The first day Carol Estey walked into her new office at Historic Senior Hall, she saw a page torn from a 1981 Broadway-themed calendar. She just thought someone had saved a nice photo.
Not long after, Estey thought to turn it over. There she was—in the photo—dancing alongside Liza Minnelli in the Broadway production of “The Act.”
Estey enjoyed a 30-plus year career on Broadway before coming to Stephens to lead the dance program. She was in the original “Jesus Christ Superstar,” which later toured and made a stop at Stephens. She recalls thinking how much she liked the campus and city.
“Ending up here was definitely in the stars,” she said.
After seven years, Estey is taking a new path, retiring at the end of the school year.
“I decided now is the time to retire because I am not tired yet,” she said. “I have good years left, and I don’t want to miss the opportunity to try other things.”
It seems Estey’s life has been one adventure after another. She grew up in Trenton, N.J., where her mother—an almost-Hollywood starlet—owned a ballet school and her father worked as an English teacher at an all-boys school. Estey set out for New York at the age of 17 and almost immediately began performing on Broadway. Shows were “riskier” back then, which meant more of them but shorter runs. Estey can’t name all of the shows she was in but among the more high-profile was the original production of “Jesus Christ Superstar.”
And “The Act” with Minnelli? Audience members included the likes of Elizabeth Taylor, Gene Kelly and Ginger Rogers. Afterwards, Estey recalls, the cast went to Studio 54 and met up with Michael Jackson. (It sounds glamorous, but Estey is quick to point out it was a lot of hard work.)
She performed into her 40s before deciding to pursue higher education, earning a bachelor’s degree from SUNY-Empire State, and a master’s degree at NYU. During her studies, she met a friend who shared a mutual vacation spot—a little-known island off the coast of Maine. The two, along with their respective partners, purchased an opera house there and ran it as a non-profit. After 10 years, Estey was looking for a new opportunity when Beth Leonard, former dean of the School of Performing Arts, called.
Estey has spent the past seven years overseeing the dance program. She’s brought in world-renowned guest artists, connected dancers with opportunities off campus and choreographed countless pieces.
Estey praised the College for giving faculty the opportunity to continue to work professionally while preparing the next generation of dancers.
“It’s a fantastic, brilliant program and there aren’t a lot of three-year programs like it,” she said. “I definitely believe in the program.”
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