San Rafael’s Dance Legend Margie Belrose Passes at 92

Margie Belrose—longtime Marin County dancer, teacher, actor, writer and legend—passed away last week of natural causes at the age of 92.

It hardly seems possible.

Peter Pan, after all, is supposed to live forever.

Belrose, co-founder of the San Rafael theater that bears her name, was 40 years old when she first realized her dream of playing the Boy Who Never Grew Up. It was at the Belrose, of course, in a self-produced staging of the magical musical she’d loved since childhood, a childhood she wrote about with charmingly brutal specificity in her self-published 2018 memoir, The Me I Found: A Journey. Abandoned by her parents as a child, she grew up in a series of orphanages in New Jersey and Michigan, eventually making her way to Marin County. Every obstacle and success is chronicled in the book, told in Belrose’s unmistakably frank and persuasive prose.

That Belrose would publish her autobiography herself, at the age of 89, was illustrative of her whole life, a life routinely milestoned with self-made opportunities, from the day she began paying for her own dance lessons as a high school freshman—essentially willing herself to become a dancer—to that moment 25-years-or-so later when she cast herself as Peter Pan, finally embracing the inner actor and the flying mischief-maker she’d long known was there, even if others hadn’t always seen it. Belrose, true to form, made her own dream come true, obeying the same advice she’d been giving to dance students ever since she and her late husband David started their small theater school in 1956, ultimately purchasing a vacant church on Fifth Street and transforming it into the Belrose Theatre in 1962.

That advice?

“Always believe in yourself. That way, even if others do stop believing, the most important person in your life always will.”

I remember standing a few feet away from Belrose as she shared that particular piece of hard-won wisdom during the acceptance speech she gave in 2015, as she was receiving the Jerry Friedman Lifetime Achievement Award, bestowed annually by the San Francisco Bay Area Theater Critics Association. I had the privilege of presenting that award, then watching as Belrose, after a record-setting four-minute standing ovation from the 300 assembled theater-makers—a large number of whom had taken singing or dancing classes at the Belrose at one point or another—thoroughly charmed the crowd by flourishing a hardcopy list of all the roles she’d played over the years. With expert comic timing, she held up the list, pages and pages of it, as it unfolded like a paper streamer across the stage. She even did a spirited faux tap dance, reminding her former students of another long-held belief.

“It’s simply impossible to be unhappy while tap-dancing.”

The award was just one of many honors Belrose received over the course of her life. In 1997 she was inducted into the Marin Women’s Hall of Fame, and she was named San Rafael’s Person of the Year in 2010. But no trophy or proclamation meant as much to Belrose as the knowledge that she’d positively affected the lives of literally thousands of people during her long career. Her favorite stories were of adults reaching out to say how much her attention meant to them when they were children learning to sing or dance or act at the Belrose.

A celebration of life for Margie Belrose will take place Saturday, Oct. 23, at the Belrose, 1415 5th Ave., San Rafael. An open house begins at 3pm with a special program starting at 5pm. The family asks attendees to consider wearing pink, Margie’s favorite color. In lieu of flowers, contributions to the Belrose Performing Arts Center are appreciated.

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