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History Feature: The Dancing Fletchers of Arden

By John Turk

Histor  Beale and Peggy Fletcher Christmas Eve was always special at the Arden home of Robert Walter and Daisy Beale Fletcher. Fancy dress, fine dining, and presents were a given. And so too was dancing. The Fletchers regularly hired a small dance orchestra and danced to the latest “hits.”

Daisy was an expert tango dancer and Walter was an accomplished buck-and–wing dancer. Buck-and-wing is a fast and flashy form of tap dancing inspired by Irish clogging. It features high kicks and was driven by African-inspired rhythms.

Beale Fletcher, the couple’s son, studied dance and pursued a career as a professional dancer. While performing on a Vaudeville circuit, he met Canadian-born dancer Peggy Gatley. They married and danced together as “Beale and Peggy Fletcher, Americas Most Versatile Dance Team.”

Their daughter Maria was born in 1942, and was followed by siblings Margaret, Bonnie, and Walter. As Maria approached school age, Beale and Peggy departed the world of Vaudeville, settled in Asheville, and opened The Fletcher School of the Dance at 70 N. Market Street. Margaret recalls that in the early days of the Asheville School, “They faced some opposition from some of the local churches. They thought that what they were doing was sinful.”

Also, during the 1950s, Beale published a number of instruction books, including How to Improve Your Tap Dancing, How to Improve Your Ballet: An Illustrated Guide, and How to Improve Your Social Dancing With the Fletcher Count System.

All four of their children studied dance and all performed professionally. For years Bonnie danced in Las Vegas, and later worked as a laboratory technician. Margaret, who danced with the world famous Radio City Music Hall Rockettes, still operates and teaches at The Margaret Fletcher Dance Studio in New Bern on North Carolina’s coast. And Walter taught at the Fletcher’s Asheville School.

In 1948, Walter and his wife Linda became studio managers of the newly opened Land of the Sky Ballet. Walter died in a private plane accident in 1988. The Asheville school still exists as Asheville Ballet/Fletcher School of Dance and is today located at 4 Weaverville Road.

Maria Fletcher, who also danced with the Rockettes, was crowned Miss America in 1962. She won the preliminary swimsuit competition, and for the talent portion of the pageant she tap-danced to her own recording of “Somebody Loves Me.” She is the only Miss North Carolina to have won the Miss America crown.

John Turk, Professor Emeritus, Youngstown State University, is vice president of the Western North Carolina Historical Association and leads city walking and bus tours with History@Hand (history-at-hand.com). He can be reached at jrturk@ysu.edu.

3 Comments

  • Beale and Peggy started the Fletcher School of Dancing in 1948. Walter wasn’t born yet. The Land of the Sky Civic Ballet started about 1959. Beale and Peggy danced in supper clubs. They were not in vaudeville. Beale met Peggy in a dancing school in Montreal, Canada.

    • My twin sister, brother and I took tap, jazz and ballet at Fletcher School of Dance our entire childhood. I was there from the time I was six until I was fifteen. Beale taught me tap for the first few years. I remember I was watching my sister take a class and he called me in there after it was over. He did some fast buck dancing and then walked across the room on his hands. He must have been in his seventies. I was sold. Some of my most cherished memories are in that school. I wouldn’t change it for the world.

  • I remember the Fletchers dance studio. I worked as interior designer at Talman Office Supply on Wall Street. The Fletcher’s studio was one street above Wall Street. My daughter Kara was a student there until we moved back to Wilkes County when she was in the 5th grade. She took ballet for 4 yrs. at their studio!

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