Whatever happened, Marlborough’s Anna Young Walker kept dancing

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Whatever happened, Marlborough’s Anna Young Walker kept dancing
Earlier in her career, Anna Young Walker danced in Broadway productions in New York City and rubbed elbows with future stars like Duke Ellington. (Photo/Courtesy)

MARLBOROUGH – Anna Young Walker came into this world in August 1902, the only daughter of Albert and Geneva (Goins) Young, at 278 West Main Street, and lived almost her entire life there. The home was bought by her grandfather, a fugitive slave who found his way to Marlborough through the Underground Railroad.

Her family lived six generations in this home, which is currently owned by her great-grandson Toure Foster.

As a child she would sit outside her Marlborough home and listen to the big bands that played at the old Williams Tavern next door. Dancing was the only thing she ever wanted to do. Growing up in the segregated 1920s was not always easy, however she felt no bitterness toward discrimination, yet there was disappointment. As a youngster she had talent. Although she was not always allowed to participate in the segregated school productions she still taught dance routines to her classmates. She graduated from Marlborough High School as class poet in 1921.

After her marriage to a musician, Walker had two children, then she moved to New York. She worked in shows on Broadway and met many famous people on their way up, including Duke Ellington and Bill “Bojangles” Robinson. Her dance education included the London Ballet, Emmanuel College and she also studied in Spain and France. She also performed with the traveling circuits. Walker’s dancing and theatrical experiences were amazing and adventurous.

In 1929 when the stock market crashed, she returned to Marlborough. She taught ballroom dance and etiquette for the city’s recreation department. During this time, for extra money she danced at parties and local taverns. A friend of hers finally persuaded her to take over her dance studio to teach youngsters and it grew to be her main source of income and she found it rewarding. Walker ran this studio for over 35 years, retiring in 1970. Former students and proteges have danced with the Radio City Rockettes and other dance troupes and then set up their own studios.

Whatever happened, Marlborough’s Anna Young Walker kept dancing
Anna Young Walker ran a dance studio in Marlborough for 35 years and was deeply involved in the civic life of her hometown. (Photo/Courtesy)

Walker did choreography and dance direction for the Worcester Light Opera Company production of Oklahoma in 1959. She was choreographer for 20 years for the Red Barn Theatre in Westborough and the Theater in the Round. She danced, directed and worked on many other local productions. She also worked with many well-known professional actors and actresses. She was a member of Dance Teachers of America.

She also choreographed many local musicals, and directed amateur productions in Marlborough, Hudson and Southborough.

But Walker shared her talent elsewhere too. She was generous and civic-minded. She took special courses on teaching people with disabilities, especially blind and deaf children. She was active in her church, teaching Sunday School and was a member of the board of deacons.

Marlborough named Anna Walker Citizen of the Year in 1968. In 1979 the city celebrated Anna Walker Day. She was vice chairperson of the Marlborough Council for the Aging and vice chairman of the Marlborough Housing Authority. She was instrumental in getting a community building for the elderly, which was named after her. She received recognition for her work with the Worcester YWCA for humanitarian service and South Middlesex Association for her work with retarded children. In 1980 she was named Marlborough’s “First Lady of the Arts.”

She felt that dancing isn’t just for the ones who are going to make a career of it. Everyone needs something to shine at, something to express himself or herself with. It could do wonders, she believed, for some children who are shy, or having a hard time in school.

Coming from a religious family Walker was firmly entrenched in the church. She was raised to believe that “God will take care of you if you believe and share your talent and money.” She always felt that in each phase of her life she encountered encouragement and support. Her mother helped with her children at the beginning of her career. And she was always grateful to her husband George for his support. He was her soulmate, and the only person she wasn’t able to teach to dance. George was a former railroad porter, who had been known to whistle a pretty mean tune. After his retirement George worked as a crossing guard for the Bigelow School.

Walker defeated age with timeless beauty, talent and spirit. After her retirement she led the Marlborough Golden Age Follies. In 1975 WBZ-TV filmed a half-hour special about her.

Walker’s two children, Vivienne Humphrey Erlandson and Edward Humphrey, both served in World War II. While they were serving, she became a “Rosie the Riveter” defense worker at the LaPointe Machine Tool Company in Hudson after she took a course in machine operation. Walker had four grandchildren and seventeen great-grandchildren.

She died June 28, 1986, at the age of 83 on the cruise ship Galileo while returning from a trip to Bermuda. Walker was a mover and a shaker always ahead of her time.

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