Marilyn Fordney Interview – June 30, 2013
In keeping up with “interesting dance people,” we think you’d like to know about, there is probably no one more engaging than the person I’m presenting to you this week.
It was my pleasure to sit down and interview the very impressive Director and Founder of Fordney Foundation to find out who this diminutive woman with an infectious smile and a ton of energy is. Marilyn Fordney is first and foremost in her field of expertise. Having worked in the medical assisting field, she became an instructor/educator and subsequently wrote textbooks garnering four national awards for her extraordinary, precise work. She is renowned in America for having written text books used to train people for medical insurance billing, coding and administrative medical assisting jobs.
Marilyn Fordney, Director and Founder,
There is also Marilyn Fordney the artist, who creates beautiful jewelry and fascinating art pieces with rocks and seashells just to name a few things. This humble woman is also a dancer who has competed in ballroom dance in both International and American styles and worked up to silver level.
FB: At the young age of 12 you were studying ballet and tap. Is this something you wanted to do? Or were your parents making these decisions for you?
MF: My mother knew a few tap dance steps and began teaching me these at about age 8. We were too poor to afford dance lessons so I began to babysit for neighbors and once a week used these funds to take the electric car to Exposition Park in Los Angeles for a free ballet class. The lady I babysat for wanted her eldest daughter to take dance lessons so eventually two of my sisters and the little girl I babysat went to a local dance studio to take tap and ballet classes.
FB: What was your first performance in dance?
MF: At my elementary school, my class prepared a spring performance that featured a dance sequence on stage. The lead dancer got sick the night of the event and I fit into her dress so I was elected to dance in her place. I was nervous and really didn’t know the dance steps but I danced and everyone thought I was doing the dance.
FB: Tell us about your career in dance?
MF: When I got to high school, I took the bus after school to attend ballet classes at a school located on Western Avenue in Los Angeles. We learned the Cecchetti method of ballet. Two of the students tried out at Twentieth Century Fox to dance in the film “The King and I.” They were picked and they told me to try out so I did and became their backup in case they got injured or sick. Jerome Robbins was on the sound stage every day with Michiko and Yuriko from the New York Broadway cast and they taught us the Balinese dances. I got to meet Yul Brynner when he visited the rehearsals one day.
FB: What is your most unforgettable experience in your dance career?
MF: When I had to make a decision to become a dancer or remain as a medical assistant for a physician. After I learned the Balinese dances, I was asked to sign a contract for 3 months. The physician I worked for was at a medical meeting and his father who shared the same office said I needed to make a decision about my career. I decided to remain as a medical assistant because it would have been difficult to obtain dance work as an Asian at that time, as very little was available for Asian dancers.
FB: How did you segue into academia? Especially in the field you chose? Were you still dancing as you were pursuing your academic career?
MF: I began working in a baby shop on weekends from the age of 15. When I graduated high school, I began working the following Monday for an orthopedic surgeon as a medical transcriptionist. At that time, dictation was taken in shorthand and I learned that in high school. For five years I attended an adult evening school taking medical terminology in shorthand and transcribing my notes. One day the teacher of that class asked me if I would be interested in teaching at a government funded school in Pacoima. This entailed teaching medical terminology and medical transcription. I tried out for the position, was hired, and liked teaching very much. I obtained three teaching credentials based on my 14 years of work as a medical assistant. My family could not afford to pay for my college so I never obtained a degree.
FB: What is your favorite dance?
MF: I like all dances so I do not have a favorite.
FB: When did you decide to compete in ballroom dance?
MF: After my first husband died in 1997, I took up American style ballroom dance sport.
FB: We know with your love for dance, you created the Fordney Foundation in May of 2002. What will be the one thing that would make you the most proud in your achievements of this organization?
MF: It has always been my goal to be part of the Olympics as a sponsor of ballroom dance sport and I hope that one day this will become a reality. It would be wonderful to see young ballroom dance sport dancers representing the United States at the Olympics.
FB: What do we not know about you, that everyone would be surprised to learn about you?
MF: I have had a passion for sports cars since I was a child and volunteered at the sports car races during the 1960s and 1970s. I made many friends and eventually married the track announcer. Because he interviewed the winners, organizers, and sponsors, we traveled a great deal and I met many celebrities all over the world.
FB: Do you have a message for the young boys and girls you represent competing in today’s dance world?
MF: If you have a passion to dance, always keep dancing and thinking positively that you will make a difference in your life and in the lives of others by sharing your love of dance.
FB: I’ve seen some of the art you create and it is quite fabulous. Did you ever take art classes to learn how to do some of the crafts you are so very talented at, or are you just a natural born artist?
MF: I took ceramic art classes and Japanese sumi-e painting at UCLA, art history at the University of Southern California, painting classes at Beverly Hills Adult School and Dorsey Adult School, and private lessons from Leon Salter to learn how to do oxygen acetylene welded sculptures using automobile parts. They were kinetic. I never obtained a degree in art but studied both fine art and folk craft from various instructors.
I want to thank the multi-dimensional and fascinating Marilyn Fordney for taking time out of her busy schedule to speak to me, so that our readers can learn a little bit more about who she is and what the Fordney Foundation means to her.
I would also like to say again, how exquisite and unique the many forms of art that Marilyn creates are. A lot of what she creates takes great patience and time; and in many cases is a lost art and not practiced by many artists at all. Marilyn Fordney’s ability to give back is exceptional and a true gift to this world!
Marilyn Fordney congratulating one of the elementary school dancers in the Ballroom Team Match at US National Amateur DanceSport Championships held in March 2012 at Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah