A first introduction to Dr. Virgie Broussard Pradia ocurred after an author’s workshop at the Dave Robicheaux’s Hometown Literary Festival, now known as the Books Along the Teche Literary Festival. The light dark-skinned woman with her hair pulled into a bun sat quietly in the back, not certain if she wanted to engage the small group collected to hear the speakers talking about writing and publishing. From time to time through the years, I’d catch a glimpse of her around New Iberia. At various functions I learned she was a dancer, but not until earlier this spring did I have the chance to sit and meet her face to face to learn of the multifaceted talents of a graceful lady. At the time, she had recently started promoting her book, which had a faulty launch in the fall of 2018. Family responsibilities led her to put her own desires aside.
During our visit over lunch a deep well was opened and I knew, at some point, I would tell her story. Only after she called to say former dance parents, some now grandparents or former students with children, were asking her to reopen the dance studio she still owns on Admiral Doyle Drive — did I know the time had come. The first class would begin with women around her same age that wanted, once again, to dance. Former students, parents of students and a newspaper writer who once dreamed of being a dancer. Who would come? Who will come? For the woman who left the Teche Area with a dream to dance — traveled the world with USO Shows, danced in college, choreographed movies, returned to teach at her alma mater and still desires to give to others, the greatest gift could be the glimpse at history of growing up in rural Louisiana during the 1950s and ‘60s, and becoming the woman whose childhood dreams came true.
The back of her book says, “There’s much more to Dr. Virgie Broussard Pradia than meets the eye, especially if you know her only as a dancer. She’s an author, poet, choreographer, photographer, painter, motivational speaker, athlete, coach and teacher. She holds degrees from Grambling College, Cortland College, Grambling State University and the University of Southern Mississippi.” This is her story, in part, the child from Delcambre.
Who did you think you would grow up to be as a child in Delcambre?
When I was a young girl, I loved mystery, so I would usually check out books that told detective stories. I wanted to be able to solve crimes as they did in the stories. I also wanted to eventually leave my hometown in search of opportunities for a better life. Years later, my dream evolved. I wanted to become a dancer, to perform for large audiences on big stages.
What was the first thing you did?
In high school I started setting goals for myself, but didn’t really understand the importance of goal-setting at that time. All I knew was that I needed money to obtain the things I needed to celebrate high school graduation and then get on with life.
Were you in dance classes?
I loved to watch The Ed Sullivan Show, especially the acrobats and dancers. It was amazing to me that a person could twist and flex the human body I often saw on the show. I dreamed of appearing on the show myself. I wanted to be the best at everything I was involved in and spent many long days dreaming of what it must be like in other places especially New York City. Once I saw a lady on Ed Sullivan do a back-bend from a stool. It looked unreal. I needed to try to do what I saw to prove to myself it was real. I started by learning to do backbends. Gradually I went higher and higher. It was scary, but I did it. As I learned acrobatics and dance, it became a way to lift my spirits whenever I was sad. Dancing became a natural thing for me to do and I often performed for friends or family gatherings. Hearing their praise gave me hope of living my dream. I wanted a good education, a higher education, so I would not have the life my mother had, I would never let a man abuse me. That motivated me to learn all that I could so I could be independent. When I was in the seventh grade, my physical education teacher suggested I join an after-school dance class.
What was your childhood like?
There were 11 children in our family, I was born third. I witnessed my mother and father fighting many times. My father was a nice man but when the weekend came, he became another person. There was no peace in the house when dad drank. First through sixth grades we had a two-room school. First through third, Mrs. Azar was our teacher. She was real compassionate to her students with an ability to make us strive to do our best. After sixth we were bused to Abbeville. My dance teacher, Mrs. Feronburg, had a tremendous influence on me as a young person. I felt so much love in her house. I always went to bed praying to God. Being part of their household changed my life. A big part of who I am today is because of all the help I received from her mother, my teacher and her two sisters.
You grew up a poor black child that had to pick cotton early in the morning before school. How did you get to New York City and involved with movies and coaching basketball or teaching dance in college?
There is so much to say about how I was raised — what I learned from who and why. I wanted an education. It was important for me to succeed; failing wasn’t an option. I had to prove to my mother, who said I “wasn’t going to make it,” that I could be whatever I wanted to become. I had to succeed for me, my dad and for my elementary school teacher who had considered me to be her daughter. I wish my mother had never said those hurtful words, but they made me who I am today. I took a yellow school bus from New Iberia, with a National Defense Loan, to the red soil in Grambling, Louisiana. I knew that I’d made the right choice. Little did I know that choice was about to change my life.
What are some of the things you said along your life path, going places you didn’t expect to go, meeting people of influence, celebrity status and family across the nation?
“Why not?” Before an unexpected driving trip to Sante Fe, “I can help you.” On the way to the interview for director of the Orchesis Dance Company at Grambling, my sister laughed and asked me if I had the job. I answered her, “Not yet, but it’s gonna’ happen.” The journey was not easy, but it was definitely worth it. The old saying is true: “Anything worth having is worth working and waiting for.” If I had to do all over again, I wouldn’t change a thing. Many adversities and opportunities have built my character and have made me strong and resilient.