The Mamie Barth Dance Studio was situated on the second floor of a Liberty Avenue building that also housed a Turkish steam bath in downtown Pittsburgh, PA. Beginning at the age of eight, Josie Metal took a bus, by herself, from her neighborhood in the suburbs, into downtown Pittsburgh for dance lessons. After getting off of the bus, she still had to walk several blocks past stores and theatres, the likes of which she’d been cautioned not to take a peek. Later, as an adult, she learned that her mother called her father, who was a watchmaker downtown, to let him know when Josie got on the bus. Her father would look out for her to get off of the bus and then, unbeknownst to Josie, he would follow along with her on the opposite side of the street.
Around the same time that she began her studies at the Mamie Barth studios, another opportunity presented itself. The Pittsburgh public school system was given a grant. Teachers were asked to choose two students from the third grade who they judged to have artistic talent (Hopper). Josie was one of the students chosen to attend the Tam O’Shanter art classes at the Carnegie Museum of Art. Selected students were referred to as Tam O’Shanters. Every Saturday morning, from third grade through high school, Josie attended art classes as a member of the Tam O’Shanters. Inside the museum, the students would stand next to Brontosaurus Hall, one of the largest dinosaur exhibits in existence, awaiting entrance inside for their art lessons. Lessons, made up of viewing, appreciating and creating art were held in different galleries. “In high school, we were at Carnegie University with live models, so it was quite a deal” (Metal-Corbin, 19 Apr. 2017). Little did Metal-Corbin know then, that her exposure to art, in its many forms, would later influence her work as a dancer, choreographer, and teacher. She carried with her the mantra from her Tam O’Shanter days, to “take in the world with eyes and minds wide open” (Hopper).
Being immersed in art served as an awakening. She’d never been to a museum in her life before her experience as a Tam O’Shanter: “My dad was a hunter and fisherman. We never had exposure to those cultural things. It was a whole other world,” she said of her experience at Carnegie Museum of Art, “and it was free – FREE” (Metal-Corbin, 19 Apr. 2017).
In high school she joined the modern dance club, which was her introduction to expressive creative dance. In those days, it was considered unladylike for young girls to expose their bodies in any way, so they were not allowed to wear leotards. Instead they had to wear one of their father’s shirts with tights underneath. Everything had to be covered, but those gender restrictions didn’t stop Metal-Corbin from exploring the new dance form.
Metal-Corbin also fondly remembers a wonderful PE teacher from high school, June Watson. An unlikely figure for a physical education teacher, Miss Watson stood only five feet tall, and was “about three feet wide” (Metal-Corbin. 19 Apr. 2017). She taught hockey and other sports, but she integrated dance into her curriculum. Miss Watson, who loved folk dances, taught Metal-Corbin a whole repertoire. So by the time Metal-Corbin was reintroduced to folk dancing in college, she had a really solid foundation of traditional folk dancing and expressive creative dance. Years later, when Metal-Corbin would begin to weave her dancing in with other forms of art, she would realize how much her earlier experiences influenced how she expressed herself. From ballet lessons in a seedy downtown neighborhood in Pittsburgh, to cultural exposure at the Carnegie Museum of Art, to folk dancing in Miss Watson’s PE class at Dormont High School, to expressive creative dance in her high school modern dance club, together they became the fabric of what Josie Metal-Corbin’s life would become.
To see a World in a Grain of Sand,
And a Heaven in a Wild Flower,
Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand,
And Eternity in an hour. – William Blake
Metal-Corbin asserts that her life is guided by Barry Commoner, renowned physicist and ecologist whose number one rule of ecology is “Everything is Connected to Everything Else.” Of course, this is not a new revelation. It’s been reiterated by the Renaissance man, Leonardo DaVinci; poet William Blake; bio-chemist, Ernest Baldwin; and New Age and alternative medicine advocate, Deepak Chopra. Now it is echoed in the movements, sound waves, and connections created by Josie Metal-Corbin through dance. She understands that we are linked to this world through our every action, which she represents to the world through dance.