By Ouisa Davis
There are special souls among us who shape the artistic landscape of the El Paso border region. Contributions from El Paso Symphony Orchestra maestro Abraham Chavez; Spanish-language theater director and creator of the original Viva! El Paso Hector Serrano; folk dancer and teacher Rosa Guerrero; flamenco dancer and teacher Rita Triana; Prentice Loftin of El Paso Opera; Joan Quarm, producer of Gilbert & Sullivan; Jan Wolfe of Kids & Co and El Paso Playhouse; set designer Bert Ronke; and the painters Hal Marcus and Francisco Romero loom large in our memory.
When one of them, our founders, leaves the “stage”, it calls us to pause and take notice.
Ingeborg Heuser, a renowned ballet teacher, choreographer and designer, died Feb. 14 in El Paso, surrounded by her loving family and caregivers.
A former professor in the music department at the University of Texas at El Paso and artistic director of Ballet El Paso, Ballet of the Americas, UTEP Ballet, and Texas Western Civic Ballet, her productions have graced the stages of performance halls in El Paso with the local ballet. students and dancers for more than five decades.
Although her journey began in Germany, she was a true El Pasoan and loved the Paso del Norte area with all her heart. It’s only fitting that she left this world on Valentine’s Day — one of her last productions was “To El Paso, With Love,” played at Coronado Country Club on Valentine’s Day weekend.
After completing her years of study at the Ballet School of the Deutsche Oper in Berlin, Germany, the German-born Heuser became a member of the corps de ballet and received her first solo contract a year later. With this company she toured Europe and appeared in six German and Italian films. His most important teacher was the famous pedagogue and choreographer Tatjana Gsovsky.
Arriving in the United States in 1948, she came to El Paso in 1953 when her husband, Joe Weissmiller, was stationed at Fort Bliss. She began teaching at the YWCA while working in the advertising department of the White House department store. She opened her first studio, the Ballet Center, on Federal Street in 1955, which moved to Raynolds Street in 1956, and later was housed on Cincinnati Street.
Heuser became ballet director of Texas Western Civic Ballet in 1960 and was invited by EATormodsgaard, chairman of the music department at the time, to formulate a ballet program at Texas Western College. In 1962, George Balanchine invited her to participate in his teacher seminars and regional aid programs.
Guided by Doris Hering and Jean Gordan of Dance Magazine, as well as her faithful friend Ruth Page, Heuser laid the groundwork for the company that would become Ballet El Paso. She brought guest artists, most of whom were friends, from all over the world.
As a pedagogue, Ingeborg Heuser has taught at the Berlin Academy, Mexico City, Houston, Dallas and Los Angeles. She is invited to replace David Lichine for two months in Rome at the National Ballet Academy.
As the first ballet teacher and director of the ballet division of the music department at the University of Texas at El Paso, Heuser created and mentored the dance landscape of El Paso. As the children grew and developed as dancers in his private studio, they were invited to join UTEP’s school for young dancers and became apprentices and performers in his many productions of ballet. Thousands of children and young people from El Paso have passed through the doors of his studio.
Many of his students have gone on to become professional dancers in all genres, ballet teachers, company artistic staff, artistic directors and choreographers, as well as writers, business owners, teachers, doctors, lawyers, artists, housewives, accountants, architects. and other professionals.
Many of his students have been accepted into major companies around the world, including the San Francisco Ballet, Royal Danish Ballet, Royal Swedish Ballet, Bejart’s Ballet of the XXth Century, Pittsburgh Ballet, New York City Ballet, Ballet West, Ballet Arizona, Grand Ballet Canadien, Ballet San Antonio and several small European American ballet companies.
Heuser has choreographed numerous ballets for Ballet El Paso, as well as in Rome, Italy, Utah and Alabama. She choreographed several productions of El Paso Opera and ballet sequences for the original Viva! El Paso! led by his former student, Hector M. Serrano.
Through decades of public and school performances, Heuser introduced El Pasoans to the beauty of ballet and laid a strong foundation for the arts community in our border region.
Heuser was an accomplished and versatile professional, designing (and sometimes sewing) costumes for his ballets, collaborating with theater professionals such as Albert “Bert” Ronke, Mike Spence, Paul Enger and Robert Phaup with stage design, lighting and technical production.
She is survived by her sons, Joseph Weissmiller and Christian Blackwell; his daughter-in-law, Jorie Ewald Blackwell; and his grandsons, Alex Blackwell and Johann Blackwell. She also leaves behind hundreds of former students, admirers, friends and compatriots who celebrate her life and are grateful for the gifts of dance and friendship she shared with them.
On Saturday, February 26, his family and friends will gather at 9:30 a.m. to celebrate his life at St. Clement’s Church, 810 N. Campbell, with interment immediately following at Memory Gardens of the Valley, 4900 McNutt Road at Saint Therese.
Ouisa Davis is a lawyer in El Paso and a student of Ingeborg Heuser.
Cover photo: Ingeborg Heuser, right, worked with ballet student Arthur Rocha in 2012. (Photo courtesy of Ouisa Davis)