San Francisco's iconic ballet instructor 'Miss Tilly' says farewell after 52 years

Lyanne Melendez Image
Thursday, August 11, 2022
Iconic SF ballet instructor says farewell after 52 years
Iconic San Francisco figure Matilda Abbe, known as 'Miss Tilly,' is saying her farewell after teaching ballet for 52 years.

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- An iconic San Francisco figure is retiring after spending more than 50 years influencing young girls in the art of ballet. Matilda Abbe is known by generations of families as Miss Tilly.

The small dance studio is where thousands of young girls took their first steps in ballet while at the same time building confidence.

Miss Tilley's Dance Studio first opened in 1969.

"One of my very first mothers was Nancy Pelosi," revealed Miss Tilly who taught Speaker Pelosi's daughter when they were little.

Richard Nixon was President, Ronald Reagan, Governor of California, people were protesting the Vietnam War, San Francisco was the heart of the hippie movement, bell-bottoms were in, the Beatles disbanded and Miss Tilly would soon become a household name among many families.

"I've lost track, it's just a lot of years, it's most of my life," she added.

Miss Tilly didn't always teach kids between the ages of three and 12. At a young age she joined the San Francisco Ballet, even taught there. She then decided to start her own school.

The children left learning much more than just ballet.

"It's a question of learning how to, having them learn how to follow rules and how to respect one another. So often children will get in little groups and they'll make fun of somebody else and that was never allowed in my school," she told us.

I have an older sister, she too did, Miss Tilly," said Alana Young who was in one of Miss Tilly's classes and most recently, her daughter.

"It was really just the total nostalgia because Miss Tilly has this formula down and she has just been doing that for years and years," expressed Young.

But unforeseen circumstances have now forced her to retire at the age of 82.

"The pandemic was really difficult because I was sitting down for two years really," said Miss Tilly.

Like many businesses when her lease expired Miss Tilly found it difficult to keep the space.

"It was a struggle to pay that rent and now they're asking even more."

Miss Tilly never had a chance to say goodbye to all of her students.

"What I say is that I will be seeing them in the community, they'll be seeing me at Calmart, I'll be seeing them in Laurel Village, I may see them at their schools so they'll be seeing me around," she said

Her teaching style ensured that every dancer developed and grew toward achieving their full potential.

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