"He held me in his arms and that was it," she says. "I went home and said to my dad, 'If I can get him, that's who I'm gonna marry!'"
Back then, Kaufman says, she only wanted "a little house with kids." She couldn't have possibly foreseen the empire that Donald Kaufman would build with fellow Detroiter Eli Broad.
Kaufman's first cousin, Edythe Lawson, married Broad, who was then a CPA. When her husband and Broad co-founded the company that became the Fortune 500 Kaufman & Broad, now KB Home, she says Broad borrowed money from her "Uncle Mori," Morris Lawson, who was also Edythe's dad. (Broad, who declined to be interviewed for this article, said through his office that the sum was $12,500; Kaufman insists it was $25,000.) Kaufman herself sold her brand new aqua Ford and a few pieces of jewelry to help Donald scrape together his portion of the upstart funds. The men bought two lots 13 miles outside Detroit to showcase their vision.
"Eli was the man who negotiated with the banks, and Don was the homebuilder and visionary," Kaufman says. "Together they were great."
Broad and Glorya Kaufman see each other at public events from time to time, but they don't socialize. "We live different lives," she says. "I'm a single woman and he has a family."
In 1983, Donald — an avid scuba diver, hang glider, parachutist and skier — died at 60 in a single-engine biplane crash with their son-in-law Eyal Horowitz, who was 26. Their daughter Gayl was pregnant with Horowitz's child at the time and was with Kaufman at her home when they both received the news of the crash.
"They went to Santa Paula for lunch and never came back," Kaufman says, her voice noticeably heavy. "Gayl lost her future and her past that day."
Dance had mostly fallen by the wayside during her child-raising years, but within six months of Donald's death, Kaufman turned to charity work. Much of her energy focused on dance.
In addition to her Music Center and UCLA donations, Kaufman gave $6 million to New York's Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater and $3.5 million to the Juilliard School. The nonprofit Glorya Kaufman Dance Foundation, which she founded in 2008, has nurtured children through dance at community organizations such as L.A.'s Inner-City Arts and the Mar Vista Family Center.
"Dance does so much to the spirit," Kaufman says. "Self confidence, it crosses borders, it connects young kids in the nicest way."
Endowing USC's new dance school feels like a return to building, to her Detroit roots, says Kaufman, who has two honorary doctorates, one from Fordham University, the other from Juilliard.
Robert Cutietta, who is dean of USC's music school and will head the dance school, says the new dance program will be small and selective, with 60 to 80 students. USC is set to break ground in early 2014 near the Thornton School of Music. The dance school is planned to open in fall 2015.
"We have so much talent here in L.A. and there's no place for them to go," Kaufman says. "We want to get the best students, the best teachers, and the kids, when they graduate, will be able to make a living right away."
There are currently more than 120 active, professional dance companies in Los Angeles County, according to the Dance Resource Center of Greater L.A. — among them Diavolo, the Los Angeles Ballet, Danza Floricanto/USA and Lula Washington Dance Theatre. Not to mention hundreds of underground artists and pick-up companies that fly under the radar. But there are few dance-dedicated venues in the city, and there is no major institutionalized dance center on par with New York's the Joyce Theater Foundation or Seattle's On the Boards.
There have been notable attempts to rectify that. The Dance Gallery on Bunker Hill went through fundraising laps in the 1980s and was supposed to have archives, classes and a performance space. Ultimately, the project fizzled.
L.A.'s current dance scene, which now counts Benjamin Millepied's L.A. Dance Project among its resident companies, is vibrant and culturally diverse. But given the geography of the city, it's also spread out and fractured.
Choreographer Kate Hutter, who co-founded L.A. Contemporary Dance Company while an undergraduate at USC in 2004, sees an upside to those freewheeling dance roots. "There's a real pioneering spirit to L.A. dance, which doesn't have a lot of establishment to sit on," she says. "I think that energy has asked us to be on the forefront and really create in adventurous ways."
The new USC dance school, Hutter says, will kick things up a notch and break open opportunities for dancers outside of the standard music videos and commercials that sustain many who move to L.A. "The training that this school could provide would send them into a multitude of careers."
That's exactly the point, says Kaufman: "My vision is for the students to leave and go into dance and the business of dance — to do whatever they want because they'll be that talented and prepared."
Still, some observers criticize that, for all her generosity, Kaufman has a limited vision of what dance could and should be.