Joni (Saunders) Messler passed away peacefully on April 15th, 2022 at the age of 85.
Mrs. Messler, lovingly known by many as “Miss Joni”, was born on September 19, 1936 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, before moving to Sanford, Florida where she spent her childhood. She wed her husband of sixty-three years, Clarke Messler, in 1959 before the couple settled in Gainesville, Florida.
Miss Joni was well known in the Gainesville community as a beloved teacher, dancer, and artist. Miss Joni led a decades-long career in the arts beginning with formal dance training in New York City, London, and Paris. Her professional career included Radio City Music Hall and performances with ballet companies on the West Coast. Miss Joni founded the Joni Messler Studio of Dance in 1959 and the pre-professional performing arts company the Gainesville Ballet Theatre in 1973, both in Gainesville, Florida. Through years-long collaboration with premier Balanchine ballerina Marie-Jeanne Godwin, the Messler studio cultivated generations of dancers through the world-renowned teachings of George Balanchine. In addition to teaching classical ballet and other dance techniques, Miss Joni choregraphed countless original ballet pieces. Her original works included the full three-act ballet “The Little Match Girl”, which became a treasured Christmas tradition in Gainesville for 33 years. Miss Joni’s tenure as a dance teacher in the Gainesville community culminated in numerous accolades including award of a letter of commendation from the American Ballet Theater II of New York City, honorary service as President of the Dance Masters of America for the State of Florida, receipt of The Nancy Smith Award from the Florida Dance Association, and receipt of a Lifetime Achievement Award and numerous other honors from the City of Gainesville over the course of her career.
Miss Joni touched the lives of countless students through her love of dance over the years. Her countless pupils and colleagues regarded her as a distinguished professional, inspired choreographer, and beloved teacher.
She is preceded in death by her parents Emma Louisa “Lou” and Joseph Saunders, her husband Clarke Messler, and her sister Barbara. She is survived by her loving nieces Dawn Bishop and Sylvia Schell, and extended family.
In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to VITAS Hospice or Community Hospice of Alachua County in memory of Joni & Clarke Messler.