People of a certain age know about the Singing Nun, the Belgian singer-songwriter and religious order member who took "Dominique," her song in French about a saint in medieval Spain, to No. 1 on the American and worldwide pop charts in 1963.
In Southern California, the arts scene carries the legacy of a Dancing Nun. Santa Ana's Saint Joseph Ballet was launched in 1983-84 by Sister Beth Burns, then a member of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Orange, and funded by the Catholic group. Now, the dance school dedicated to helping children from poor families choreograph their steps to a high school diploma and a college education has made a pirouette, changing its name to the Wooden Floor.
It may be one of those "huh?" names, says Melanie Rios Glaser, the company's executive and artistic director, who succeeded Burns, now a board member, in 2005. But there's a tradition of that in the world of experimental and cutting-edge art that the school now occupies. Rios Glaser cites the Mattress Factory, a contemporary art venue in Pittsburgh, the Kitchen in New York City, and REDCAT in downtown L.A., where the Wooden Floor will perform a two-night engagement in January. The name is inspired by the students' feelings about the school, Rios Glaser says. "The studio floor has so much meaning for our kids. They become very eloquent about how they relate to it."
Two members of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Orange congregation -- they don't call it a convent -- attended the performance on Thursday in which the name change was announced in the middle of a dance piece.
Sister Katherine Gray, general superior of the congregation, said she's proud that the dance school has grown from its small beginnings as a ministry of her group, and that it's not important that the name reflect the school's roots, so long as its charitable work continues. "Anything that enhances that, we would support," she said. "It's still doing the work, and more, for which it began, and we'll continue to have a relationship of friendship."