In the Tulsa dance and etiquette scene, Skilly Forsman was it. For 68 years, she taught kids of all ages to move with confidence, whether bouncing to the Beach Boys’ “Barbara Ann” or bendlocking to James Brown’s “I Feel Good.”
She opened Skilly’s School of Social Dance in 1941, at just 19 years old. Student and longtime friend Marcus Makar remembered, “It was really the only studio. I don’t remember hearing of any others. And anyway, it was the only one studio I ever wanted to go to. She was just so cool, so modern, so fun.”
What stands out to Makar most is Forsman’s teaching style: a focus on music rather than moves.
“She would stand in front of the class and close her eyes. Then she would tell us to side step, getting us stepping to the rhythms. She would start swinging around, snapping her fingers, getting us all to join in and learn about interpreting music into dance on our own. She didn’t drill specific routines very hard, it was mostly about getting people together to mix and enjoy music. The way she taught us, anybody with an ear could get it.”
Another favorite memory of Makar’s is Forsman’s lavish year-end celebrations thrown at Philbrook Museum of Art.
“It was always an amazing, crazy party. She had classes performing all kinds of group dances or routines she had taught them, some they probably made up on their own. Lots of music and people mixing. It makes me laugh, but I also remember a group of Edison kids downing hard liquor there—and probably a lot of other stuff I didn’t know about as a seventh grader. She was just so loved, and that party was where everyone wanted to be.”
Online tributes are everywhere. Former students remember her unique teaching style and personality with so much fondness, they started a Facebook fan page called “Skilly Forsman taught me to dance” years before she passed away. Tulsatvmemories.com also hosts recollections, including this one by Frank Morrow:
“Skilly’s School of Ballroom Dancing was part of the passage from the awkward, inexperienced junior high years to the senior-high social scene. Skilly taught you not only how to dance, but what to do on a date, something that helped young boys gain confidence in their struggle to develop skills to deal with their new urges and the strange, new creatures that were called ‘girls.’
“If I remember correctly, the cost of the series of lessons was something like ten dollars. It might have been more, but in the late 40s, ten dollars was a lot … Skilly’s legacy lives on. When you go to high school and college reunions, you continue to see old geezers still doing the swing dance the way Skilly taught us.”
Just a few months ago, Makar ran into Skilly eating Mexican food at Elote. A friend he was with “recognized her from a night club he used to go to.”
They reminisced about how he used to give her rides home on the back of his motorcycle, without a helmet, even though she was in her sixties. He said she just laughed it off, looking fashionable as ever.
“She was double fun. Ageless. We went on like that for two hours.”