Most mornings, Toni Green wakes up and makes a shake for herself. Her art supplies clutter the counter of her sun-splashed St. Pete home, and the house is alive with the Green family women.
Toni is a 48-year-old artist who lives with her mother, Rosie Marie Green, and her older sister Gwen Thomas. Rosie-Marie is a retired ballerina who raised a family of artists, health care professionals, and musicians.
Toni’s signature style is bright still-life paintings, created with markers. Toni creates series of subjects, sketching coffee cups, flowers, the sun, anything she feels like bringing to life on the page. Rosie-Marie says Green has always been an artist, but she began creating with Creative Clay Cultural Arts Center in 2007.
That is, until her 89-year-old mother began showing signs of dementia.
One second, Rosie-Marie recalls her past days as a professional dancer, and the next she forgets basic facts. Thomas is the primary caretaker of her mother; the St. Pete acupuncturist moved in after her mother’s health declined. Toni has completely rearranged her life to be with her mother at all times. She still creates art, but she’s stopped attending Creative Clay, where she was formerly a member artist.
“She’s been a little isolated since COVID hit, but at the same time, she’s gotten the chance to work on her dream of working in home health care,” Thomas says.
Toni attended Nina Harris School in Pinellas Park. She wanted to be a nurse, but it never panned out.
“Toni has been reluctant to return, because she’s worried about leaving her mother,” Thomas says.
Her mother urges her to return, but for now, the two are inseparable.
“She’s my life,” Toni says, adding color to a drawing of a coffee mug.
Rosie Marie began studying ballet at the age of 6. When she was 16, she lied about her age and began working as a professional ballerina in New York City. She’s worked in Miami, Los Angeles, and New York City as a ballerina and make-up artist. Her resume includes “Swan Lake” for the American Ballet Theatre.
During her time as a performer and makeup artist in Los Angeles, she accidentally claimed the wrong dressing room during a show. It was meant for Liberace, a famed piano player and she says he walked into the room unknowingly.
“We became quick friends – with me in my underwear,” Rose-Marie says. “He was gay and that was the scene.”
Rosie-Marie says she remembers feeling on top of the world during her performance days.
“I was arrogant,” Rosie-Marie says. “I miss being arrogant the most.”
After a long career, Rosie Marie moved to St. Pete to be closer to her mother. She quickly realized that Florida didn’t have as lucrative of a ballet scene as New York or Los Angeles, so she decided to try her hand at house painting.
“My mom realized she was afraid of heights, so the painting thing wasn’t going to work out,” Thomas says. “She also realized that she can’t do anything but be a ballerina. She was just born into it.”
Rose-Marie eventually worked as an independent performer in hotels and clubs, and owned a home studio, where she worked as a teacher.
The full-length mirrors and the studio has reverted back to a living room, but Rosie-Marie remembers when it was full of dance. Nowadays, the family is there to fill it, but things have slowed down. Rosie-Marie and Toni have always been close. Their family says that her mother’s illness has brought them closer.
“Toni, she wants this to be her life right now,” Thomas says.
Though Rosie-Marie cherishes their time, it’s an adjustment for her.
“Her [Green’s] memory is fading, and it’s humbling for her,” Thomas said. “Mom is not used to other people taking control.”
Just like her mother, Toni loves to dance. She dances when she goes out to bars and restaurants. She does it so often that the owners and staff know her.
“All my children are very creative,” Rosie-Marie says. “I’m lucky in that way.”
Toni has no plans to return to Creative Clay, but she is still pouring out her heart on the page from her home, always near her “favorite ballerina.”