Bobbie Jean Hill is the youngest 90 in town.
Her mind and wit are as sharp as ever, and when she says she’s been working at Young Ideas for “at least 40 years” you can bet money she’s right.
Friends and family simply call her Bobbie, and while many locals have gotten to know her as a mainstay at Young Ideas, her impact on Indianola and the Delta has stretched far beyond her sense of fashion.
From the time she could walk, Bobbie was dancing.
“I guess I started dancing professionally when I was 10 years old,” she said during a conversation with The E-T, just after her 90th birthday celebration.
She wasn’t just a professional dancer. She was good. New York City good.
At the age of 17, her dance instructor had her audition for the Rockettes precision dance company with about 14 other girls from Memphis and the surrounding areas.
“Two from Memphis and myself were selected,” she recalled.
An only child, Bobbie decided to take a bite of the Big Apple.
“I graduated from high school one day. I had my dance recital the next day, and the next day I left for New York,” she said.
The new dancers were taken to Radio City Music Hall, where they were told they would go through about two or three weeks of rehearsals to learn the routine.
But her call to the stage came a lot sooner than that.
“We checked in the hotel, and they called me that night and said, “Bobbie Jean, you have to be here at 8 o’clock in the morning, and you’ve got to go in and learn the routine and get fitted for a costume.”
It turns out, the dancer she was a stand-in for had gotten sick.
The show had to go on, and that meant Bobbie would be taking the stage in her place.
During the first performance, Bobbie said things went smoothly until the very last dance move.
“They always do that famous kick at the end,” she said. “Well, I kicked, and my shoe came off, and it went into the audience and landed right in front of this young man.”
The gentleman threw the shoe back on stage as the curtain was drawn, she said.
After that night, Bobbie got used to the harsh routine of being a Rockette.
“We did four shows a day, seven days a week, year-round,” she said. “And on holidays, it was more than four shows a day.”
Bobbie took to New York City quickly, making many friends at the dance company. She even participated in one of the Rockettes’ wedding.
She said the other two girls who had made the cut from Memphis went home soon after they arrived, but she stayed for almost a year, returning to Mississippi to take care of her ailing mother.
A Natural Born Teacher
Even if her mother had not gotten ill, there’s a good chance Bobbie would have stepped down from the stage anyway.
Her brief stint in the professional ranks had confirmed her calling, and that was to be a dance instructor instead of being a professional dancer.
“I had decided that I wanted teach more so than I wanted to dance professionally, because dancing professionally makes you older than you want to be,” she quipped. “I always figured I had chosen the right profession, because if you’re on that stage, somebody else is telling you what to do, but if you’re the teacher, you’re telling them what to do.”
Bobbie moved to Memphis, where she ran a dance studio. That was until the dance instructor in Greenwood moved, and she had an opportunity to come back to the Delta.
“I did great,” she said of her time in Greenwood. “I taught every day. I really had a good studio.”
The Greenwood dance studio lasted until she met Norris Hill at the opening of the Caterpillar store in Indianola. They soon married, and she moved to Sunflower County.
“The dancing teacher here (at the time) was from Belzoni, so she assumed since I was moving to Indianola, that I was going to teach, so she left,” Bobbie said.
Bobbie had a long career teaching dance in Indianola, including the famous harvest festival shows at Indianola Academy.
One show in particular had the football boys dressed as girls and the IA teachers dressed as boys.
“Our gym was packed every time for that performance,” she said. “We took in more money than any other school because they all wanted to see the boys dressed as girls and the teachers dressed as boys.”
She taught Betty Aden, who was a longtime dance instructor at Mississippi Delta Community College, and one of her star pupils was none other than Young Ideas owner Leanne Silverblatt.
“I’m really glad that’s what I decided to do,” Bobbie said of her years of teaching dance.
Over the years, Bobbie became a big part of the Indianola community, serving on the PTO, the Garden Club, the 20th Century Club and as a Girl Scout leader. She even took her senior Scouts to Hawaii for their senior trip one year.
Bobbie also participated for over three decades in the Cotton Wives Fashion Show, which represented 15 cotton states.
She’s known as an avid bridge player, and she has enjoyed watching her children, grandchildren and great grandchildren grow up in Indianola.
From the Studio
When Young Ideas first opened in the early 1970s, Alan and Leanne Silverblatt did not have anyone working part time at the store.
A few years later, they did hire someone, but that person was tragically killed in a car accident, Leanne said.
One week, Leanne was in Texas, and Alan was at the store by himself, and that is when Bobbie volunteered to help out.
After a while, she decided to stay.
“She just started working,” Leanne said. “She’s been our boss for almost 40 years.”
Through the decades, Bobbie has connected with hundreds of customers on a professional and personal level, making many friends she probably otherwise would not have met.
“She can talk to anybody and make them feel comfortable and at home,” Leanne said.
Bobbie said she owes her longevity at the store to her bosses.
“They are two of the nicest people to work for,” she said.
Bobbie is already talking about her 91st birthday.
Despite a recent fall at home, she is determined to make a full comeback to the store and hopefully the dance floor.