BY K WEBSTER | Elizabeth Hubbard, a dancer, teacher and member of the M’finda Kalunga Garden, died on March 13 at her Lower East Side home. She was 76.
Elizabeth Ann Thompson was born in Harlem. She taught dance at Dance Theater of Harlem and was the dance mistress at Ballet Hispanico. She joined the corps de ballet at Radio City Music Hall — a pioneer woman of color in a predominantly white dance corps. She later shared her passion for dance as a teacher of young ballerinas at the Marie Wildey School of Dance in East Orange, N.J.
Elizabeth co-founded the Roosevelt Park Community Coalition, a volunteer organization that was created during the Lower East Side’s tumultuous 1980s. The coalition’s work helped make Sara Roosevelt Park safe for the neighborhood to use. She later became the co-chairperson of M’Finda Kalunga Garden — which is located in S.D.R. Park — leading the group’s work in the community until the late ’90s.
Elizabeth was honored as part of the M’Finda Kalunga Garden’s Juneteenth celebration for her years of service to the community. At the event, she gave a moving reading of a Maya Angelou poem.
She always preferred to be in the background. As garden members were searching through photos, they had to hunt to find one where she wasn’t off to the side. In so many of the photos, she would be found, silently, lovingly (but fiercely) supporting someone’s efforts — her smile large. In one photo Elizabeth beams while a Marte Valle schoolgirl tells about her school’s mosaic sculptures in the garden. In another, she is deftly helping a frightened boy learn how to pet her beloved dog, Roo.
Her fellow gardeners relied on her for good judgment, unshakable integrity, generosity and grit. If someone ever had a difficult decision to make, Elizabeth’s offhand but razor sharp intellect would keep him or her on the right path.
She was funny, discreet, frank and sensitive. She was genuine and genuinely kind. As one gardener put it, “She asked you how you were — then waited for the answer.” She brought an elegance to everything she did.
As one gardener said, “Many of us wish we could have seen her dance — we would have loved to see how she worked that beautiful fire and grit into moving that tiny, graceful frame.”
She leaves her devoted husband, Joe Hubbard. Their lifelong love affair began upon their first meeting. Garden members will honor her at a memorial in the spring, in the garden.