At 97, it's not time to hang up the dancing shoes yet

Dorothy Christison's 97th birthday was cause for a family reunion at her Old Driftway home on Saturday. Ms. Christison, who has lived in Wilton more than 50 years, welcomed family members from across the country on Jan. 11.

Her eldest daughter, Pamela Stivers, traveled from Melbourne, Fla., with her husband, John, and son Geory, while daughter Julie Portman flew from South Haven, Mich., with her husband, Jerry. Their daughter Nicole Portman-Fortson came from Wheaton, Ill., with her husband, Benjamin Fortson, and their son Benjamin Jr.

Surrounded by her family, Ms. Christison celebrated 97 years of life with a birthday dinner consisting of ham, sweet potatoes, creamed onions, and green beans, topped off with an angel food birthday cake.

During her party, Ms. Christison shared wisdom with her family and reflected on the long, eventful life she has had and continues to lead.

Ms. Christison was born Jan. 21, 1917, in South Bend, Ind., where her father, Elmer Freed, was a tap dancer. Like father like daughter — Ms. Christison developed an interest in the performing arts. At the age of 10, she started studying dance and grew up to become an award-winning dancer.

“I taught ballet for 30 years, and I still study and teach dance today,” said Ms. Christison, who is a certified life member of Dance Educators of America.

Ms. Portman said she can only hope that she is as “physically and mentally fit, flexible and active” as her mother when she reaches 97.

In 1938, Dorothy married George Christison in Moline, Ill., where she opened her first dance studio.

Before moving to Wilton in 1960 with her husband and two daughters, Julie and Pamela, Ms. Christison and her family lived in Tucson, Ariz., Vero Beach, Fla., and Burlington, Iowa.

“I was lucky to have my own dance studio in Tucson when we lived there and in Vero Beach, but I didn’t have a studio in Wilton,” Ms. Christison said.

Instead of opening a studio, Ms. Christison and four other women started the Young Horizons organization.

“We brought cultural programs into the school system during school hours,” said Ms. Christison. “At that time, in those early days, Wilton didn’t have anything like that.”

Wilton lacked not only cultural school programs at that time but police officers and residents as well.

“We had one policeman, who was a state trooper assigned to the area, and I think now we have around 50,” she said, “and there were 8,000 people then, and now there’s like 20,000.”

In addition to being a co-founder of Young Horizons, Ms. Christison began a real estate career in Wilton.

“I had my own real estate office called ‘Christison Realtors’ down on Route 7,” she said.

After having her own office for a little more than 12 years, Ms. Christison worked for another real estate company for the remainder of her 30-year real estate career.

Ms. Christison has been an active member of the Wilton community for years.

Not only is she a co-founder of the Wilton Arts Council, she is also a member of the Wilton Playshop and Wilton Congregational Church. She is the Wilton Garden Club’s oldest, longest-serving member.

Of everything, Ms. Christison said, dancing has always been No. 1.

“Dancing has consumed my life and it’s so rewarding,” she said. “It’s the most beautiful of all the performing arts, in my opinion.”

Ms. Christison has owned 71 pairs of dance shoes, 65 of which she still has.

“They’re pretty well-worn,” she said. “They show my hard work and I don’t want to throw those away.”

“My mother has worked very hard all her life and has taught us anything is possible with work and love of what you pursue,” said Ms. Portman.

“She taught us to use whatever talents God gave us and to share and pass the gifts on.”

Over the half-century she has lived in Wilton, Ms. Christison said, the worst of her memories is “when the electricity went off for eight days last year.”

“Everybody said I should be in a nursing home at my age, but there are too many good memories,” she said. “That’s why I’m still here.”