Whatever she did, she did it with a style and grace that made people take notice. You didn’t need to see her face to recognize who she was. The way she dressed, the way she moved, the way she spoke were all unique to Virginia Willoughby-Noble. And she spent half a century helping the children of this City, especially our daughters, develop rhythm, poise and styles of their own,
She was born in Amsterdam, NY on March 8, 1912, the daughter of Bernard and Grace Currie Willoughby. Her grandfather, John Edward Willoughby was the highly regarded managing editor of the Amsterdam Recorder and had a bloodline that connected him to both Ethan Allen and Ulysses S. Grant. Those credentials helped establish his clan as one of this town’s most prominent families.
Virginia was still a Senior at Amsterdam High School when she married her husband Alfred Noble in April of 1928. They initially lived in Yonkers but would quickly return here and raise their family. Virginia’s sister Rita had started her own school of dance in Amsterdam during the late 1930’s. Virginia joined her in 1947 and then took the business over when Rita got married and moved to Long Island. The studio was originally located two flights up over the Regent Theater on Market Street, where Alfred Noble worked as the movie theater’s projectionist. In 1953 the studio was relocated to the first floor of a large Victorian home at 1 Stewart Street. It would be there that the Willoughby-Noble School of Dance would become an Amsterdam institution.
Her students loved her and she them and it wasn’t long before traffic jams started forming around the corner of Stewart Street and Northampton on dance class nights. Her annual recitals became rites of passage for so many of our kids.
Her daughters Rita and Mary Lou and her son John all married and moved away from Amsterdam. Her Mom, who served as her accompanist and office assistant died in 1968 and her husband Alfred passed away a year later. But thanks to her work Virginia was never ever alone.
Her expert choreography became a key reason why the summer shows sponsored by the City of Amsterdam’s Recreation Department were such high quality and entertaining productions. Mrs. Noble could take the most awkward lugs this town had to offer and teach them how to move to music well enough to actually blend almost seamlessly into a dance scene of whatever musical was being performed. Ask any Amsterdam actor who ever worked with this lady in a summer production and I guarantee the words love, respect, fun and great teacher would be included somewhere in their answers.
Talk to the people who knew her best and they will tell you it was her impeccable style that set her apart. For example, it didn’t matter what she was eating, whenever she put food of any kind on her table at home, it was served on fine bone china and eaten with sterling silver utensils. She’d disappear for just a few moments at the very end of a dance class and reappear dressed to the nine’s like she just stepped out of an ad in Vogue. Her eyes were unusual too and beautiful. One was blue, the other hazel green. And even when she turned 80 years of age, she maintained a figure that women half a century younger labor at the gym to emulate.
Virginia Willoughby-Noble died in late April of 2001 at the age of 89. Her beloved corner studio continues to cause traffic tie-ups on class nights under the able tutelage of Rosemary Brzezicki, who was one of her favorite understudy’s. And all across this country, you’ll find former students of Mrs. Noble who move just a bit more gracefully through life thanks to this amazing lady.
The only thing Mrs. Noble might have had in common with this other March 8 Amsterdam Birthday Celebrant would have been “Those Damn Yankees.”