When it comes to the arts, Donnell doesn’t limit herself to one specialty. The Mount Airy resident is a dancer, mime, storyteller, clown, actor, teacher, director, and choreographer. She collaborates with performers throughout the community to promote the arts.
Donnell said, “My favorite thing is to encourage people to follow their dreams. Life is too short not to go for it.”
So Donnell pursues her love for the arts, which is a part of her heritage. Her father was a vaudeville dancer. After her parents married, they joined the Brooks Stock Company traveling variety show. Her dad sang and tap danced.
“It’s kind of in the blood,” Donnell said with a laugh.
Donnell is from Chicago originally. Her father sold insurance when she was young, but she said he thought of himself as a tap dancer first and foremost. He would put on shows in the community and perform at local nightclubs. The family would even put on shows for their own private enjoyment.
“We put on shows for each other. We would do variety shows,” Donnell said.
She started pursuing her dad’s love for dancing when she was young. She started taking ballet lessons as a young girl and had the good fortune to study with teachers from The Royal Ballet.
“That was my first introduction to ballet, and I fell in love with it,” said Donnell.
She went on to guest dance with several companies as a solo performer. Ballet was Donnell’s first pursuit in the arts, but she soon began to explore other interests.
Storytelling and acting became other favorites for her. She has taken several different classes at Wake Forest University and the University of North Carolina School of the Arts. Donnell got a small part in George Clooney’s movie “Leatherheads,” which was partially filmed in Winston-Salem. Donnell had to learn how to dance the Charleston for the movie.
Through the “Leatherheads” experience, Donnell said, “I fell in love with the process of film-making.”
She loves the collaboration involved in film-making and the intimacy of acting in front of a camera. So now Donnell has begun pursuing some acting work. She has worked with some student film projects and would love to be in some inspirational commercials in the future. She is working with a casting agency, a requirement for those who want to be in commercials.
“I love acting and I love storytelling, but I also do enjoy directing,” Donnell noted.
Out of all of the many hats Donnell wears, she said, “My big passion is teaching.”
She has taught ballet classes for around 20 years. She now uses a room at a local dance studio to teach ballet. Donnell traveled to New York last summer to participate in a teacher training certification program offered by the American Ballet Theatre (ABT). She will go back next summer to receive certifications for teaching other age levels.
“It’s a pretty rigorous program,” said Donnell.
The intensive week-long program ended with lengthy written and oral exams, but Donnell loved the experience. She enjoyed collaborating with dancers and teachers from around the nation. Now she implements some of the things she learned with her own students in Mount Airy, and she has noticed improvements.
Donnell said ABT’s teaching premise is to foster self-esteem and confidence in students. The program also taught her about the importance of teaching people the basics.
“In teaching the basics, even though you work very slowly, the ability to dance develops rapidly,” Donnell said.
She believes learning the basics of ballet is a step that will allow dancers to branch out into many different dance styles. Donnell has years of experience in ballet and modern dance. Surprisingly, she is just now taking tap lessons. Donnell said she doesn’t know why she never tap-danced before, but now she is picking it up pretty quickly. She wears the tap shoes of her father, who is deceased.
“I love wearing his shoes,” Donnell said. “I feel like his spirit is dancing through me.”
It is easy to tell that Donnell loves dance. In addition to teaching dance classes, Donnell started her own dance company, the Mount Airy Dance Theatre. Her group puts on shows at local schools and libraries. Donnell made a show about a book titled “My Great Aunt Arizona” and a show about famous tightrope walker Philippe Petit. She hires professional dancers, actors and other artists from the Piedmont to participate in the shows.
“I really like to collaborate with artists,” said Donnell.
Her husband, Mark, also is an artist. He is an actor, director and clown. The couple first met in high school after Linda’s family moved to Florida. They got married in 1977 and moved in 1979 to Mount Airy, where her husband found a teaching job. He spent most of his 30 years as a special education teacher in schools in Patrick County. He now teaches drama and theater classes there. He shares Linda’s love for performing. In fact, he got her into clowning. The couple put on a show together last summer at a local library.
“I have discovered that I absolutely love clowning ... There is something wonderful about the improvisational nature of clowning. It is so much fun,” said Donnell.
She also enjoys getting up in front of crowds and telling stories. She recently participated in the Tellabration storytelling event at the Mount Airy Public Library. Donnell stays in contact with many local storytellers.
But Donnell doesn’t stop at dancing, acting, storytelling, and clowning. She also is a mime. She studied mime at Wake Forest and fell in love with the art.
The Donnells have encouraged their children to follow their own dreams and interests as well. Their oldest son, Matthew, is a ballet dancer who is now pursuing work in musical theater. Son Josiah is a gardener who designs water gardens and other landscapes. Daughter Bethany has a gift for working with children and is a student at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro.
Linda Donnell tells them and others, “Follow your dream. Do what means something to you. It doesn’t have to be arts.”
Donnell will continue following many dreams.