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"Midget Wedding" Dance Costume

Kehl School of Dancing’s "Midget Wedding" Costume, 1940.
(Museum object #2005.108.1A-C)

On June 21, 1940 eight-year old Virginia Lee Kehl wore this costume, consisting of a dress, trunks, headpiece, and veil, to portray the bride in the Kehl School of Dancing's "Midget Wedding." The wedding dance, which was part of the school's 60th Annual Dance Recital held at the Wisconsin Union Theater in Madison, Wisconsin, also included Virginia's four-year old twin sisters Jo Jean and Jo Ann Kehl as her bridesmaids. Virginia's mother, Genevieve Kehl, made the dress out of silver metallic and cotton fabric that sparkled dramatically on stage in 1940, but has since tarnished to a dull gray.

Virginia Lee was the third generation of Kehls to dance in Madison. Her grandfather, Frederick W. Kehl, emigrated from Germany in 1874 as a twelve-year old orphan. By 1880 he had become a dance instructor in Chicago and four years later moved to Madison where he established the Kehl's Dancing Academy. Over time, Kehl became nationally and internationally renowned as a dancing master, winning an International Congress of Dancing Masters first prize for his performances of the American waltz and two-step at a 1908 competition in Berlin.

Leo Kehl, Frederick's son, joined his father as a dance instructor in 1922, taking over the business after Frederick's death in 1938. After Leo's death in 1967, his wife Genevieve and daughters Virginia Lee, Jo Jean, and Jo Ann ran the school. In 1991 Jo Jean became the executive director and today her daughter Jenny Hiltbrand oversees the organization. On June 11, 2005 the Kehl School of Dance celebrated its 125th anniversary with another recital at the Wisconsin Union Theater.

Posted on June 23, 2005

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