and airy and filled with beautiful memorabilia from a fascinating life. She was honored for her successes in her career as well as her volunteer work after she retired. We’ll get to those accomplishments, but first, let’s talk about how she arrived in the United States.
Hedi was born in Vienna in 1920. Her young life was full of family and dance in the beautiful walled Austrian city. She danced in the Austrian state theater, the Burgtheater, as well as small underground coffeehouse theaters in the city. Many of these were known for their political satire, and particularly for making fun of Hitler.
Hedi remembers the day in 1938 when Germany overtook Austria and her school closed for a week. When it re-opened, there was a new headmaster and she found herself between two friends, one who was jubilant and the other devastated.
In January 1939 Hedi and her sister secured affidavits from family and other sponsors in the United States and they made their way to New Jersey. By March Hedi was rehearsing for the Broadway opening of “From Vienna” performed by The Refugee Artists Group. She found Broadway to be “unbelievably welcoming.”
Her journey was only getting started. She was offered a scholarship to Miami University in Cincinnati followed by graduate school at Wellesley College, and finally a teaching position at Converse College in Spartanburg, SC. In the years following WWII, Hedi married a US soldier from Boston and they moved to Alexandria, VA. It’s here that she made her lasting mark.
Hedi opened a dance studio for young students: CODA, Contemporary Dancers of Alexandria. Her work with young dancers over many years earned her the affection of the city. In 1976, Alexandria’s mayor wrote:
The City of Alexandria is extremely appreciative of Hedi Pope’s great contributions of experience, time and energy to the cultural life of the community over the past 30 years.
Alexandrians – Great and Small – acknowledge Hedi Pope’s efforts in stimulating children’s interest in the arts through the medium of the dance.
We express the gratitude of the city for her splendid generosity and the superb quality of her work.
– Frank E. Mann, Mayor
Thirty years later she went on to receive Washington Performing Arts Society and the Pola Nirenska Award Committee’s 2006 Lifetime Achievement Award for “Her Vision, Perseverance and Inspiration… as an inspired and demanding teacher whose students have become leading innovators in modern dance.”
Hedi’s early retirement years spent in Alexandria, VA, were occupied by ongoing work with The Holocaust Museum.
Hedi will turn 98 in March.