‘Born in a Ballroom’

'Born in a Ballroom'

Submitted photos The Mailloux family poses in traditional Swiss clothing in and around their childhood home.

HELVETIA — Eleanor Mailloux was born in a ballroom in 1917 and often told people that she’d been “dancing ever since.”

This passion for life is what drove Mailloux’s granddaughter, Clara Lehmann, to write and direct a documentary about her grandmother’s life.

The film, “Born in a Ballroom,” will have its West Virginia premiere in Charleston Wednesday after already playing in California.

Mailloux taught, worked for Red Cross, traveled the world and co-founded The Hutte restaurant in Helvetia, all while raising a family of five, and eventually helping with her grandchildren as well.

She’s been recognized in news articles and features on many television shows and films that visited her village, including the show “Bizarre Foods with Andrew Zimmern.”


Mailloux passed away in 2011, just before her 94th birthday. In making the new documentary, Lehmann hunted down raw footage of her “Mutter,” in addition to interviewing close friends and family with memories of her to create the film.

“With all of that pieced together, we were able to find this nugget of who she was without her here and present,” Lehmann told The Inter-Mountain.

“She inspired me in a lot of ways because she always demanded more of me in a positive way,” she said. “It wasn’t a negative thing, but she expected me to get an education, make something of myself, stand on my own two feet, present well to the world and to other people, and I think that I admire the way she carried herself and wanted to be like her.”

“She was almost a cliche of a grandmother but at the same time, very unique in that she was very elegant,” she continued. “Those little moments like that are ones I hold dear and I think that they translated to a sincere love for the restaurant plus the community.”

Lehmann’s partner, Jonathan Lacocque, co-directed and co-produced the film, and had known Mailloux for roughly a decade before she passed.

Above, Eleanor Mailloux donned a boa and sequined mask and posed for the camera.

“She wasn’t one to go with the trends. She was unique, she was kind of her own person in a unique kind of way,” said Lacocque. “I think one thing that maybe inspired (Clara) about her is this ability to be true to herself and to her own dreams regardless of what the status quo is or what people are thinking you should do.”

“She was, in her time, an extremely strong woman who had strong ideas and wasn’t going to let a room full of men who might have been the power brokers of an industry dictate, for her, what she can and can’t do,” he continued.

Mailloux was a powerhouse within Helvetia’s community. Not only was she the first woman to openly and comfortably wear slacks as opposed to skirts, according to local legend, but she also helped to revive Fasnacht to its festive glory as well as beginning a “Best Yard” competition in town.

“I think she kind of wanted to be the face (of the community). I think she was somebody who dressed up every day and presented herself well, knowing that first impressions can be impactful,” said Lacocque. “She tried really hard, not only for herself and not only for the restaurant, but even for the community, like putting on events that were going away, making sure the dancing was being taught and making sure the music doesn’t get lost.”

“She was larger than life. It’s like she wanted to be a movie star but didn’t want the headache of being a movie star so she was her own movie star in her own movie,” he continued. “She told the best stories and just had that extra bit of drama to how she did things to make it fun and interesting and exciting.”

Eleanor Mailloux, dressed head to toe in pink and hearts, celebrated Fasnacht in Helvetia.

Lacocque explained the documentary project truly began before the need to make it was ever recognized. “When I would come visit with Clara before we moved back here, I would film scenes or do shots of nature. There’s something about Helvetia that obviously I was taken by and inspired by,” he said.

Lehmann and Lacocque have a production company, Coat of Arms, which provides post-production for many films, and have created their own short subject films in the past.

“Born in a Ballroom” officially premiered for the first time in Santa Barbara, California on Jan. 17 but will debut in West Virginia on Wednesday.

The Floralee Hark Cohen Cinema in Charleston will play the film Wednesday and Feb. 12.

The Lascaux Theater in Buckhannon is showing the movie on Feb. 14, 15 and 16.

It will play at The Grove in Fayetteville on Feb. 20, and again in Thomas at the Gradient Project Space on Feb. 28.

WVU Media Innovation Center is showing the film in Morgantown on March 31 and the film will be presented at the BEX FilmFest in Beckley between June 20-27.


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