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Beloved ballet teacher celebrates turning 107 with a spin on the ice

ELLENTON

Edna Alexander was the belle of the ball on skates Tuesday.

Folks took pictures and clapped and cheered as the dignified centenarian went once around the rink at the Ellenton Ice Center.

That the beloved former ballet instructor was in a wheelchair and needed assistance made no difference on this special occasion.

It was Alexander’s 107th birthday.

“How wonderful,” said Debbie Holt, one of several proteges on hand. “May we all live this long and be this sharp, smart -- and bold. I love it.”

So did the birthday girl.

“It means a lot to me, though it’s a bit overwhelming,” said Alexander, before blowing out the candle on her cake.

Another of the celebration participants was 2010 Olympian figure skater Mark Ladwig, who teamed up with fellow skating coach Bob Evans to help Alexander around the ice.

“She really got into the groove, waving at people and enjoying herself,” Ladwig said. “I think she’s ready for the next Olympics.”

A native of Bristol, England, and graduate of London’s prestigious Royal Academy of Dance, Alexander and her late husband operated a ballet studio from 1960 to 1973 where Sweetberries is now located on Manatee Avenue West.

Hundreds of girls, now in their 50s and 60s, learned about grace, poise and posture and never forgot.

“Edna was extraordinary, a kind and loving person,” Susan Knowles said. “She taught us to love ballet and classical music. We all look up to her.”

Debbie Holt agreed.

“We all became ballerinas as little girls under Edna’s tutelage,” she said. “It was that dream all little girls have and we were able to fulfill that.”

Alexander took the girls to perform at the Bradenton Municipal Auditorium, the Island Players, the Ringling Museum of Art and even the Balanchine School of American Ballet in New York for summer school.

One of those girls was Donna McElhiney, Lee Magnet Middle School dance instructor, who credited Alexander’s influence.

“It’s a passion that never leaves you if you have the right person to start you off,” she said. “I tell my students about Edna. They don’t understand what a 100-year-old looks like, but this is what dance will do for you. It keeps your mind sharp, active.

“She’s amazing. Just look at her.”

It took a bit of a ruse to get Alexander to the ice arena.

With her birthday approaching, she was asked if there was anything she wished she had done in her life.

“I never got to ice skate,” she said.

So when Tuesday arrived, Alexander was told to bundle up by Melanie Johnson, another former ballet student and now her caretaker.

“We didn’t tell Edna where she was going. We just told her a cold front was on the way, so it was a good idea to put on a sweater,” Johnson said. “Ice skating was a fun idea.

“I’m just glad she didn’t say sky diving.”

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