"She was dancing until she was 80," said her daughter, Shannon Kruep of Bumpass.
"She couldn't quite face a total retirement. Her life without dancing — she couldn't see that."
Graceful and agile at 72, when she formally retired, she could still do the splits — students remembered the privilege of shaking her hand when they achieved that milestone.
She began dance lessons when she was 3 years old with Richmond dance maven Elinor Fry. In a 1993 Richmond Times-Dispatch interview, Miss Mease confessed, "I've danced all my life, and I'm ignorant of everything in the world but dancing."
But many of those who took classical ballet, pointe, classical jazz, musical comedy, tap and acrobatics from Miss Mease over the years say she taught much more than dance.
"There was a magic about her. We all adored her and would do anything she told us. She would correct us if we didn't do it right, but it was more of a suggestion, and we would work so hard to get it right because she was so wonderful."
When Miss Mease's students, which included a surprising number of boys and men, arrived at the studio — a pink-trimmed pair of converted houses at 3453 W. Cary St. in Carytown — they felt special.
"You came as if you really were a ballerina," Hobbs said. "Which made it really special for little girls. We dressed in what people who were really ballerinas did. Even the little kids learned the proper (French) terms for ballet. That built on the image that we really were ballerinas."
She opened her own studio in 1950 and went into semi-retirement in 1986, teaching three days a week while her daughter and assistants taught the other classes. She sold the studio in 1993 but continued to teach private lessons in a borrowed North Side studio for two years and did other private lessons, her daughter said.
Every other year, her dance school put on a recital at The Mosque, now the Landmark Theater. Toward the end of her career, she was putting 700 to 800 dancers — ages 3 to older than 50, and sometimes multiple generations in families — onstage in extravaganzas that became so popular that parents and friends of students would camp out at the box office to get tickets. The proceeds went to charity.
Miss Mease "worked, lived and breathed dance," her daughter said. "She considered herself one of the luckiest people to be able to do that.
"To so many, she passed on a lifelong love of dance and music. I don't ever remember a time in my home when we didn't have music. She cherished letters from her former students, who sometimes many years later wrote her about how much dancing in her studio meant to them."
Miss Mease was the widow of Jackson Frayser Childrey, who died in 1992. "He enabled her to live her passion," her daughter said. "He learned to build props and scenery, did the cooking and cleaning, learned to cut and tape music, did the book work. She could not have done it without him."
After finally retiring, Miss Mease read more — often to a blind friend. She decided she wanted to learn to cook — "we survived it," her daughter said.
And she "was thrilled to have a grandchild." Her grandson is her only other immediate survivor.