One more angel in Heaven

By Jeff Gates Contributing Columnist

January 22, 2014

Heaven has a new dance captain.

Vicki Arnold loved to dance.

And while she took pleasure in gliding across the stage, it appeared to make her happiest when she was teaching others to do so. For the young or simply the young at heart, Vicki was able to make even the most uncoordinated seem (albeit sometimes temporarily) graceful.

Grace may be the best word to describe Vicki — always the positive influence as a wife, mother, choreographer, performer, and friend. Even as she faced cancer, she did so with grace, dignity and humility.

Vicki lost her battle with cancer Friday, Jan. 17, but her spirit continues in the hundreds of students and adults that she has drawn to the arts. Carrying on her legacy will be her children Abby and Ben, her husband Don, and countless family members and friends.

As sort of Madison County’s version of Rodgers and Hammerstein, Vicki and her long-time friend Stephanie Stephens set the bar for years in local high school theatre. With Vicki as the choreographer and Stephanie doing the staging and the music, they were an unbeatable team.

It is a friendship that started (as so many theatrical ones did in Madison County in the 1970s and ’80s) as they participated in the community musicals directed by local legend Joyce Hildebrand.

In 1983, Vicki was on stage and did the choreography for the Hildebrand-directed “Anything Goes,” where Vicki appropriately played an angel.

Two dozen years later she directed the same show for Madison County Arts Council (MCAC) — not only handling the choreography, but the staging, music directing and orchestra conducting duties as well.

It was in a story in The Madison Press in 2007 that Vicki shared when her love of dance began.

“I learned how to tap from watching my mom cook,” Vicki said of her mother Wanda Lowe. “She would do different steps at the stove or the sink while she waited for something to boil.”

Vicki became a part of the Madison County Arts Council family in 2001 as she choreographed “Pirates of Penzance,” not coincidentally directed by her friend Stephanie.

She was an integral part of the organization ever since, even serving as president for a time.

But it was her passion for dance and performing that will be her everlasting legacy. She shared with me that she choreographed more than 250 shows in her lifetime. I had the privilege of having Vicki serve as the choreographer for the two most recent MCAC summer musicals I directed — “Pippin” and “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.” My entire family was on stage when she choreographed “Brigadoon” just a few years ago.

On stage, she was excellent as one of the Brewster sisters in “Arsenic and Old Lace,” and later on as Pippin’s unpredictable grandmother.

I loved teaming with Vicki — whether it was as a directorial group (along with accompanist Ailene Albrecht), or singing together in MCAC musical revues. We developed a strong friendship — one I will always cherish.

I would tell her I was the Anti-Vicki as her dancing style and grace on stage was only matched by my lack of it. While dancing is not my forte, she was always encouraging.

Vicki had one of the smoothest singing voices. A combination of Rosemary Clooney and Karen Carpenter, some of the best moments came when Vicki would sing “White Christmas” to end MCAC’s annual Sounds of the Season concert.

The final show Vicki would choreograph was MCAC’s “Joseph.” The musical demonstrated her great knowledge as a dance instructor — Western, Calypso, and even Rap.

As a lifelong medical professional, it was extra special that Vicki was in the delivery room when my youngest son Reid was born.

On Saturday, Reid dedicated his performance for his fourth grade St. Patrick basketball team to his friend who had passed away the night before. Reid and his team beat the previously-undefeated St. Catherine squad to go into first place.

Vicki is surely leading the victory dance in Heaven.