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Best foot forward: Dance provides springboard for two young women’s careers

By Jason Lesley
Coastal Observer

Lida Fox: The fashion model

When a Paris advertising agency needed someone who could jump like a frog for an Air France ad campaign the creative team had one model in mind: Lida Fox.

Trained in classical ballet in her mother’s Litchfield dance studio, Fox can do splits or stand en pointe for photographers who are looking for an eye-catching moment. Hopping over to Paris for the Air France job was no problem.

“We created a couple of little sequences for the camera where I am a frog,” Fox said during a recent visit home to visit her parents Ilka Doubek and Tom Fox. “That was another one of the jobs where I actually got hired because of my dance experience.”

She’s becoming the go-to international model for dance imagery since being featured by magazine editor Carine Roitfeld in a dance issue for CR Fashion Book. That led to posing for the Japanese company Uniqlo Jeans and a video for Yves Saint Laurent for ballerina flats.

It’s all been a career pirouette for a girl who trained to become a ballerina. Her mother danced professionally as a member of ballet companies in Omaha, San Diego, Frankfurt and Hamburg before touring as a solo act. Her father is an international opera singer. Doubek retired from performance dancing 20 years ago to found Litchfield Dance Arts Academy and start a home. Lida, naturally, followed her mother to dance class. “The whole point of my creating Litchfield Dance was that I wanted her to have somewhat of the education I had,” Doubek said. “I had been a ballet dancer, and it was in her blood too. She wanted to do the classical but learned jazz, tap and the whole bit. As a dancer you have to be really, really versatile in all styles nowadays. It might have been helpful that her dad’s an opera singer and doesn’t like pop music.”

Lida trained six to eight hours a day at the dance studio and studied at home through correspondence school courses at first and on-line during high school so she could practice more and travel for competition. By age 14, she was already growing too tall for professional ballet. She’s almost 5-11 now, and over 6 feet on her toes. “It’s really difficult to have a ballet career when you are tall,” Lida said. “I’d go away for ballet intensives, and people would tell me that I should try modeling.”

On a trip to New York City to hear her father sing at The Met, Lida caught the attention of the famed Ford Modeling Agency during an interview. “I still looked quite young then,” Lida said. “They weren’t interested in signing me, but they kept in touch, and I eventually started with them.”

Lida signed at age 15, just before a management change at the Ford Agency. “None of the people who took me on were there anymore,” she said. “One of my agents called me and said, ‘You don’t work there anymore.’ The Next Agency is going to take you into the future.”

Lida’s new agency placed her into a job in Paris, but Doubek said it was hard to send her young daughter off into the world. “I had my first panic attacks leaving her in her own little studio apartment in Paris,” she said. “I went to her first big shows, Louis Vuitton, Marc Jacobs. The Paris agencies said they wanted to keep her. I thought it was going to be for two weeks, and they kept her for two months.”

Lida, with her height and chameleon-like ability to change appearances through makeup and hairstyle, ascended to the top of the fashion world in those first months. The world stage was not too big, even though she was just 17. “It was a continuation of how my life had been,” she said. Lida had tagged along with her father to New York, Geneva and Paris, spending as much as a month from home at a time. Eventually, she cut back on her travel to dance more, except for interesting places she hadn’t been, like Japan. “You don’t want to miss Japan,” she said.

Now that she’s constantly in demand, Lida can meet her dad for lunch in Geneva or her best friend in Paris when her work schedule allows.

“It’s fun,” Lida said. “There’s not anything else I’d rather be doing at the moment.”

She’s naturally thin, a size zero, and unusually flexible from her years of dance training. She’s never tried on an outfit that was too tight. More often the clothes are too big and have to be pinned in back to fit properly. She said her dance training has helped with the discipline and patience needed in modeling. During a Vogue Italia magazine beauty shoot, Lida was doing a “backward thing over a chair” when a stylist had a bright idea. “Can you hold that right there while we paint your stomach?” she asked. Lida held the pose while a makeup artist was summoned. She credited ballet for her ability to withstand pain.

Shoes, she said, are a different story. She wears a size 10, but clothiers often send smaller sizes. “That’s not fun,” Lida said. “I just wear them for the shoot, and when it’s over I can take them off.”

Though she’s never felt uncomfortable on a job, Lida said she always has the option to call her agency and say no if a photo crew goes too far. “I’ve probably been lucky in that sense,” she said, “because some people have had bad experiences.” A more common problem, Lida says, is when crew members don’t know what they want or disagree about the concept and want different things.

When she comes home to Litchfield Beach, Lida is careful with her skin, limiting sun and wind burn. She darkens her hair to look a bit more mature, but stylists spend hours adding extensions or coloring it and she’s worn a fair number of wigs to achieve a specific look. On the street, she prefers vintage clothes and little to no makeup to give her skin a rest. She doesn’t have to worry about her weight — measurements are all that really count — and concentrates on a healthy lifestyle with regular exercise. It’s a bit of a break from the burden of fame, too. “Here,” Lida said, “I’m Ilka’s daughter.”

Fashion models have a brief career, so Lida is glad for the opportunity to see the world and is making plans to attend college. “Modeling has changed who I am as a person and what I want to study,” she said. “All my friends who are in college now are not certain what they want to do. I’m happy that I’ve got this period where I can save some money and figure out what I eventually want to do.”

Suzi Roberts: Miss S.C. International

Suzi Roberts’ ambition was to become a professional ballerina. Now she’s going International.

As South Carolina’s representative, Roberts will compete for the title of Miss International Aug. 1-2 in Jacksonville, Fla.

“This was my first pageant,” Roberts said, “other than when I was a little tiny girl.” With almost a decade of dance training, Roberts would seem to have a huge advantage in any beauty pageant. Yet, the Miss International pageant doesn’t have a talent competition. “It’s mostly based on interviews and your platform,” Roberts said, “plus modeling on stage and answering questions.”

She won the title of Miss South Carolina International on the strength of her first place social media campaign for her platform, “stART,” which is attempting to bring more of the arts into public schools. “The arts made my life special,” she said, “and I want to share that.”

Roberts began dancing under the instruction of Ilka Doubek at Litchfield Dance Arts Academy at age 9. “At the time,” said her mother, Mariah Johnson, “it was just a hobby. Her friends were taking dance and she wanted to be with her friends. Once she got in there, she realized the really strong dancers — and we have produced some world class dancers like Bailey Moon, Carlie Mills and Katie Brackett — were way ahead of her.”

Roberts dedicated herself to ballet. She was the youngest dancer Doubek had ever had at a six-week intensive summer program and attended the Central, Pa. Youth Ballet. At age 12, she moved to Houston to study with instructor Richard d’Alton. She represented the United States at ballet competitions in Switzerland and Finland and was selected for a competition in Moscow but had to decline because of a prior commitment to dance in Houston. She seemed to be on her way to becoming a ballerina when a shin injury ended it all. She was released from the ballet training school at age 17.

“The shin injury happens over and over,” Roberts said. “I asked why can’t I just try. They knew it would be a recurring thing. They said I could be another type of dancer, but I wouldn’t step foot inside a dance studio.”

With little college prep curriculum in high school, Roberts signed up for the SAT and did well enough to be admitted to the University of Texas. When she decided to try out for the dance team, her mother said that’s not what ballerinas do. “I had to learn to dance with pom-poms and cheer on the football field,” Roberts said. After two years at Texas, she decided to transfer to the University of South Carolina and dance for the Gamecock team where she would be closer to her mother and father, Gary Roberts.

“I discovered I can dance and still have fun,” she said. “The injury was a blessing in disguise. Where would I be if I was still trying to find a job in an industry where there are not jobs?” It’s kind of like this is where I’m supposed to be.”

Roberts teaches ballet at the Columbia YMCA every other week and will return to the University of South Carolina for her senior year this fall to complete her degree in sports and entertainment management. The Gamecock dance team finished fourth in national competition and is looking for another banner season. “We’re considered athletes,” Roberts said, “and there are more perks — like never having to cheer at a losing game at home — except for basketball.”

With all that going on, Roberts decided to enter the Miss South Carolina International pageant at the Charleston Music Hall in April. “When she called to say she was going to do it, I asked ‘Why?’ You don’t have time for that,” her mother said. “It is very demanding. It requires you to be socially responsible. It’s not a beauty pageant. Forty percent is based on the difference you can make in your community and what you have to say.”

Johnson knows the drill. She competed in the Mrs. South Carolina pageant with a platform of combatting childhood obesity.

Roberts is going all in to become Miss International. She’ll go to California for coaching, Atlanta for a photo shoot and Charleston for modeling lessons this summer. “The biggest thing to help me win is getting this organization up and running,” she said. “A huge part is having community support. She has a meeting planned at Waccamaw Regional Recreation Center early next month to get local children interested in arts, both visual and performance. She plans to tell them that students who participate in the arts get higher grades in math and science and higher SAT verbal scores. They have more sophisticated reading skills and more aptitude for second languages.

Roberts’ goal is to generate interest and support from people with various areas of expertise to close the gap created by budget cutbacks to arts programs nationwide. She has chapters started in South Carolina, Texas and California.

“I began the stART Initiative,” Roberts said, “to be sure others are afforded a glimpse into the world that shaped my life.”

For more about Roberts’ project go to ThestARTInitiative.org.

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