December 3, 2013

Mona Dawn Irvine Rice

WESTPORT - Mona Dawn Irvine Rice, a rare beauty loved by many, passed away on Nov. 26, 2013.

Mona was a person of artistic grace, vitality of spirit, integrity and intelligence. Her life's work as a director, producer, performer, choreographer and educator of dance inspired many in Central Massachusetts for over fifty years, and her generosity, creative spirit and devotion to friends, family and students were unwavering.

Mona Dawn Irvine was born Aug. 22, 1931, in Mars Hill, Maine, the daughter of Thelma Pauline Gallop and Cecil Courtney Irvine. She and her family moved to Fitchburg, Mass., when she was nine years old.

Vice-President of her class, Mona graduated from Fitchburg High School in 1949, and was the sole recipient of a D.A.R. scholarship to attend Middlebury College. She declined the award, instead choosing to marry the love of her life and dance teacher's son, James Parker Rice Jr., so as to devote herself to dance, family and her local community. Mona completed one year of nursing education at Fitchburg State College, and in 1977, received her BFA in Dance through UMass Amherst's "University Without Walls" program, which accessed dance educators from Smith, Mt. Holyoke, and Hampshire Colleges, as well as from UMass.

Passionate about dance, Mona studied ballet, modern, Denishawn, and ballroom for many years at the Marion Rice Studio of the Dance in Fitchburg. In her hometown of Ashburnham, Mass., she founded the Dance Department at Cushing Academy where she taught from 1961-1976. Concurrently, Mona ran ballroom dance programs at many local venues. In 1981, Mona Rice founded The Dance Center, where she taught quality dance education for 15 years. She was a gifted performer and choreographer, creating over 30 original works and many full-length original children's productions. For 40+ years, Mona Rice was a member of Marion Rice's Denishawn Dancers, performing works by Ruth St. Denis and Ted Shawn locally, in New York City, and throughout New England, including at Jacob's Pillow Dance Festival in Lee, Mass. Following her dance career, she worked at Hyland/Rice Office Products, the family business in Fitchburg, assisting her husband with sales, advertising and marketing.

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