USA International Ballet Competition

Years ago, the Jackson Auditorium was renamed “Thalia Mara Hall” and I am sad to say that I didn’t know who Thalia Mara was, but eventually I discovered that she was directly responsible for bringing the International Ballet Competition to Jackson, Mississippi. Mississippi has benefited immeasurably from Thalia Mara’s presence in our State even if she wasn’t born here!

“The USA International Ballet Competition, or USA IBC, is one of the world’s top competitions for ballet. Located in Jackson, Mississippi, this competition is attended by dancers from all over the world to represent their country for bronze, silver, or gold medals in a variety of categories of ballet in an Olympic-style competition.” – Wikipedia

From the USA IBC website:

The dance world comes to Jackson because Thalia Mara found her way here in 1975.

The first International Ballet Competition premiered in Varna in 1964 and eventually grew into a cycle of ballet competitions that rotated among the three cities of Varna, Moscow and Tokyo. In 1975, the Jackson Ballet Guild invited Thalia Mara, renowned ballet teacher and educator, to develop a professional ballet company and school for the state of Mississippi. As a part of her development plan, she introduced city leaders to the idea of ballet competitions and convinced them to secure the USA IBC for the city of Jackson. In 1978, the nonprofit corporation, Mississippi Ballet International, Inc. (MBI), was created to produce the first International Ballet Competition in the United States. Robert Joffrey, renowned Artistic Director of the Joffrey Ballet, agreed to chair the first international panel of jurors. With the help of local, national and international endorsements, combined with the energy and commitment of the citizens of Jackson, the first USA International Ballet Competition was held in June 1979, featuring 70 dancers from 15 countries.

At the conclusion of the first competition, a sanction was received from the International Dance Committee of the International Theater Institute (ITI) of UNESCO for the USA IBC. Thus, Jackson joined other ITI‑sanctioned competitions that rotated each year among Varna, Moscow, and Tokyo.

In 1982, the United States Congress passed a Joint Resolution designating Jackson as the official home of the International Ballet Competition. The second USA IBC was held the same summer with 78 dancers representing 19 countries. The 1982 competition was featured in a 90‑minute ABC/PBS film, To Dance For Gold, which aired around the world. Subsequent competitions have enjoyed an ever-growing number of competitor applications in addition to worldwide publicity and acclaim.

The USA International Ballet Competition provides an opportunity for dancers to test themselves against recognized international standards of dance excellence and showcase their technical skill and artistic talent; it provides a forum for communication and intercultural exchange, and educates, enlightens and develops future artists and audience support for the art of dance.

From The New York Times:

MaraThaliaThalia Mara died at the age of 92 in October, 2003.

Born in Chicago to Russian parents, Ms. Mara trained with some of the great ballet figures of the 20th century, among them Adolph Bolm, Olga Preobajenska, Nicholas Legat and Michel Fokine. She made her professional debut in 1926 with the Ravinia Park Opera Ballets in Chicago, leaving after a year to join the Carina Ari Ballet in Paris.

Ms. Mara directed the Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival in 1947 and also danced there with her husband, Arthur Mahoney, from whom she separated in 1964.

The two founded the National Academy of Ballet and Theater Arts in New York in 1962. The school closed in 1973.

Ms. Mara wrote 11 books on ballet, many of which were dance students’ easy-to-read instructional works, including ”The Language of Ballet,” ”So You Want to Be a Ballet Dancer” and the ”Steps in Ballet” series. Many were translated and published in other countries.

Ms. Mara moved to Jackson, Miss., in the mid-1970’s, at an invitation of the Jackson Ballet Guild to create a professional ballet troupe. She worked with the company for six years, resigning in 1981. A judge at the International Ballet Competition in Varna, Bulgaria, Ms. Mara worked with Robert Joffrey, the artistic director of the Joffrey Ballet, and the dance writer Walter Terry to create a competition on that circuit in Jackson. She served as the artistic director for the triennial USA International Ballet Competition from 1986 to 1994.

Ms. Mara founded the nonprofit Thalia Mara Arts International Foundation, which sponsored teacher training scholarships, a piano competition and performances in Jackson by dance companies and musicians. In 1994 the city’s Municipal Auditorium was renamed Thalia Mara Hall.

Neshoba County Fair

The Neshoba County Fair, also known as Mississippi’s Giant House Party, is an annual event of agricultural, political, and social entertainment held a few miles from Philadelphia, Mississippi. The fair was first established in 1889 and is the nation’s largest campground fair. The event usually starts at the end of July lasting a week.

From the Neshoba County website:

The Neshoba County Fair is called Mississippi’s Giant House Party, and it is just that. Neshoba County families gather from across the country every summer for a week long family reunion and house party like no other.

The Fair cabin is the center of activity for families staying at the fair and the front porch is the most popular place for gathering. Porches are for sitting, visiting and just watching the neighborhood activities. Neighborhoods such as Happy Hollow, Sunset Strip, Founders Square and Greenleaf Hollow all have their own personalities and traditions.

As Robert Craycroft said in The Neshoba County Fair: Place and Paradox in Mississippi, “Conversation is the underlying reality of the Fair. It is the impetus for thousands of  people to live in crowded cabins under the intense August sun, and it is the glue that has brought together and has held together generation after generation of Neshoba Countians.”

Great food is another attraction at the Fair. Meals are the result of months of planing and preparation. Friends and visitors that stop by to visit are often invited to stay for a  meal. Gallons of tea, lemonade and coolers of   ice are always plentiful in every cabin.

There are plenty of other things that make up a day at  the Fair besides visiting and eating. There are merry-go-rounds to ride, prizes to win, new friends to make and old ones to see again. There are races to get excited about, exhibits to see and politicians to shake hands with. There’s an antique car parade to watch and something called a chair race that just can’t be explained. In fact the Fair itself can’t really be explained. Only when you’ve walked in the sawdust covered Square on hot summer day can you begin to understand.


The Neshoba County Fair has its roots in the agricultural fairs and the church camp meetings popular in the nineteenth century. The Lake Patron’s Union in Scott County  was a regional fair held on the former site of a  Methodist camp meeting and served as a model for Neshoba Countians wanting to establish a fair of their own.

The first fair was called the Coldwater Fair and was held in 1889. Two years later in 1891 the fair was organized as a private corporation called the Neshoba County Stock and Agricultural Fair Association and  was moved to its present site. Admission was charged for the first time in order to operate the fair. The Neshoba County Fair remains a self-supporting non-profit organization today with operating funds derived mainly from admissions and concessions.

Families coming to the Fair began camping on the grounds for the duration of the fair. In 1894 a pavilion was constructed and a hotel was built to accommodate visitors. Cabins began to replace wagons and tents and in 1898 the oaks were planted that shade Founder’s Square today. The first cabins were simple one story structures with some being log cabins.

In 1896 Governor McLaurin spoke at the Fair which began the tradition of the Neshoba County Fair as a political forum for local, state, and national politicians. Ronald Reagan, Jack Kemp and John Glenn are among the national figures who have visited the Fair during their campaigns.

Improvements and additions were made to the grounds through the years. The race track was built it 1914 and the Fairgrounds received electricity in 1939. The Fair was not held during World War II, but was reopened in 1946. More cabins were built establishing distinct neighborhoods beyond the Square. The Fair was expanded to a seven day schedule and entertainment began to come from nationally known stars.

The Neshoba County Fair has grown from a two-day meeting of local farmers and their families to an eight day Giant House Party in over 600 cabins and over 200 RV campers. The traditions of the Fair continue today. Families still gather for reunions and friends, old and new, visit every summer as they have since 1889.