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At age 19 she produced and choreographed a show at the old Silver City Amusement Park in Chimney Rock.
She has produced dance numbers and coached young dancers at the Orange Bowl Parade, Walt Disney World and Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade. Twenty-six years ago her students performed in the movie "Dirty Dancing," filmed at Lake Lure, and she appeared with her husband in the final scene. She's even been a contestant on "The Price Is Right."
For her contributions to more than a generation of young dancers in her hometown, Pat Shepherd won the Clifton J. Shipman Award Monday night at the annual banquet of the Hendersonville Merchants and Business Association.
"If you're from Hendersonville, Pat Shepherd's is a big business," said Sandra Walker, the association president.
As subterfuge, the association asked Shepherd to bring her dancers to entertain. And while Shepherd did figure out what was up before the announcement — "you can't wear that," her daughter told her — she still got emotional when she accepted the award.
"I'm a native of Henderson County and I knew Mr. Shipman very well and he and my daddy were best buddies," she said of the longtime business owner who helped built post-World War II Hendersonville. "How honored and humbled I am to get this award with his name on it."
She thanked family members who helped her get started and have helped support her for four decades.
"I started my first dance school in the basement of my home because I wanted a pair of jeans and in my family we couldn't afford them," she said. She "got married at age 20 to John, my best friend." She introduced aunts and uncles and cousins, her son, Mark, and his fiancée, and her daughter, Sher, now co-owner of the studio.
Shepherd has won top awards from the Dance Educators of America for eight years in a row. She's won 34 choreography awards for tap productions. Graduates of her studio have gone on to dance teams for NFL teams, cruise ships, Busch Gardens, Disney World and Broadway. She had won many awards and civic honors before the Merchants and Business Association award Monday night: key to the city in 2009, the Athena Award in 2010, the Lions Club International Presidents Award in 1989, the Order of the Long Leaf Pine in 1982. She served as president of the N.C. Apple Festival in 1985. She was the first woman in the world to join Lions Club International, in 1986, and has been a guest speaker at Lions events in the U.S. and abroad.
The large dance troupe she brought did not disappoint. Their tap-dancing rocked the floor of The Cedars, the historic 99-year-old inn built by the owner of the Southern Railway and bought by Clif Shipman in 1976. The dancing made the CD player skip a few times. Always the trouper, Shepherd told the girls to dance on.
"The last number," she told the audience as the show wrapped up, "is what we all are, 'Dancin' Fools.'"