Dance, believed Emily Stubbs, long a leading lady in Sonoma County’s arts and culture scene, was one of life’s greatest gifts. It was one that Stubbs celebrated, and generously paid forward.
Stubbs learned ballet somewhat late in life, in her 30s, then taught it for more than 60 years, beginning at her Santa Rosa School of Ballet, the city’s first ballet school. She created the foundation that became the Santa Rosa Dance Guild and provided scholarships that allowed many young, local dancers to receive advanced training.
Stubbs, who also for a time played the flute with the Santa Rosa Symphony, said in a 2002 interview with The Press Democrat, “There is music everywhere, and our goal is to get as many people as possible to subscribe to some form of movement to dance.”
She died June 5 at a Santa Rosa care home. She was 98.
Her husband and dance partner was the late Roy Stubbs, an auto-parts retailer and founding member of the Wild Oak Saddle Club.
“They knew a lot of people,” said son Jeffry Stubbs, of Mendocino. “They were great ballroom dancers. They danced like Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers.”
The pair met at Santa Rosa High School in the mid-1930s and married in 1942, before Roy Stubbs went off to serve in World War II. His wife, the former Emily Jones, studied music and art at UC Berkeley, then continued at Ohio State University on a scholarship.
Though as a young woman she loved to dance, music was her primary focus. In addition to performing on the flute for 13 years in the 1940s and early ’50s under founding Santa Rosa Symphony conductor George Trombley, she also played the piano and piccolo.
She was into her 30s when she enrolled in San Francisco Ballet School. A few years later, in the mid-1950s, the departure from Santa Rosa of the city’s only classical dance instructor prompted her to begin teaching.
She opened the Santa Rosa School of Ballet on Highway 12 in Rincon Valley. Often, the students’ performances were held at the Saturday Afternoon Club. Endlessly persuasive, Stubbs recruited Santa Rosa Symphony musicians to accompany performances of “The Nutcracker,” “Sleeping Beauty” and “Swan Lake.”
Early on, Stubbs perceived a need to offer scholarships as a means of encouraging young people to pursue dance. So in 1958 she announced to the community that an anonymous donation had allowed the creation of a ballet guild.
Later, she conceded the benefactor was herself. She enlisted more members to what was later named the Santa Rosa Dance Guild, which existed for the purpose of raising money and granting scholarships to aspiring dancers.
The Guild celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2008 with a luncheon at the Flamingo Hotel. The celebration’s guest of honor was Stubbs, who was 90 and still teaching ballet.
The ballet school she founded more than six decades ago morphed and changed hands. Stubbs branched out, opening schools that operated out of St. Helena’s Vintage Hall, a recreation center in Calistoga, Kenwood Community Church, Cloverdale’s Grange Hall, a school hall on the lower Russian River and Healdsburg’s golf course clubhouse.
“She taught me to dance from the heart, because she loved it so much,” said Anna Bribiescas, a former student who became a teacher,