Paula Callou

Longtime Baltimore resident was born in Paris and taught ballet and tai chi

February 06, 2011|By Erica L. Green, The Baltimore Sun

Paula Callou, countess de la Motte-Thierry, a longtime Baltimore resident and an award-winning dancer who taught dance worldwide, died Jan. 31 at the Avow Hospice in Naples, Fla., from complications related to a series of strokes. She was 89.

Ms. Callou, whose birth name was Paulette Suzanne Calloustian, was born in Paris, the second-oldest of five sisters. She began studying ballet at age 6, entering the Paris Opera Ballet at 9 years old as a "petit rat de l'Opera," a distinguished title for young ballet students, according to her son, Marc Wienert.

Ms. Callou's dance career advanced quickly after her family moved to Nice in the 1930s, changing the family name to Callou. She was appointed the youngest prima ballerina in the Opera de Nice and also appeared as a prima ballerina with the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo in Monaco, her son said.

Ms. Callou received the title "countess" due to her ancestors' contributions to Napoleon Bonaparte, according to family lore.

World War II brought an abrupt halt to Ms. Callou's dance career. Shortly after the war's end, she met her first husband, Robert Corda, an American.

In 1948, Ms. Callou immigrated to the United States and became a naturalized citizen, settling in Chicago. She divorced Mr. Corda shortly thereafter and moved to New York City, where she resumed a career as a dancer and choreographer. It was in New York that she met her second husband, Theodore Wienert.

Ms. Callou and her family moved in the mid-1950s to Baltimore, where she lived for half a century.

For seven years Ms. Callou operated the Paula Callou School of the Dance in Baltimore. Her students regularly performed for various Baltimore functions and on local television shows.

"I remember being pulled out of school to do dance demonstrations," recalled Ms. Callou's son.

Ms. Callou took her son on a world tour in the 1960s that included stops in India, the Soviet Union and Thailand.

During a trip to China, Ms. Callou observed tai chi being practiced in Beijing's Tiananmen Square. She quickly took to the form.

As a ballerina, Ms. Callou's favorite roles were those in "Carmen," "Coppelia," "Sleeping Beauty" and "Swan Lake," her son said, adding that "Carmen" was a favorite because Ms. Callou thought "it was fun to play the bad girl sometimes."

"She was very gregarious and loved life and embraced the world fully," Mr. Wienert said.

After a second divorce in 1972, Ms. Callou began to truly enjoy her life in Baltimore, her son said.

"The relationship with Baltimore was like a renaissance," Mr. Wienert said. "Her whole life blossomed and she was recognized as a luminary."

Under Mayor William Donald Schaefer, Ms. Callou was given the key to the city, Mr. Wienert said, and received several other awards from the mayor's office for her contribution to the city's arts scene. "She was very proud of promoting arts in Baltimore," said Ms. Callou's daughter-in-law, Constance Barrett.

Ms. Callou left Baltimore in 1996 to move to Florida, where she established herself as a tai chi instructor.

After a brief move back to Nice, Ms. Callou returned in January 2010 to Florida, where she continued to teach tai chi until she suffered a series of strokes last fall.

"Tai chi really carried her to the end of her life and was her physical expression of her inner soul," Mr. Wienert said. "Her whole sense of well-being was wrapped up in physicality."

Ms. Callou is survived by her son and daughter-in-law, of Westchester County, N.Y.; two sisters, Denise Generous of Naples and Michelle Suderman of Michigan; and several nieces and nephews.

A memorial service will be held this spring at St. Joseph of Arimathea Episcopal Church in White Plains, N.Y. Donations in Ms. Callou's name may be sent to the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, Development Office, 1212 Cathedral St., Baltimore, Md. 21201.

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